Make education and serving current residents a higher priority
by Jason Stinnett

(Plain Press, December 2004) At the November 16 th school board meeting, the Board of Education discussed and passed a resolution for a proposed five year financial forecast for district revenues and expenditures. Faced with a $100 million deficit last spring, the school board has made substantial cuts, including cutting 1400 jobs from this year’s budget, academic programs, including most of its summer school programs, and some after school programs. The district’s financial situation continues to be dismal: the $68 million levy recently failed, and the five year plan has projected deficits for the next 4 years, including a $25 million deficit for fiscal year 2006 (July 2005 through June 2006).

 

COMMENTARY

To make things worse, the school district is bringing in less revenue every year. Revenues from property taxes are steadily falling, making the problems of the unconstitutional funding system even more apparent. The pupil count is also falling, something the school board attributed to shrinking family sizes, which also impacts the amount of money the schools obtain from the state.

The school board commented that staff is 80% of the schools budget, and they have opted for no growth of salaries in the next five years. It was confirmed that there have been no promises to any of the teacher’s unions or other employees groups in regards to salaries. However, staff costs are rising as a result of increasing health care and benefits costs.

The proposed plans to eliminate the $25 million deficit in FY 2006 include trying for a new operating levy and implementing a new deficit reduction plan. An operating levy put on the ballot this spring, which is the earliest possible, would not generate revenues until January 2006. The school board plans to present such a deficit reduction plan at the next school board meeting at Charles Dickens Elementary School on Tuesday, December 14. Barbara Byrd Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Municipal School District, did, however, identify four areas that would likely be the source of budget cuts at the meeting. The first is academic programs, the second safety and security, the third staff, and the final school closings. She stated that there were not any definite plans for school closings at the time, but they were looking at some schools to close and would only do so after discussions with the community.

All the areas cited by Byrd Bennett are essential services, many of which have already been cut this year. Perhaps she should look to her own salary as the first cut? It is clear that the Board of Education needs to stop asking the people of Cleveland for more money and start looking to those who aren’t paying their share: the state, whose legislature refuses to implement an equitable school funding system, and those individuals and companies who have the resources to afford tax abated houses and corporate tax breaks. Why is it so important to bring in new residents and businesses when we can’t even support the current residents?

Jason Stinnett wrote this article special for the Plain Press as part of his coursework in City as a Classroom at CaseWestern ReserveUniversity. The course, taught by Professor Rhonda Williams, focused on public education this semester.

 

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