School Board punts on budget

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, July 2006) Community activists have continued pressing the Cleveland Board of Education to increase the funding for textbooks. At the June 19th Board of Education Meeting, Board Chairperson Larry Davis acknowledged the need and promised to do something about it.
“We need to see where we are with textbooks. What can we do to get ourselves in a situation where we can have a textbook for each child to take home with them? I had a textbook to take home when I was in school. We are going to find a way to do it. I’m not going to say it is going to happen overnight,” said Davis.

Davis made his comments in response to community activist Don Freeman’s stressing the importance of at least doubling the $635,000 the Board proposed to spend next year for new textbooks for the district’s approximately 58,000 students. Davis also noted he had heard Community Activist Norma Freeman’s passionate plea for more money for books for Cleveland’s school children made at a May 24th Board Community Forum at East Tech on proposed fiscal year 2007 budget for the Cleveland Municipal School District.

News Analysis

At a May 17th Board Community Forum at Lincoln West, the issue of providing more money for textbooks was also brought to board members’ attention. The Board of Education was asked to revisit promises made to voters before the passage of the last operating levy in 1996 and make the dollar amounts in this year’s budget at least come close to dollar amounts the board promised it would spend in categories voters deemed important. (see Let’s restore the levy accountability commission  in the June online version of the Plain Press at )
One of the major line items created by the 1996 levy was a budget for purchase of textbooks. For the first four years after the passage of the levy the district spent an average of $7.25 million per year on new textbooks. By last year, that money had dissolved; zero dollars were allocated for books in fiscal year 2006.

School administrators and the Board of Education, (which announced at the June 6th  Bd. meeting that $1.79 million would be spent for new elevators in the Board of Education building) could only find $635,000 for new textbooks in the approximately $1.4 billion the district will spend from all accounts next school year.

While the Board of Education continues to repeat the refrain “It’s about the children,” the board’s actions in its budgetary decisions - and its silence in the face of tax abatements given to large developments such as the one proposed for the East Bank of the Flats - suggests that “It’s about the adults.”

The issue of finding appropriate funding so children can take a textbook home each night is a crucial test for the Board of Education. The challenge to the Board of Education is to match its rhetoric with action.

At its June 6th meeting, the board delayed voting on the proposed budget so incoming Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders could have input on the proposed budget. After consulting with Sanders, the board essentially punted at its June 19th meeting. It passed a half-year budget, essentially cutting in half amounts proposed for each line item in the $558 million operating budget proposed for the fiscal 2007 school year that begins July 1st of this year. The half-year budget of $279 million will go through December 31st. The board must now pass a complete fiscal year 2007 budget by October 1st.

In its first test on the book issue the Board of Education essentially asked for an extension. The public eagerly awaits some action on this issue in this fiscal year.

At the June 6th Board of Education meeting chaired by School Board Vice Chairperson Grady Burrows promised to set up a committee composed of board members, community members and school administrators to look into finding adequate funding for textbooks. Let us hope that the committee can meet over the next several months and come up with significant dollars for quality textbooks during the current fiscal year. Let’s hope that the Board of Education responds and develops a plan to purchase quality textbooks for all students in all subjects and allocates the necessary funding. Then, the Board of Education will begin to earn the right to say, “It’s about the children.”

Mayor Jackson appoints new School Board member

At its June 6th meeting the Cleveland Board of Education, School Board Vice Chairman Grady Burrows announced that Mayor Frank Jackson appointed Jessica M. Gonzales to serve as the school board’s newest member.

Gonzales is a Housing Coordinator for the Spanish American Committee and a graduate of Jane Addams Business School. Gonzales will replace Gladys Santiago, who resigned from the Board.

Also at the June 6th meeting, the Board announced it would delay its vote on the 2006-2007 operating budget to the week of June 19th to give newly appointed CEO Dr. Eugene T. Sanders a chance to comment on the budget before its passage. Sanders is due to assume his post on July 1st. However, state law requires the passage of the budget by June 30th. Speaking of the operating budget, acting CEO Lisa Ruda, said, “The challenge to the board and the new CEO is, “With limited resources, where do you prioritize?”

Community activist Lucille Short protested the dispersal of parent services all over the district. She called for the district to return all of the  services parents needed to access to the centrally located Lakeside building. She stressed the current difficulty of accessing services from dispersed offices, magnified further for parents traveling on public transportation.

Educational advocate Don Freeman said the appropriation of only $675,980 for textbooks in the Cleveland Municipal School District administration’s proposed $558 million operating budget was unacceptable.

In response to Freeman’s comments, Board Acting Chair Grady Burrows promised a committee would be set up with representatives from “the administration, board of education, as well as the community to deal with that issue.”  Lincoln West Math teacher Gene Tracy called for the administration to consult more closely with teachers when making textbook purchases.

The Board of Education called for revisions of its Master Plan for rebuilding and replacing school buildings. It noted that the original plan was based on approximately 72,500 students. New projections of student population, however, suggest the plan should be modified to accommodate 31,500 fewer students. One of the suggestions was to replace existing buildings with smaller buildings.

School Construction

In the Plain Press service area, there will be a number of changes in student assignments due to the ongoing school construction and replacement program.

 Thomas Jefferson School, which just became a K-8 school this year, will close. The school, at W. 46th just south of Clark, will be replaced on its original site. Cost of replacement is estimated at $18.5 million. The district says it will look at the possibility of expanding the site. Because of the density of the population in the neighborhood, the school district has no plans to reduce the size of this school from that proposed in the original master plan. Enrollment is projected at 785 students.

Buhrer School, on Buhrer Avenue just east of Scranton, closed at the end of this past school year. At its June 6th meeting the Board of Education set aside funds for the demolition of the building. The Master Plan calls for the building to be replaced on the same site. Buhrer School students and facility will temporarily move to Kentucky School on W. 38th near Franklin Avenue while they await completion of their new school.

Kentucky School students and staff finished their last school year together this year. Kentucky School students were reassigned to other neighborhood schools. The Kentucky faculty and staff will be scattered throughout the district as they apply for new positions. On a number of occasions the Kentucky staff requested that they be reassigned as a group. Former Cleveland Municipal School District Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett denied their request.


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