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Columbus District Voters Will Decide Fate Of School's Plan

The Columbus Board of Education is asking district voters to make a hard choice. It wants residents to dig deeper into their pockets beginning in January. The promised return on investment? Better academic performance, public funds to some charter schools, more technology, and a reduction of the district's operating budget. District voters will get their say in November on the proposed levy that combines operating monies with a smaller bond issue. By a 6 to 1 vote, the board asked for a an eight mill property tax levy and a one mill bond issue. Franklin County auditor Clarence Mingo calculated the cost. "For an eight mil operating levy, including the bond in this case, for a home valued at $100,000 that would be about $315.35 per year," says Mingo. The money will fund what's called the "Columbus plan." It took a commission sanctioned by city mayor Michael Coleman and action from the legislature. The new monies would expand pre-school offerings, give middle and high school students more access to computers and allow for expenditure of 42 million dollars in public funds to help some already successful charter schools. Board president Carol Perkins says the combined levy and bond issue will be a tough sell to voters. "Very difficult and we've got our work cut out for us. Change is hard." Board member Mike Wiles was the lone dissenting vote in placing the issue before voters. Wiles wanted separate tax levies. One for public schools, another for charters. "From what I was told by all the people that I talked with that there was no way in the world that they were going to vote for a combined levy sharing money with charter schools. And, so, I mean if that was the majority of people who are like minded then it's going to be a real hard sell." says Wiles. Board vice president Shawna Gibbs echoed some of Wiles's concerns during the meeting. But she voted in favor of a single levy and bond issue. Gibbs says the schools will likely get support from the city and the business community to help pass the money issue this fall. "I think we are now in uncharted territories. But what we know is that now it is not just Columbus City schools that will be working for it. It will be us but with our public private partnership, and with the Mayor's office and other key stakeholders who have committed to support this levy and so altogether we can get the support for both bond and levy," says Gibbs. Some money from the proposed levy, $5-million dollars, is designated to fund an Independent Auditor. But, that position will also need voter approval. The independent auditor was placed in the "Columbus plan" by the Ohio legislature after allegations of grade and attendance data rigging. Results from outside investigators are still pending. Board president Perkins says the school's plans have been debated and vetted for nearly a year through hearings and community meetings. Now, she's asking for voter support. "In order to have a great city you've got to have a great public education system and we want to be able to give that to the community and hopefully they'll be supportive." If the combined operating levy and bond issue is passed in November, Columbus property owners would begin paying the additional tax in January of 2014.