© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Columbus School Leaders Stress: "Levy Is The Reform"

All this week, WOSU is taking a critical look at the Columbus School Levy district voters will decide next month. Proponents of the levy say the money is needed to improve the school system’s effectiveness. WOSU takes a look at some of the reforms district and city officials pledge if voters pass the levy. After nine months of soul searching and numerous public hearings – supporter of the school tax increase say the “Levy is the Reform.â€?  District and city leaders say if Issues 50 and 51 fail, Columbus City Schools will continue to have ill-prepared kindergartners and high school graduates. And the district, itself, will continue on a downward spiral with a majority of failing schools. The TV ads say the levy will provide â€?A new day for Columbus City Schools.â€? One spot features school kids and OSU football coach Urban Meyer.

“My dream is to own my own business; go to college; become an architect; an author... Well-prepared players win games. And well-prepared students achieve their dreams.â€?

This is one of the top goals outlined in the Columbus Education Plan, to make sure every high school graduate is ready to go to work, to college or join the military. While graduating students ready for adulthood seems like a basic requirement for a school system, state report cards show Columbus City Schools has fallen behind. Of the district’s 116 schools, three quarters of them are rated “Dâ€? or “F.â€? In pushing for the levy, supporters pledge all Columbus City Schools will be rated “Aâ€? or “Bâ€? by 2020 – just six years from now. It will be a challenge as only a handful of schools are there now. But officials say it’s attainable, as Interim superintendent Dan Good noted on WOSU TV’s Columbus on the Record.

“I don’t look at it as only seven or eight schools that are ‘A’ or ‘B;’ I look at it as we have seven or eight schools that are model schools and we can replicate those best practices across the district.â€?

Officials say the extra $76 million a year expected to be generated by the tax increase will transform the district. Administrators want to hire and retain more effective teachers and principals – another reform high on the recommendation list generated by the Columbus Education Commission earlier this year. But attracting new teachers could prove difficult. Columbus teachers’ salaries fall behind neighboring districts; in some cases by as much as $15,000 less. Good says some of the levy money could be used to increase salaries. “It’s certainly a possibility with the operating portion of the levy, of the 3.01 mills you mentioned before.â€? These are just a few of the Education Plan’s reforms. There are many; too many for this report. But other significant goals include: all of this year’s kindergartners will graduate high school on time; all schools must improve their state report cards every year; and district enrollment will increase every year at a faster rate than the state average. And remember the TV ad earlier? The one with the children’s career ambitions? The education plan suggests every student to be able to earn college credits, acquire trade credentials or get internships with local businesses. Just how progress toward these goals will be measured remains unclear. No one we talked with could provide a formula or an outline as to how progress will be tallied. City Council president Ginther says it’s simple.

“We want every kid in an A or B school, in every neighborhood throughout the city of Columbus.â€?

Columbus City School Board president Carol Perkins says the district will provide its own progress reports, but she would not give details. Measureable progress is supposed to be made each year, bad teachers are to be fired and poor-performing schools are to face “serious and enforceable consequences.â€? Again, Perkins could not elaborate on what the “consequencesâ€? may be. “Well I can’t answer that as of yet. I don’t know if you’re aware, we have commissioned a standards committee that will be addressing those issues in regards to what the expectations will be moving forward.â€? The standards committee is one of a number of new committees formed to oversee the plan’s implementation. There will be an Early Childhood Education Council, an Early Childhood Education sub-group, a High Performing Schools Working Group and an employer advisory committee. When asked if too many oversight committees could cloudy the water so to speak Perkins said no.

“Looking at the size of the district, there’s much work that needs to be done. We are looking for improvement on all of these initiatives.â€?

There is a lot of work ahead. And according to Ginther, the city’s economic future depends on it. “I certainly believe that our future hangs in the balance. I mean, and this is why it’s so important. I don’t believe we can reach our full potential as a community until we improve the education that our kids receive in every neighborhood throughout the city of Columbus.â€?