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Columbus Voters Reject Levy To Fund Proposed School Reforms

Columbus City School opponents cheered as vote totals from precincts from across the district were reported on Tuesday night. Jonathan Beard who spearheaded the opposition campaign 'No Cheaters No Charters Columbus,' offered up a few high fives.

"Great job everybody!" Beard said. "This just shows the power of the people over the powerful. This is still a democracy, $2.4 million cannot buy elections in Columbus."

Opponents faced a well-funded campaign with celebrity endorsements, but voters soundly rejected a 24% property tax hike for a failing school district under investigation for an attendance scandal. "There was so much in this proposal that people could find to hate. Whether it was the charter schools, the gross amount of the proposal, the vagueness of the proposal. They're coming to us for approval and they did not make their case," says Beard. "You know, I may have been on board with this levy if they had would have had some tactical plans," added Terry A. Boyd. Boyd led the board of education for three years. He called the proposed reform plan unrealistic. But Boyd says he wouldn't rule out approving a revised one in the future. "If some real thought is put into a plan, real due diligence as they structure a plan, and they come back, whether it's for a 9 mil or a 2 mil, I think that the community will have more confidence and may be more in line to support it," says Boyd. Both sides agree the district is in dire need of improvement. A majority of its schools rate "D" or "F." The reform plan called for money for some charter schools, to retain highly-qualified teachers and expand pre-kindergarten. But Beard says the pre-k plan is an example of voter skepticism. "Tell us how the kids in pre-k perform on their third grade tests which are the first time they're assessed, says Beard. "You've got to be able to point and show us that what you're doing really work for what you intend to do." Gail Burkholder is with 'It's OK To Vote No.org.' Like other opponents, she says she would support a reworked levy in the future. "One that discloses what it's for. One that is defined. Give me realistic goals, realistic expectations, you've got my vote." At the downtown Columbus Hilton, polite applause filled the room as Mayor Michael Coleman offered his post-mortem on the rejection of new money for Columbus' school reform plan. "I think it was just simply the public's trust in the district, bottom line," says Coleman. After revelations of alleged grade and attendance rigging in Columbus last year, Coleman appointed a 25 member commission to draw up a reform plan. He touted the commission's work during his state of the city address in February and he warned the school board not to appoint a permanent superintendent until after his commission issued it's final recommendations. But he sensed the levy vote was in trouble during the final weeks of the campaign. "And I heard it throughout the campaign," says Coleman. "You know, why should we provide more resources when there's these trust issues that exists. And I get that. I totally get that. So, I think that's what it was." While Coleman fronted the campaign for additional school money and establishment of an independent district auditor, interim superintendent Dan Good did some of the heavy lift campaigning. He visited district schools, did numerous media interviews. He fired some administrators allegedly linked to the data-rigging scandal. He says now it's time to reflect on the voters' decision.

" Certainly I respect the decision of the voters. That's what our election process is all about giving people a voice in important community decisions," says Good.

The future of the proposed district reform plan is now uncertain. Coleman says some of the recommendations could be implemented piecemeal. But, board president Carol Perkins says even partial adoption of the plans is unlikely for now. "All of it is stalled until we get a better understanding of the wants of the community," says Perkins.