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Op-Ed: Voting NO on Columbus City School Levy Issues 50 & 51

 Christina McMenemy Op-Ed: Voting NO on Columbus City School Levy Issues 50 & 51
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I’m grateful to represent a group of Columbus City Schools parents, educators, and community members who are opposed to Issues 50 & 51. My two daughters are enrolled in a district school, and my husband is a graduate of Columbus City Schools. We love the teachers, and truly consider them a part of our team.
Like many parents, we have supported anything the schools needed, including voting for the 2008 Columbus City Schools levy. We give to our school, through PTA volunteering, supply drives, and fundraisers.

But we cannot support this levy. We cannot support a plan that lacks details. It promises that every district school will be rated A or B within six years, but presents no mechanism to accomplish this. Wishes and empty assertions are not a plan.

We cannot support a plan that would create several new high-level administrative positions, committees, organizations and panels, all designed to help determine the details that should have been in place already. Spending taxpayer dollars to create administrative bloat is not a plan.

We cannot support a plan that will divert $8.5 million per year of taxes to charter schools that are already fully funded by the state and not held to the same accountability as district schools. To date, there are no criteria in place for funding “high-performing” charter schools. Giving money first, and setting policy later is not a plan.

We cannot support a plan that provides more money to a board and administration that remains under federal investigation for illegal activities. Reassurances of “trust us” are not a plan.
And we cannot support a plan that includes language for public-private partnerships with no details about the nature of these relationships. What will the schools get in return? Taking public money without clear guidelines is not a partnership, and it is not a plan.

Mayor Coleman has stressed how much these private businesses and organizations want to help our schools. But when asked if these partners would remain engaged if the levy failed, he responded that he hoped they would, but couldn’t promise anything. Parents and community members are committed to our students no matter the levy outcome – are the private partners in this for community good… or for a kickback?

There’s more to Issues 50 & 51 than just the 24% property tax hike. If this passes, it will radically change the face of public education in Columbus, and not for the better. Private businesses, that we didn’t elect, will have a say in district decisions. Language in the plan allows the city or school district to sponsor charter schools and close down public schools that aren’t improving fast enough for their public image.

Teachers displaced by closed public schools will find no local teaching options other than charter schools, where they will have no union protections. Students in those charter schools may not have the same chance at a quality education due to different accountability standards for charters.

Let’s call this plan what it really is: an enormous, pork-laden funding scheme. You can’t slap a few shiny goals on a mailer and ask a local celebrity to speak a few platitudes about “our kids deserve it” and call it reform.

The bullying threats and scare tactics being used by the pro-levy side, threatening layoffs and cuts to programs, are disingenuous. The district announced that it will enjoy a $51 million surplus through the end of the 2014-2015 school year. That’s plenty of time for the school board to develop a real plan and ask for a better levy, with more input from parents and teachers this time.
Our children deserve a levy – and a school administration – that will put them first. Don’t sell our district out to private interests. Provide clean funding for things that really matter: teachers who are encouraged, supported and rewarded for innovation, facilities improvements, empowerment of principals to run their own schools, and a curriculum that is rigorous and engaging. That would be real reform.

But real reform can happen only if we vote NO.

More information can be found online at ItsOKAYtoVoteNO.org.

Christina McMenemy is a parent volunteer with ItsOKAYtoVoteNO.org.

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