CH-UH school district requires scrutiny
In May 2015 we face yet another school levy, designated for “current operations.”
The county auditor’s website indicates that CH-UH City School District residents pay 15 different tax levies or bonds to support the district.
Of these levies, 12 are for "current operations." They total 145.14 mills and are “continuous,” which means the district can continue taxing us past the levy’s “end date.”
The remaining three taxes are the facilities bond, a library bond, and a "forever" tax levy for building maintenance. Together, these total 149.59 millages we pay to the CH-UH City School District.
The Lakewood and Euclid school districts are similar to CH-UH in total population size, student population, and economic factors (such as poverty, incomes, etc.) Their millages: Lakewood, 123.23 (which includes its facilities bond); Euclid, 101.60.
Let’s compare performance. In order of high-performing to low-performing school districts, out of a total of 610 Ohio school districts, according to the Ohio Department of Education, we have Lakewood (351), CH-UH (578) and Euclid (598).
Now, let’s compare economic factors. Here are the median incomes, median home values, and poverty percentages in these three school districts:
- CH-UH: $50,109; $110,000; 20 percent
- Lakewood: $36,272; $120,500; 16.4 percent
- Euclid: $43,218; $68,100; 19.9 percent
So, we pay more, earn more, have lower property values, yet perform toward the very bottom of all Ohio school districts. And let’s not blame performance differences on our 3.6-percent higher poverty level.
This begs the question: Since all this money we pay still puts us at the bottom in performance, how and where does our district spend the 149.59 total mills of property tax it takes from us?
In 2013, before voters passed the Master Facilities Plan, I stated my concerns about the potential use of the money for items other than schools. Well, I was correct in my concerns.
Instead of 21st-century classrooms, an improved heating and cooling system, safer school buildings, and better access for disabled students, the first use of the facilities bond money was $2.7 million for a football field and stadium—an item the district specifically claimed was not part of the plan.
Then, contrary to the claim by the district and the City of Cleveland Heights that both were helping Mosdos buy the Millikin building, both entities, according to city records, had actually been planning its use for housing the district’s trades people. So, more bond money will be used to repair and re-purpose Millikin and not for any educational purpose.
And the latest misuse of bond money: a 3,100-square-foot "Gateway" to the football field and stadium.
So what about money for the actual schools?
Well, those 21st-century classrooms appear to be part of “fundraising campaigns” and not part of the facilities bond after all.
Angee Shaker, the district communications director, was quoted on Cleveland.com as saying, "The district is developing a capital campaign to raise funds for academics, programming, music, the arts and athletics.” Another Cleveland.com article stated that the district has to reduce the number of classrooms originally promised because there won’t be enough money.
I am disgusted by the shell game being played by the school board and the district. These “leaders" are robbing our students of the schools they promised.
We deserve clarity in how this district spends the money we give it.
I discovered that the annual audit the state performs on the district does not ensure money goes to what it was earmarked for. That audit simply ensures that there is an “approved” trail of where money goes. This means the school board must approve all redirection of tax funds away from their original, voter-approved use.
Before we go to the polls in May, we deserve an independent, objective analysis by an unbiased auditor to see if tax money is actually going to the purpose for which voters approved it. This must be an objective auditor who has no ties to anyone who works for the district or to those who sit on the board or the Cleveland Heights City Council. This auditor also should not have any ties to their spouses, children, brothers, sisters, and business or investment partners.
We deserve a true accounting before this poorly performing district gets any more money from us.
Diane L. Hallum is director of Citizens Leadership, a group that believes a change in the status quo starts with citizens leading their officials in the right direction. The group offers factual information on CH council decisions, meets to focus on key issues that matter, and develops methods to make a change for the better. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.