Getting Personal: Attack on personal character creates greater divide
In the most recent Heights Observer e-News, Mo Lynn contributed a letter regarding the compensation of CH-UH City School District Treasurer Scott Gainer. Lynn serves as treasurer for the TigerNation4LowerTaxes committee, which opposes the upcoming district levy.
In the letter, Lynn personally attacks Gainer as a “poor performer” who has “never submitted a balanced five-year forecast,” and is “grossly overcompensated.” She argues that Gainer benefits from the city’s “high taxes,” and thus is personally vested in the levy passing.
To assume that Gainer’s motivation is self-serving ignores the fact that school treasurers across Ohio must periodically ask for levy increases, because levy dollars don’t adjust with inflation. What’s more, to assume that Gainer would recommend a divisive levy during a pandemic for personal reasons strikes me as absurd.
Lynn’s letter prompted me to research comparable school district budgets and treasurers, which provided a balanced view. It also demonstrated how easy it is to cherry pick information in service of your argument.
Consider salary: Salaries and benefits are based on the prevailing wage for the position. Gainers salary and benefits are consistent with treasurers in similar districts. An ongoing tactic of the anti-levy committee is to question the pay and benefits of CH-UH district teachers and staff by characterizing them as selfish. Again, this strikes me as absurd.
Consider the five-year forecast: According to the State of Ohio’s Department of Education, a five-year forecast is “a snapshot of today that has been adjusted to reflect all known activities of the future along with certain assumptions and predictions of what may happen. In other words, it is a living document that becomes outdated once any additional information has come to light.”
A forecast is a planning tool, not a budget. What Lynn fails to mention when criticizing Gainer’s track record is that many school districts show expenses greater than revenue as a part of projections. The most salient example of “additional information” that has altered district forecasts is Ohio’s implementation of EdChoice vouchers, and their subsequent eligibility increases in the last 10 years, compounded by shifting metrics for identifying “failing” schools.
I find Lynn’s conclusion that Gainer’s performance is “poor” both subjective and unfair. Gainer has attained many accolades during his tenure. Most notably, he was named Crain's Cleveland Business 2014 CFO of the Year for the government category, and Ohio's 2010 Outstanding Treasurer/CFO of the Year.
The reality is that the funding model for Ohio’s schools is knowingly unconstitutional. Given its unique characteristics, the CH-UH district is disproportionately impacted. Instead of personally attacking Gainer, imagine if anti-levy supporters spent time working with the district to fix funding at the state level. Unless the intent is to siphon tax dollars to private education, why not work to help our community and our schools succeed long-term?
Moreover, if the concern is keeping the Heights affordable, why not run for school board and impact funding directly? Or join a school board committee or district task force? Or partner with the Cleveland Heights planning department to bring additional business revenue to the city?
I think we can all agree that funding a large public school district is expensive, and no one wants their personal taxes to increase. But public education is not a commodity, it is a right; we need to find a way to both fund and champion a quality education for all.
Dori Nelson-Hollis has lived in University and Cleveland Heights for 22 years and has children in both the CH-UH and private schools.