Kasich Signs Cleveland School Reform Bill, Mayor Prepares Tax Hike Campaign

The same day Governor John Kasich signed the “Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson held a meeting to plan for a new local tax levy. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which has nearly 44,000 students and employs 3,300 teachers, met just one of Ohio’s 26 metrics in the 2010-2011 school year. Only 63 percent of the district’s high school seniors graduated in 2011.

The reform plan from Kasich, a Republican, and Jackson, a Democrat, has been hailed as an example of bipartisan cooperation. It will allow Cleveland Metropolitan School District to share local tax revenues with charter schools, but also gives the district control over which charter schools may be opened.

Additionally, the Cleveland Plan will give more weight to teachers’ performance in the classroom, with teacher seniority no longer the sole factor in making decisions about which teachers are laid off and which are retained during tough economic times.

Under the new law, which only affects the Cleveland school system but could be more widely implemented by the General Assembly if successful, teachers can be laid off if students in their classes perform poorly for two years. The district will also have the option to partially link teacher pay to students’ classroom performance, giving pay raises to teachers whose students show improvement.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the plan does not address the $19 million deficit Cleveland Metropolitan School District currently faces. The district has already fired hundreds of teachers due to unsustainable compensation costs, and Mayor Jackson plans to increase the local property tax rate to fill the remaining shortfall. Although the Ohio Education Association blames local deficits on Governor Kasich, in 2010 — before Kasich was elected — the Cleveland Metropolitan School District forecast a 2015 deficit of more than $410 million.

On July 2, the day the Cleveland Plan was signed into law, Mayor Jackson met with Cleveland schools superintendent Eric Gordon and local charter school representatives to interview political consulting firms for the tax hike campaign. It is unknown what rate Jackson plans to request, but it is expected that the levy increase will be very large.

Already, a family in the school district owning a home worth $100,000 pays nearly one thousand dollars to the school system — leading some to question whether taxpayers can afford additional property taxes. Despite some comparisons to Senate Bill 5, the public employee union reform bill overturned by union front We Are Ohio in 2011, the Cleveland Plan does little to help taxpayers bring costs down to meet tax revenue instead of raising taxes to meet union demands.

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