Cleveland School Reform Plan To Come With Hefty Price Tag

Cleveland taxpayers hoping for an inner-city renaissance following passage of a local school reform bill have been quickly disappointed, as Mayor Frank Jackson has revealed a levy proposal which would increase local property taxes by 50 percent. The Cleveland Plan, hailed by Governor John Kasich as “a model for the country,” is the product of months of cooperation between Kasich, and Republican, and Jackson, a Democrat.

Although the Cleveland Plan purports to tackle difficult reforms, Jackson – who spent months pitching his plan to legislators and the Governor’s Office – announced plans to enact a million-dollar campaign for a large tax hike the same day the Cleveland Plan was signed by the governor.

The tax levy, if approved by voters this fall, would provide an estimated $77 million yearly to a school district with an annual budget already exceeding $1 billion. The average tax burden placed on Cleveland homeowners would be an additional $294 per year for the next four years.

As recently as March, state and local teachers’ unions opposed earlier versions of the proposal, but seem to have rallied behind the campaign to pay for the Cleveland Plan. On July 18, Cleveland Teachers Union Sergeant-at-Arms Tracy Radich indicated to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the local union was in favor of the tax hike and would assist the levy campaign.

“There hasn’t been any new revenue to the district in over 16 years,” Radich said. “The real people hurt by that are the students.”

However, only not all parties involved share Radich’s enthusiasm for the 15 mill property tax levy. Local politicians have suggested the proposal will be extremely unpopular with Cleveland voters.

Councilman Zack Reed, a Democrat, predicted the tax hike would “go down in utter defeat,” a prediction echoed by Councilman Mike Polensek, who said that some of his constituents simply can’t afford the basic necessities of life, much less Jackson’s tax hike.

“I’ve got a lady with no utilities in her house – no water, no gas, no electric – and we’re going to ask her to pay another 15 mills?” Polensek asked. “The calls I’m getting from people aren’t about being anti-education or anti-kids. They’re stretched. They’re having a hard time paying their bills.”

Polensek, an Executive Board member of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, continued, “I hope they dispense Depends when they announce it, so that when homeowners crap their pants it doesn’t get too messy.”

Despite some superficial comparisons to Senate Bill 5, the public employee union reform bill overturned by referendum in 2011, the Cleveland Plan appears to offer few changes that will help taxpayers reduce costs to match revenue, instead of raising taxes to meet the Cleveland Teachers Union’s demands.

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