Unsustainable Spending Behind Cleveland School Levy Request
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which is requesting a 15-mill property tax levy, has seen plummeting enrollment but has not implemented corresponding spending cuts during the past decade. Cleveland voters have less than 90 days to decide whether the tax hike – proposed by Democrat Mayor Frank Jackson and endorsed by Republican Governor John Kasich – is justified.
Cleveland’s population dropped by more than 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, resulting in dramatic reductions both in school enrollment and the city’s tax base. Ohio Department of Education (ODE) data from the 2001-2002 school year to the 2010-11 school year show that enrollment in Cleveland Metro Schools decreased by over 39 percent during the decade’s mass exodus.
Adjusting district expenditure data for inflation using the Cleveland-Akron Consumer Price Index reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the school district’s spending dropped by roughly 27 percent during the same period.
Only during the 2004-2005 school year did the district cut spending by a percentage greater than the drop in enrollment. During the 2002-03, 2007-08, and 2009-10 school years, spending relative to inflation actually increased while enrollment consistently decreased.
Using the 2001-02 school year as a baseline, Cleveland’s population loss and the failure of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to implement adequate spending cuts have created a gulf of more than 12 percent between district enrollment and expenditures.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has reported that the November levy “would add $459 to the $970 the owner of a $100,000 house pays for Cleveland schools now. For the average Cleveland home, worth just under $64,000, it would add $294 to the $621 now paid.”
The average Cleveland Metro Schools teacher was paid $65,518 in 2010 according to an NPR StateImpact Ohio study based on ODE data.
For 2006 – 2010, the Census Bureau pegs Cleveland’s median household income at $27,349, with 31.2 percent of the city’s residents below the poverty level. The city’s 17 percent decrease in population from 2000 to 2010 amounted to a loss of 81,588 residents in ten years.
Leaders for the tax hike campaign, “Citizens for our Children’s Future,” were announced this week. Campaign co-chairs include local politicians, business owners, and George Voinovich – a Republican and former Cleveland mayor, Ohio governor, and U.S. senator.
A spokesman for Governor Kasich explained in July that the governor would disregard the Americans for Tax Reform “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” to support Mayor Jackson’s 15-mill property tax levy.
“The schools are doing it the right way because they’re fixing their problems first, and then asking for more resources. If the governor lived in Cleveland he would vote for it and the governor will give the mayor whatever help he needs,” read a statement from Kasich’s office.
The “Cleveland Plan” reforms passed by Jackson and Kasich appear to be a step in the right direction, but will do little to control compensation costs. More than anything, the fact that Kasich supports an enormous tax hike in a shrinking city proves the governor’s desire for a “win” on school reform following last year’s union victory over changes to Ohio’s public employee union law.
The Buckeye Institute, the state’s leading free-market think tank, has further coverage of the financial situation at Cleveland Metro Schools.