Guest column

Educate yourself on the levy Oct. 10

By Nicole Eshelbrenner
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I once met the mayor of St. Louis in a bowling alley after graduating college and could not think of a thing to say to him. The next time I meet a mayor, I have hopes for a meeting that's more meaningful.

Thankfully, I'll have the chance -- several years and a growing family later -- to redeem myself on Oct. 10. That's when Mayor Michael Coleman, along with Columbus City Schools' interim Superintendent Dr. Dan Good, will come to Southwood Elementary to speak directly to me -- and to you -- and the rest of the group of concerned parents and educators in the communities south of downtown known as Southside STAY.

Over the past year, Southside STAY has worked to improve the schools around here so that when the time comes, we don't feel our best choice is moving to a better school district.

We concerned citizens are not the only ones working to change underperforming schools. Multiple stakeholders in Columbus are intently focused on our sub-par public schools. In fact, this year, Mayor Coleman put together a task force to make recommendations on improving the schools. As a result, two issues are on the ballot this November regarding Columbus City Schools.

If Issues 50 and 51 pass, the continuing levy would generate approximately $515 million over the next five years and would increase the amount of school property taxes collected by approximately $315 per $100,000 in assessed property value. Levy proponents say it promises to address key problem areas in schools. According to reimagingcolumbuseducation.org, Issue 50, a levy and bond issue, will allow for:

* Improved technology and internet access;

* Affordable pre-K for improved kindergarten readiness;

* Empowered educators and principals who can make decisions on budget and staff rather than a central agency, while being held accountable;

* Better preparation for college, the military or work force;

* Replication of high-performing public schools and stronger charter schools, as currently nearly half of students attend D or F rated schools;

* More breakfast and lunch programs;

* Twice as many arts-focused schools; and

* Stronger ties to social service agencies.

The second issue, Issue 51, will establish an independent auditor to review district data, performance and finance, provide an education advisor to the mayor, and make student achievement a renewed focus of the Columbus Board of Education.

Phew.

As with most issues, not everyone agrees, and not everyone understands the complexities involved. At the playground, I've overheard parents wonder whether past education levies have fulfilled their goals, or whether providing additional money to schools will help, when perhaps students are not getting enough support at home. Is it counter-intuitive to support charter schools when public schools need so much help?

On the other hand, how can Columbus City School students be successful and competitive with peers across the state without basic amenities that surrounding suburban schools all seem to have?

If there is an achievement gap, how can we help give Columbus students the tools necessary to reach their full potential?

So, how to vote on the levy in November? I, like so many others, have yet to decide.

You may not feel this is as important as your president-deciding swing state vote, but this election will impact our children and our community for years to come. And too many times, ballot language is so confusing that one may skip it altogether. That's why it's important to educate yourself and make a point to get to the polls this November.

Please, come listen to what Mayor Coleman and Dr. Good have to say, while Ann Fisher from WOSU moderates your questions at 6:30 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 10, at Southwood Elementary, 1500 S. Fourth St. in Merion Village.

For information and reminders about next week's important meeting, follow Southside STAY at facebook.com/SouthsideSTAY.

Nicole Eshelbrenner is a member of Southside STAY.

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