German Village Gazette

No Cheaters, No Charters

Anti-levy group will offer counter argument at Oct. 14 forum

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A group opposing the Columbus school levy this fall calling itself "No Cheaters, No Charters" will provide a counterpoint to pro-levy forces in the campaign.

The group will participate in an upcoming League of Women Voters forum, to be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Whetstone Branch, 3909 N. High St.

The group has leveled several broadsides against the levy effort, saying the district lacks credibility on a multitude of issues. It cites the data "scrubbing" scandal, in which employees are accused of manipulating students' records to improve their schools' standing on state report cards.

"We've still got a school board that denies any wrongdoing," said Jonathan Beard, a member of the group.

"That just doesn't give taxpayers any satisfaction that it's an organization that deserves more money," Beard said.

Beard described No Cheaters, No Charters as a loose-knit group of people who share the same concerns over Issue 50 -- the 9.01-mill combination operating levy/bond issue -- and Issue 51, which calls for the establishment of an independent auditor.

He said he expects to officially form a political action committee, or PAC, in the next week or so.

In the meantime, the group has launched a website -- nocheatersnocharters.com -- that spells out its initiative and invites people to participate.

Jeff Warner, spokesman for Columbus City Schools, said the district wouldn't address specific statements made by No Cheaters, No Charters.

"We understand that's their view," Warner said. "And we're not going to question that."

Beard said another disappointment is the latest report card from the Ohio Department of Education, which gave the schools district four F's, three D's and two C's.

The proposed levy, representing a 24-percent increase in taxes for the district, would cost the owner of a $100,000 house, an additional $315 a year.

Beard said he supports a less expensive, shorter-term operating levy that would allow the school district time to reassess its priorities and build voter trust.

"Forget all the bells and whistles," he said. "We don't know if we need them. We don't know if we want them."

Also, the group doesn't support a portion of the levy, which overall would raise $515 million annually, going toward charter schools. Beard said they aren't needed, because there are now more providers and fewer students.

Meanwhile, the school district has said it would only give money to high-performing charter schools.

The city of Columbus has established a group that will develop education standards for charter schools, should they hope to receive money from the levy.

Beard also took aim at the Columbus Education Commission, a 25-member board appointed by Mayor Michael B. Coleman that made several recommendations earlier this year on improving the district.

Beard called them stale, recycled ideas.

"I think if you put the same people around the same table you'll get the same things they've been giving you," he said.

The mayor's office declined to comment about the criticism.

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