Gasps and murmurs rippled through the gathering of representatives of Northland Community Council member organizations at last week's meeting, and someone muttered, "That's ridiculous!"
It was a bad case of sticker shock as Ashley Senn, Mayor Michael B. Coleman's point person with civic organizations on education issues, discussed how much Columbus City Schools' combined 9.01-mill bond issue and levy on the November ballot would increase taxes.
If approved, the package labeled as Issue 50 is expected to generate $76.5 million a year.
The proposed 1.01-mill bond issue would be for a period of 36 years; according to the ballot language, it would pay for a portion "of the cost of the local share of school construction under Ohio's Accelerated Urban Assistance program."
The 8-mill continuing levy would be used to "pay current expense of the district."
The cost to homeowners would be just over $315 a year for every $100,000 in assessed valuation. That would be in addition to the $1,338 a year district residents are already paying for every $100,000 in value for their homes to fund public education, an increase of 23.5 percent.
"The probability of this levy passing is extremely high," NCC President Emmanuel V. Remy said during the discussion that followed Senn's presentation. "You need to take it back to your residents and educate them. Start raising awareness of this."
The Northland Community Council doesn't take a position on candidates or issues, Remy added, but does want to make certain residents are making informed choices at the polls.
"It's a hard pill to swallow, a lot of money," he said.
Remy went on to say he has never voted against a school levy, but he urged the representatives to make sure their members understand what they will be asked to approve Nov. 5.
"You want to do the right thing for our community and our kids," he said.
The levy and Issue 51, a separate ballot measure that asks voters if the school district should create the position of independent auditor, are the result of the mayor and City Council President Andrew J. Ginther establishing the Columbus Education Commission last December, Senn told NCC members.
The 25 community leaders on the panel issued a 55-point report April 26, making recommendations designed to improve the educational readiness of kindergartners, increase technology in the classrooms, foster greater accountability, recruit and retain the best teachers and principals and heighten the career readiness of graduates.
More details about the commission and the recommendations are available at reimaginecolumbuseducation.org/.
At Coleman's urging, members of the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly passed what's been called the Columbus Plan to implement many of the education group's findings.
The 9.01-mill bond issue and levy is intended to help fund these improvements, according to Senn.
Establishing an independent auditor, as opposed to internal one, is among the key provisions of the Columbus Plan, she said.
"We feel that, given some of the things that have happened in the past, this is the best thing to do," Senn added.
Columbus City Schools officials are under investigation by the Ohio Auditor's Office and others for allegedly manipulating attendance data and changing grades to improve state ratings.
Senn shared the breakdown of how the 9.01 mills would be spent:
* 3.1 mills for district operations.
* 2 mills for teacher training and retention and to open high-performing district schools to more children.
* 1.01 mills as the estimated amount needed to pay off $175 million in bonds to build or renovate about 10 district schools, including a high school, and make all buildings Wi-Fi accessible.
* 1 mill for high-performing charter schools.
* 1 mill for pre-kindergarten for more Columbus children.
* 0.8 mill to upgrade district technology.
In addition, 0.1 mill would pay for the external auditor for the school district, if voters approve the second question on the November ballot.
The Columbus Plan would, for the first time, split some levy money with high-performing, nonprofit charter schools. About $8.5 million of the anticipated $76.5 million the levy would produce would be shared under this plan.
"I know there has been a lot of talk in the community about charter schools and our relationship with them," Senn said. "They're here to stay."
She pointed out that 15,000 students in Columbus attend publicly funded charter schools.
"We expect that number to grow," Senn said.
Partnering with the best of these operations, she added, would open up classroom space for more students in buildings that are performing better academically.