Upper Arlington News

Anti-levy campaign

Educate UA seeking lasting district reforms

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Members of Educate UA's message to Upper Arlington school district voters is, "It's OK to vote 'no' on Issue 51."

The group met Sept. 27 at the MCL Restaurant in Kingsdale Center.

George Momirov said members of Educate UA will distribute about 100 yard signs this week and enough campaign brochures to leave one at each house in Upper Arlington.

"Our deal is not just stopping this levy," he said. "We want reform in our school district. We think there is money to be wrung out over there. This culture has to change -- we just can't afford it any more."

Issue 51 is a 5.8-mill operating levy for Upper Arlington City Schools on the Nov. 6 ballot.

If approved by voters, the levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per $100,000 in property value and generate about $9.2 million per year for the school district, said district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.

Educate UA says the average value of a home in the city is about $327,000, according to the Franklin County Auditor's Office, so the increase in annual taxes would be closer to $582.

Joyce Blake, a retired Upper Arlington teacher and treasurer of Educate UA, said the group organized after Geistfeld and Superintendent Jeff Weaver spoke at a meeting of the Upper Arlington 9-12 Project group in August. She said they met with Geistfeld and began researching data on teacher salaries and comparable school districts' cost per student from the Ohio Department of Education.

"We felt we needed more financial information before we could find a reason for our taxes to go up," she said.

The group has a "position paper" on the issue posted on their website, EducateUA.org.

"Our main thing is making sure every taxpayer has all the information we can gather before they make a decision on this levy," she said. "We do not think our money is being spent wisely by the school district.

"The district talks about covering losses from the state, but when we have to take cuts in pay or lose jobs, we make changes in our budget," she said. "It comes down to wants and needs. What do they really need and what do they just want?"

About 25 people attended the meeting.

Donna Stoner, who said she has lived in Upper Arlington for 44 years, had three children go through Upper Arlington schools, but said, "I have had no kids in the school district for the past 25 years."

"I think it is time to pass the torch to people half our age," she said. "I am one of the few people who has saved every single tax bill I've ever paid so I know to the very penny how much my taxes have increased.

"My tax bill is now 2.65 times the original cost of my house," she said. "In a few more years, it will be triple the cost. I think that is ridiculous."

Momirov said Upper Arlington's cost per student is $15,172, while the cost per student at Olentangy schools is $9,465.

He said Olentangy schools spent less per student, yet achieved the same rating of "excellent with distinction" on last year's state report card.

"We know Upper Arlington schools are great," he said. "We parents gave the schools quality products: our kids. This is not about the teachers; I think we have great teachers."

He said if voters reject the levy request, administrators and the school board finally will have to find ways to reduce expenses.

"If the levy passes and the school district has to negotiate a new contract with teachers by 2014, they won't have any leverage," he said. "We're actually doing them a favor if the levy doesn't pass."

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