Upper Arlington News

Issue 51

Both sides campaigning on financial issues

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As Election Day draws closer, volunteers on both sides of Issue 51 -- the 5.8-mill continuing operating levy on the Nov. 6 ballot for Upper Arlington City Schools -- continue to knock on doors and distribute literature and yard signs that say either "Vote Yes Issue 51, Our Schools, Our Future" or "It's Okay to Say No, Vote No 51."

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

EducateUA is the anti-levy group, with information at educateua.org.

On the other side, Citizens for UA Schools is the pro-levy group, at ualevy.org.

Money -- and how it is spent -- is at the root of both campaigns.

EducateUA member George Momirov said the school district should consider cutting more budget items instead of asking for more money from taxpayers.

"Gasoline is close to $4 a gallon and other expenses in our lives are escalating," he said. "This bad economy has a silver lining because it causes people to look at where their tax dollars are going. This is symptomatic of what is going on in the public sector all over America."

Momirov and other members of EducateUA cite the fact that Upper Arlington City Schools' cost per student is $15,172, while Olentangy schools spend $9,465 per student, but still earned the same rating of "excellent with distinction" on last year's state report card.

District Superintendent Jeff Weaver said the district's cost per student may be on its way down because of the number of teachers retiring this year and next.

"I think we have a very experienced teaching staff compared to Olentangy," he said. "We have been trying to serve our community by hiring the highest-quality teachers who can deliver high-quality results.

"We have tried to be responsive to our community, which is part and parcel to who we are," he said. "Until the community tells us differently, we feel we have an obligation to give them the excellent programs and high results they expect from us."

School district residents last approved an operating levy in 2007 -- a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent-improvement levy with 4.2 mills approved for operating funds.

According to EducateUA's website, wages and benefits represent 85 percent of the school district's budget. The group calls a tax increase "a short-term fix" and says the district pays for too many curriculum specialists.

Information on the EducateUA website says the Ohio Department of Education "has identified 19 curriculum specialists in the UASD (Upper Arlington School District) at an average base pay of $80,000. Dublin schools has four curriculum specialists and Olentangy schools has zero."

District Treasurer Andy Geistfeld said all school districts classify their staffs differently.

"Comparing multiple districts' classification of staffing is like comparing apples to oranges," he said. "Upper Arlington uses teachers as curriculum specialists while other districts may classify these positions as administrators or contract out those services.

"We don't have administrators doing curriculum, while other districts may have assistant principals help with curriculum."

He said the curriculum specialists also help with student assessments in regular and special-education classrooms.

"We do have six curriculum specialists that are unique to our district," he said. "They are our 21st-century skills coaches who assist the district in implementing our strategic plan initiatives and make sure we are teaching 21st-century skills. This plan is one of the reasons the district is considered a 'lighthouse' district."

Geistfeld said Ken Kay, a leading expert in the 21st-century skill movement in education, refers to Upper Arlington City Schools multiple times in his most recent book, The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts, co-authored with Valerie Greenhill.

EducateUA's next meeting for volunteers and other interested parties is set 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, at MCL Cafeteria, 3154 Kingsdale Center in the Kingsdale Shopping Center.

Treasurer Joyce Blake, a retired Upper Arlington teacher, said the meeting will be in the "nook" area of the restaurant.

She said the group has issued an addendum to its position paper, which can be found on its website.

Leadership UA has scheduled an "issues discussion" from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Municipal Service Center, 3600 Tremont Road. In addition to the school levy, organizers said the event will deal with Issue 24, the UA entertainment district; and the Issue 2, a statewide issue about redistricting.

According to the Citizens for UA Schools' website, pro-levy campaign representatives will attend and are urging the public to attend as well.

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