Upper Arlington News

Pro-levy group opens 'Excellence Matters' effort

Opposition says district contingency plan doesn't deal with the problem of teachers' pay

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It's a new year and a new school levy, but proponents and opponents of the Upper Arlington school district's latest levy request remain divided.

A grassroots effort to convince voters to support a 4-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot kicks off this week on the heels of the district's release last week of a contingency plan officials said would be implemented if it fails.

At the same time, a member of the opposition group that helped defeat the previous school levy said the contingency plan is "threatening teachers" but doesn't deal with the problem of district pay scales.

Citizens for UA Schools is calling its pro-levy campaign "Excellence Matters," because, according to Co-Chairman Greg Overmyer, "it accurately summarizes why people chose to live in UA and that passage of Issue 52 for UA schools is vital to the future of our schools and community."

If it is approved Nov. 5, the levy would generate about $6.3 million per year for the district and would cost homeowners an additional $140 per year for every $100,000 of home value, according to district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.

The district's 5.8-mill levy request failed in November 2012. It was the first Upper Arlington's school levy issue to face an organized opposition group -- Educate UA -- and the first levy to be rejected since the late 1980s.

After last fall's defeat, district leaders said they had heard the opposition's arguments about the district's high costs per student. They responded by cutting 30 staff positions, hiking athletic fees and making more than $3 million in budget cuts.

They said they also are in the process of identifying a total of $13.4 million in cuts to be made over the next four years.

Some members of Educate UA, however, did not like the financial contingency plan that was released last week, listing what would happen if Issue 52 does not pass.

The contingency plan stressed that without the $6.3 million per year the levy would bring in, the district would have to cut an additional 60 or more staff positions over the next two years.

Joyce Blake, a former Upper Arlington teacher and spokesperson for Educate UA, said the district has failed to address teacher compensation issues.

"Educate UA is anxious to see the justification for the $6.3 million levy increase, as the district did not address the issues raised in the last election," she said. "Threatening teachers' (positions) without addressing compensation seems shortsighted, especially since the voters spoke so clearly last year."

Overmyer said the contingency plan is an attempt to stay "transparent" and honest with voters.

"Our school district is being responsible and transparent with our community in communicating about how important Issue 52 is to our schools," he said. "We are only beginning to feel the loss of the cuts from the spring, but we can already see that the cuts hurt our students and schools."

He said Issue 52 represents a "very lean request" compared to last November's levy.

"It reflects the fact that the district has stepped up its cost-cutting by identifying $13.4 million in savings over the next four years, with even $4.5 million more in efficiencies on the way even if Issue 52 passes," he said.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said he is working on the district's new Efficiency Project, which is designed to identify $4.5 million more in cuts by the end of fiscal year 2017. He promised that school leaders will "commit to make levy funds last at least four years" if voters pass the 4-mill levy.

Overmyer said the district is listening to residents in finding ways to save.

"Our schools are showing strong fiscal discipline and are doing what it takes, but we simply cannot cut our way to continued excellence," he said. "Now, it's up to us as voters and community members who care to support Issue 52 and to show that excellence matters."

He said other members of the campaign committee are Tracy and Julie Peters and Mike and Lisa Martyn.

"This is a grassroots effort and we have many community members reaching out to help," he said. "They saw what came with one failure and the stakes are even higher with a second. They know that in UA, excellence matters, so they are pitching in their time and talents to help get this passed. The energy surrounding this campaign and the passion of the volunteers is inspiring."

The school campaign website is ualevy.org. The campaign also has a Facebook page called Citizens for UA Schools.

The Educate UA website had not been updated by ThisWeek Upper Arlington's press time to reflect the current tax issue, but is located at educateua.org.

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