As a result of the failure of the May school levy, and as a followup to our April public forum, Educate Worthington will host another forum on Thursday, August 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Northwest Library. We invite district residents, students, staff and leadership to join us in a civil and informative discussion of "sustainability" regarding the school district's finances.

As a result of the failure of the May school levy, and as a followup to our April public forum, Educate Worthington will host another forum on Thursday, August 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Northwest Library. We invite district residents, students, staff and leadership to join us in a civil and informative discussion of "sustainability" regarding the school district's finances.

At the first forum we addressed rising district expenses and anticipated levy needs, and considered the question: "Do we have a problem?" On August 6, we plan to go further into brainstorming: "What might be done about it, both at the state and local levels?"

For those who missed the first forum, here is a brief summary: Salaries and benefits make up 88% of district expenses, and the district projects these annual compensation costs rising from $97-million to $117-million over the next four years. These increases are driven primarily by the union contracts of valued district staff, and these rising expenses drive the need for the new levies the district anticipates in 2009, 2012 and more frequently thereafter.

From the outcome of the May levy, it appears that a majority of district residents believe there is a problem. As a result, district leaders have recognized the need to reduce costs, and they are taking some steps to analyze and implement appropriate "cuts," with a focus on limiting the impact to students. For that, we commend their efforts.

However, to truly address the issue of "sustainability", we must consider more than just what we can do right now, but also what we can do in the future to slow the rapid rise in compensation costs that are at the heart of district spending.

We will not solve the school funding crisis on August 6, nor will we solve the problem that many years of generous contracts have created. However, we expect participants to leave with a better understanding of the issue, and with new ideas on how to address it going forward. We also hope they will share this knowledge with family, friends, neighbors and district staff and leadership.

This is a community problem, and it will only be solved if we acknowledge the problem, we honestly assess its causes and we earnestly pursue appropriate solutions. With this in mind, we hope to see you at the Northwest Library on August 6.

The U.S. Supreme Court's June 8 decision in Caperton et al. v. A. T. Massey Coal, Inc. makes it clear that judges must step aside, or recuse themselves, in cases involving supporters who make large campaign contributions to them. It is likely that many courts, including Ohio's, will consider adopting stricter recusal standards following this decision. Although this may be a good first step, the League of Women Voters does not believe that this alone will solve the fundamental underlying problem: the huge amounts of money spent on judicial races. This phenomenon is undermining Americans' confidence in the fairness, impartiality and integrity of those courts.

Ohio has long experienced bitter judicial races involving massive sums of money. In fact, more money was spent on judicial campaigns in Ohio in 2000, 2002 and 2004 than in any other state. A 2006 New York Times study found that Ohio Supreme Court justices voted in favor of their contributors over 70 percent of the time.

A USA Today poll in February found that nine out of 10 people believe campaign contributions to judges are a problem, and more than half deemed it a major problem. Moreover, the presence of large sums of money in judicial campaigns is a far more serious problem than in other elected officials' campaigns. Unlike legislators or members of the executive branch, judges must decide cases based on the facts and the law--not on the views of those who support them. When judges are, or appear to be, beholden to contributors, their ability to render impartial justice is undermined in appearance, if not in fact.

The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus believes that there are good solutions to this problem that have been adopted in other states. One solution is to move to the appointment of judges, followed after a reasonable amount of time on the bench with a retention election. This approach gives voters the opportunity to evaluate the judge's performance and get rid of judges who are not doing a good job. Another approach to removing the taint of money in judicial elections is to provide public financing for campaigns, which reduces the need for judicial candidates to raise large sums of money.

The Caperton decision is only one manifestation of a problem that arises when judges have to raise large sums of money to get elected. The League urges Ohioans to educate themselves on this issue--and learn just how much money has been spent on Ohio Supreme Court races over the past decade--by visiting www.ohioimpact.org. Then join us as we advocate for change.