1. Strong communities have strong schools.
It doesn’t matter whether you send your children to public school or not – or whether you have children at all. When the community’s schools thrive, so does the community itself. New families move in, which helps local businesses to profit while supporting the tax base and home values.
It doesn’t even matter whether the schools are excellent; just by passing levies, our community sends the message that this is a good place for families and a stable place to make an investment in a home.
2. Passing levies makes the schools better.
The schools have, very simply, been managed better and have improved since the last levy was passed. Before that, over an extended period when levies regularly failed here, they had, very simply, gotten worse. That’s not a coincidence.
The most recent levy didn’t pass until the community demonstrated, by replacing members of the school board, that we were tired of mediocre management. It’s the same effect as when you visit a store; if the merchandise is neat and orderly, shoppers tend to treat it better too. But if it’s unkempt and strewn about, they tend to treat it poorly.
When we pass levies, we’re telling the school employees – from superintendent to janitors – that we care, and as a result they treat the schools, the children and our money with more regard.
3. The current school administration has earned our continued investment.
Since becoming superintendent two years ago, Douglas Heuer has overseen a number of improvements. He has:
- Lengthened the school day.
- Increased after-hours opportunities for kids who need academic help.
- Restructured the small schools model operating at Heights to make it more effective.
- Introduced block scheduling at the middle schools – probably the district’s weakest link over the years – to improve standardized test scores in core subjects. (Kids get double periods to spend more time on things like math and reading.) The pilot program for this took place in the 2010-2011 academic year at Wiley Middle School, and resulted in large improvements in reading, science and math scores. It has now been implemented at the other middle schools as well.
- Teachers are being encouraged to improve their own skills and to stay updated in their understanding of the evolving science of education.
- While all that has been going on, the board has cut more than $6 million in expenses from the operating budget without cutting into the thing we’re all willing to pay for: education of children. These cuts have allowed the last levy to be stretched for four years – 25% longer than most levies are expected to last.
4. Fair is fair.
The public school district gives all kids, from all backgrounds, a chance to get a quality education. While plenty of people in the community choose to send their children to private schools, the CH-UH district guarantees that those who can’t afford private schools also have a chance to go to college or otherwise become productive members of the community as they grow up.
The public schools also serve everyone – including the many kids who, for a variety of reasons, would be rejected or expelled from private schools.
For instance, the most consistent complaint I hear about our schools is the threatening and embarrassing appearance of the groups of kids who hang out at Cedar and Lee after high school lets out each day. If the levy fails, the worst of those kids aren’t going to go away. Those who are most at-risk aren’t going to be accepted at any of the private schools – even if they could pay for it. And remember that for every kid hanging out on the street, there are a handful of others who remain on school grounds to practice football or singing or some other activity supported by the schools. If the levy fails, there will be more kids hanging out in the wrong place – not fewer.
5. In some ways, our schools are already exceptional.
Our public schools provide a few things that are becoming increasingly rare, such as strong music education and sports programs that are affordable for everyone. I know several families that have chosen CH-UH schools specifically because their children couldn’t get equivalent experiences at even the most expensive private schools. A family friend who graduatedlast year has earned a full-ride to college to study music – based on his experience at Heights.
Are sports and music important? Well, yes, if you think society benefits from having people who know what it means to be part of a high-performing team.
It’s true that the district’s state report card has not made miraculous leaps toward “Academic Excellence.” But with the usual ups and downs it has made consistent progress – going up each year more than it goes down.
6. Levies fight the worst effects of poverty.
All of this is happening as poverty in the district continues to increase. If that poverty troubles you – or scares you – that’s OK. Me too. But don’t punish the public school district over it. The schools don’t create the punks and criminals that run around the Heights. Actually, the schools mitigate their impact, by helping many kids who might otherwise become punks and criminals to play a more constructive role in the community.
7. Finally, accountability.
The district has worked to increase transparency within the community; if you’re paying attention, it’s now easy to know the priorities and progress that it’s making. If you’re not paying attention, that’s your prerogative – but then you’d be wrong to make the same assumptions you might have made five or six years ago, when the district was not so well managed.
These are hard times, and coming up with extra money isn’t easy. After being laid off nearly three years ago, I’ve changed careers and managed to keep most of the bills paid, but I’m not exactly floating in spare cash.
But the last two district administrations have worked very seriously to:
- provide our community with more education for the dollar;
- provide increased accountability and transparency;
- improve the metrics by which our schools are measured;
- respect the funding we provide, and use the money with increasing efficiency.
I believe they have done a good job in very difficult times. I’ve looked at the budget, and while people may choose to argue with specific spending decisions, I believe that the spending is both judicious and purposeful.
I’d like to see our commuity build a little positive momentum, which will make Cleveland Heights and Universty Heights a more attractive place to live.
To me, it’s all worth paying a little extra.
I will disclose that I have one child still in the school district, and he’s thriving. I have two others who just graduated and are successfully navigating their freshman year of college – each at a prestigious university. OK, so call it 8 reasons why I’m voting for the levy.