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Westerville News & Public Opinion: "Yes" to Issue 16
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Reprinted courtesy of the Westerville News & Public Opinion/SNP

ęCopyright Suburban News Publications, Columbus, Ohio, 2003

Originally published October 22, 2003


School levy
Needs are dire: 'Yes' to Issue 16

Westerville school district voters face a clear choice on Election Day: Support their local schools or watch them sink to become one of the worst public school systems in Central Ohio, pulling down the community and its property values with it. It's that simple.

Some things in life you can't afford not to do. When the roof of your home is so bad that leaks threaten to destroy the interior, you need a new roof.

When your community's public school system is on the brink of crisis, you need to cast a "yes" vote for the local school levy.

Such is the case for the Westerville City School District's Issue 16, a three-year, 7.5-mill operating levy on the Nov. 4 ballot. Passage of the issue will cost homeowners an annual property tax increase of $230 per $100,000 of home valuation.

Failure of the issue would cost the community a whole lot more, the News & Public Opinion strongly believes.

The opening of three new schools during the last two years, and the redrawing of school attendance areas as part of that process, left many parents of students in the district unhappy with the administration and the Westerville Board of Education.

The school board's focus on buildings, redistricting and a redesign of high school curriculum occupied much of its energy. It certainly drew its attention away from communicating with residents on the precarious state of school funding in Westerville.

Property reappraisals and several non-school taxes passed during 2001 and 2002 -- for a county mental health agency, Senior Options, the Westerville Division of Fire and Westerville Public Library -- left residents with sticker shock at their tax bills in January and June.

The cumulative result of unpopular school board action, rising tax bills and poor communication from the school district was predictable: Disaffection for the schools, a failed school levy in May and organized opposition to the levy on November's ballot.

Lost in the mix along the way are some important facts. Westerville schools still are managing to do a good job educating the community's children, at a bargain price by any comparison. Good schools remain a reason for people to move to Westerville, and a principal reason property values are increasing in the community. That all could change dramatically if Issue 16 fails.

Westerville now ranks 12th of 16 school districts in Franklin County in per-pupil spending -- behind Whitehall, Gahanna, Groveport and Hilliard, as well as all of the top-performing districts. Wild claims from levy opponents of outlandish spending practices are simply wrong.

Of all of the various bones to pick with the schools the last couple of years, the overspending bone is one that plainly does not bear any flesh.

When the district's 8-mill levy failed in May, $5.7 million in budget cuts were enacted and a scaled-back version of the levy was crafted. Twenty-two teaching positions were cut, eight administrative-supervisory positions were cut, administrator salaries were frozen, class sizes went up and pay-to-play fees were started.

If Issue 16 fails Nov. 4, another $8.6 million will have to be slashed from the budget. Class sizes for grades 3-12 will go to 30 students; 98 teaching, administrative and classified jobs will be cut; distances between bus stops will be increased to at least one-half mile apart; and pay-to-play fees could quadruple.

One of the most devastating cuts would reduce the high school day to five periods, necessitating a reduction of the credits needed to graduate to a state-minimum 20. Almost all electives would be dropped, as students would have to earn full credits for each period of the reduced day to graduate in four years.

These are changes that would, without question, reduce the Westerville City School District to a third-class school system in Central Ohio. The community's attractiveness would drop precipitously. Property values would follow.

Misdirected anger at the school board will not change that. Misinformation about district spending practices cannot refute those facts.

The Westerville News & Public Opinion strongly urges residents to vote "yes" on Issue 16. Simply put, you can't afford not to.

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Westerville Voters On Target for Education