STATEMENT TO THE PEOPLE OF COLUMBUS
October 16, 2013
CITIZENS AGAINST ISSUES 50 & 51 today announce our opposition to the proposed Columbus City Schools ballot issues.
We are standing here today as a group of long-time Columbus community leaders, in solidarity with the other citizen and civic groups who oppose this proposed wasteful spending of public dollars. We stand in support of It’s Okay to Vote No; No Cheaters, No Charters Columbus; and other groups of school-involved parents and residents who are urging votes against these ballot issues. As taxpayers and citizens, our group demands accountability first, from what appears to be a scandal-ridden and corrupt school system.
We stand here as supporters of our public schools and our children, but after research and deliberation we are certain the 24 percent property tax increase for Columbus City Schools is unfair and inappropriate for citizens of Columbus, and the need for the vague and untested Columbus Education Plan is not justified by the facts.
The Columbus City Schools have a budget of $1.3 billion – averaging over $26,000 per student, which is more than the cost of room and board at Ohio State University. We receive more money per pupil than any other school district in central Ohio, but we have the worst educational outcomes. That fact is not solved by an infusion of more money: we have tried that approach and it has not worked. We cannot continue to justify pouring new money after old, we must work wisely within our fiscal constraints.
Issue 50, a highly-divisive levy proposal that seeks to increase school property taxes by 24%, creates an unnecessary intergenerational conflict between the young and the aged. We object to the disparate impact this property tax hike will have upon some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens: our senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
Two years ago, Columbus residents supported an income tax increase, and are being hit in succession this year with a state sales tax increase, county sales tax increase, and now the biggest – the proposed 24% property tax hike for schools of Issue 50.
We are disturbed by this levy request for a huge increase for an organization that is in chaos — Columbus City Schools that appears to be scandal-plagued and corrupt — and that remains under a cloud of investigation by state and federal auditing and law enforcement offices.
Over the past 18 months, we have learned that for a decade Columbus City Schools has been manipulating data to mislead the public. For years, the schools have released data claiming improvement, but we now know the data was falsified and the performance was over-stated.
This is an issue that needs accountability that the Board of Education has been unwilling to provide to the public.
We have learned through the Internal Auditor’s report that the Board of Education was alerted to this fact in November 2004, but took no action to address it. But even after the data scandal went public in the summer of 2012, we are disturbed by the Board of Education’s subsequent actions to hide the details from the citizenry:
1. The Board met in private to discuss data scrubbing with its attorneys, was enjoined by the Court of Common Pleas from doing so, yet is prepared to go to trial over this very issue in an effort to avoid transparency.
2. The Board has hired an attorney to review all documents requested by investigators – an act that delayed investigation and resulted in the Auditor of State issuing subpoenas and securing the records from schools under police escort.
3. The Board has encumbered one million taxpayer dollars to hire attorneys to try to defend the indefensible, and to delay and frustrate investigation.
In the face of all this, the Board of Education – through a million dollar sales campaign featuring children and local celebrities as the Board’s surrogate spokespeople — now seeks an unprecedented 24 percent tax hike. We will not be fooled or overwhelmed by glossy mailers and “feel good” radio and television advertising: we object to these ballot issues. Public agencies must be accountable to the public, and the time for accountability is now, around this levy and the election of Board members. It is the responsibility of the public to hold powerful agencies accountable, and we stand to do that this election.
We call for the rejection of this levy because of its unnecessary and exorbitant expense and its impact on our seniors, our low income neighbors, cash-strapped homeowners, and renters who will face rent increases. We call for the rejection of this levy because all investigations of the scandal-plagued district are not yet complete, appropriate indictments have not yet been issued, and prosecutions have not yet begun: there is a cleaning house that must happen to begin the process of restoring the public trust in what appears to be a corrupt school system. We call for the rejection of this levy because the Board of Education has broken the public trust and shown little interest in promoting the common good.
We call on Board President Carol Perkins and Vice President Shawna Gibbs to immediately redirect attorney Robert “Buzz” Trafford from his work defending the district and hiding its misdeeds, and to have him align with the interests of the people of Columbus in promoting transparency and an understanding of what went wrong over the past decade.
Thus, we call today for Ms. Perkins and the school board to direct Mr. Trafford to compile a comprehensive report to the public on behalf of the Board of Education about the data scrubbing and other misdeeds over the past decade. This report should detail exactly what went wrong, who was responsible, what the consequences were, and what has been put in place to ensure this breach of the public trust never happens again. Complete disclosure to the public is a necessary precondition before a return to the ballot once Issue 50 is rejected.
We ask for Mayor Coleman to support our call for complete transparency from this scandal-plagued and corrupt school system, before he advocates for any more money from the citizens of Columbus. We note that the sense of crisis being promoted is one that is more invented than real – that the education of children in the district has not changed dramatically for the worse, but that the Department of Education merely changed its method of rating the state’s school systems. We further note the recently announced school district budget surplus, and that there is no financial crisis created by rejection of this proposed levy and a return to the ballot in 2014 or even 2015 to maintain the current operating expenses of the district.
Finally, we note that Issue 51 does not create an “Independent” Auditor, but an auditor beholden to five politicians – some of whom have conflicts of interests in the current investigations. An Independent Auditor would be elected by the people of the district, just as the City Auditor is elected by the people of the City, the county auditor is elected by the people of the county, and the state auditor is elected by the people of the state. The current Internal Auditor, Carolyn Smith, has performed admirably in her position by exposing the district’s misdeeds to the Board of Education and thus to the public. We see no reason to change the one position that appears to be working well within Columbus City Schools.
This statement is submitted on behalf of Citizens Against Issues 50 & 51, by:
Pastor Dale Snyder (Bethel AME Church)
Clarence Lumpkin (South Linden area leader)
Pastor Frederick LeMarr (Family Missionary Baptist Church)
Rev. Joel L. King, Jr. (Union Grove Baptist Church)
Cecil Ahad (Men in the Movement)
Byron L. Potts (Attorney)
Bob Fitrakis (Attorney)
Kahari Enaharo (Activist)
Tyrone Thomas (Activist)
Jonathan C. Beard (Activist)
In Solidarity With the Positions of:
It’s Okay to Vote No
No Cheaters, No Charters Columbus
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