Of all the issues and races on the ballot today in the city of Akron, from president to the liquor options in a handful of precincts, none is more important than Issue 61, the proposed levy for the Akron Public Schools. The district has done its part in recent years to find efficiencies and cope with other budget realities. It reduced spending by $19 million last year alone. Now voters must do their part to protect against further reductions that would harm students and the city’s future.
Even if the levy wins approval, the district still must generate $9 million in additional savings. That is a much better prospect than slashing a projected $27 million if the levy fails, reducing deeply the ranks of teachers, administrators and other staff members, putting in jeopardy many programs that make up a well-rounded education.
In levy campaigns, proponents often relay such warnings. Know that the Akron district isn’t crying wolf. Look at the components contributing to its financial hole, especially reductions in state funding. Federal stimulus money protected schools in many ways from the decline in revenue due to the recession. When that money expired, the governor and state lawmakers opted against making up the difference, resulting in a shortfall of $12 million for the Akron schools the past two years.
The squeeze at the Statehouse, the sluggish economy and the limits of the school-funding formula have conspired to increase the financial pressure the past six years, or since voters last approved a property tax increase. In that time, the district hardly has been loose with its money. Ohio Education Matters of KnowledgeWorks applauded its tight management. School officials have pursued the advice of local business leaders.
Most telling, the district has launched initiatives aimed at addressing key elements in improving academic performance and expanding opportunities for students. Administrators and teachers together have designed a process for removing poorly performing teachers from classrooms. The district has put in place a program for identifying and developing principals, such leadership in school buildings indispensable to improved learning. Officials have embraced the ACT as a credible measure of how well the district is doing.
These and other steps reflect a district stepping up to a huge challenge, more effectively mobilizing its resources. What shouldn’t be lost is that the task requires sufficient resources to deploy.
The proposed 7.9-mill property tax increase translates into an additional $20 per month for a house valued at $100,000. That is a substantial request. Yet there looms a greater price for failing to invest adequately in public education. It can be found in lower property values or a weakened economy. Good schools help define the quality of city life. Approve Issue 61, and voters will do something big to make Akron better.