Monday, June 18, 2012

Jackson gets school reforms; can he pass a levy?

So far, in his quest to turn around the Cleveland schools, Frank Jackson has pulled off two huge political feats.

The mayor got the teacher’s union to support his reform plan this spring, and on Wednesday his plan made it through the state legislature. A lot of people are in the mood to congratulate him.

But his third political challenge lies ahead, and it's the toughest of all. This fall, he’ll try to convince city voters to approve a new levy to shore up the district’s dwindling finances.

Jackson has shown great political skills this year, steering his plan past obstacles on the left and the right. He got tough with the teacher’s union, warning them they could either negotiate or see reforms pass without their input. That’s how he got the historic agreement to lay off teachers based on performance, not seniority, starting in summer 2013.

Then Jackson negotiated with Republican lawmakers over his plan to hold charter schools accountable. The mayor had to compromise, since the legislature, awash in donations from charter-school operators, was not going to give him a veto over new independent schools coming to town. But the bill creates additional oversight for charters operating in the city, which is important, since the state’s oversight is so weak.

Now Cleveland taxpayers will be asked to sacrifice. Jackson’s next step is to go for a new school levy this November. He and school officials haven’t said how much money they’ll ask for, but it’ll probably be a lot. The district faces yet another deficit this year. There’s even talk about asking for two levies, one for repairing schools, one for operating them day-to-day.

The district’s finances are being squeezed from all sides. Cleveland’s population keeps declining. Students who leave the district for charter schools take state money with them. The state is eliminating a business tax that used to be a source of school revenue. The cries to reform Ohio’s unconstitutional school-funding method go unheeded. Clevelanders who argue the district needs extra financial help run into arguments that Cleveland already gets more than its share.

Clevelanders haven’t approved a school levy since 2001, the year the East High gym’s roof collapsed and the need to replace and renovate schools became self-evident. The city hasn’t passed a levy for regular operations since 1996. Voters rejected a 2005 attempt by a two-to-one margin.

Passing a levy will be harder than ever. Cleveland is still very poor, and residents are still suffering from the downturn. Many Clevelanders don’t have a connection to the schools anymore. Even many public-school parents may be reluctant to give more money to schools that fail so many kids.

That’s why Jackson insisted he needed the school reforms in hand before he asked for more tax money. He felt he had to show voters a plan for improving them. Soon, the reforms will give the district broader powers to take strong action with failing schools. If the district keeps shrinking, it’ll shed the poorest-performing teachers, rather than most of its young talent.

Jackson’s reforms also include sharing levy money with the highest-performing charter schools. The high-minded idea is to embrace school choice, partner with successful charters and share strategies with them. But practically, it should help convince charter-school parents to support the levy.

Can Jackson pull it off? He will need all the help he can get. That means a lot of levy-campaign contributions from the corporate and foundation leaders who helped create the reform plan. It means an engaged, organized union ready to overcome its mixed feelings about the coming changes. It means getting the public, especially parents, to put faith in reforms that won’t be implemented until 2013.

Above all, it means the mayor will have to appeal for continued trust from the voters who reelected him by more than 2-to-1 in 2009.

Passing a school levy will make dealing with the teacher’s union and the Republican legislature look easy. So it’s way too early to congratulate Jackson. He’ll be tested like never before this fall.


Kimberly F. Brown said...

In November 2012, Mayor Frank G. Jackson and several public officials, law makers
community advocates are pushing for a Cleveland school levy on the November 2012 Ballot. The
problem with this levy is three fold. First, it is clear and obvious that the way our schools are funded is unconstitutional. Home owners (alone) should not be responsible for educating Cleveland’s young people. A fair amount of Cleveland home owners do not have school age children. To target a population suffering from economic turmoil is a travesty. It is unbelievable to expect anyone to take this levy seriously. Home owners are barely able to pay their mortgages and to financially bully them into a local school taxed mandate is not a fiscal responsible practice. To date, it has not been explained why home owners should be responsible for a 16 million dollar deficit that was caused by poor risk management, meager leadership and pitiable oversight. To issue Cleveland Municipal School District a bailout is irresponsible. It’s not about the children while lay-offs are still occurring within the district. Simultaneously, CMSD recently hired a Chief Academic Officer with an annual salary of $200,000. This is an apparent contradiction to the proposed financially strapped district
and clearly exposes a need for best practices.

Secondly, risk management over haul is warranted. CMSD is a public entity. The District has
performed poorly in this area. As such, the district has neglected to employ drill down methods to
understand and publicly explain how spending spiraled aimlessly. The continue failure to manage
and measure public funds should be internally investigated by an outside non political organization.
The institution of claw backs ranging from raises, bonuses and promotions should be examined and
established. Those that operated under the concept of rational ignorance and incompetence should
be engaged in disruptive transformation. The effects of educational hiccups will aid the
transformation with slight interruption. This will command new leadership, executive and mid-
level management accountability, openness, compliance and transparency while assuring tax
payers that real change is under way. Home owners need to know how the district will emerge
from fiscal malfeasance and what will preclude future losses and poor performance?

Lastly, Mayor’s Jackson’s appointed school board should perform as advocates for the Mayor, tax payers and the community. Tough questions must be driven for real solutions and results. The appointed board must conduct themselves as fiduciary agents and Mayor Jackson must allow them to act as such. To do otherwise is a bully approach to continuous failure. A levy is not a determinate factor for fixing our school district. Throwing good money after bad financial decisions, amount to insurmountable financial losses, and public deception. To deceive the public by edging law makers
to pass an education transformation bill that will less likely benefit the children of Cleveland is shameful. It would have been plausible to introduce new and inviting human capital (who live in the district) measures to talk about what really needs to be fixed before asking a targeted few for more money. It is a granted assumption that we will not produce smarter children with a levy passage, however we will see growth in political manipulation and a strong decline of public trust.

Tax Payers merit a workable model. Home owners deserve risk management preventative
measures – a risk management overhaul.

Satinder P. S. Puri said...

Mayor Jackson and CEO Eric Gordon want to be held accountable in the future (5 to 6 years) for the success/failure of the proposed levy to cover the $66 million deficit in Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s budget.

At the March 29, 2012 Community Meeting held at the Harvard Community Services Center in connection with Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools – Mayor Jackson stated: I have “never lied to you.”

The Plain Dealer, of November 22, 2011, described Mayor Jackson as a man with big ideas. His honor’s vision (as posted on the City of Cleveland website) for “building the Cleveland of tomorrow” by preserving our “great past” has been enshrined in the yard signs of the SAVE JOHN MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOL campaign (

The SAVE JOHN MARSHALL campaign (with over 2,400 petitioners) wants to renovate the 80-year old historic high school located on West 140th Street – similar to the renovation of the 83-year old John Hay and 80-year old Rhodes High Schools – has awarded a failing performance report to both Mayor Jackson and CEO Gordon in their accountability on the $50 million John Marshall High School Construction Project.

Mayor Jackson and CEO Gordon – who want students, parents, and teachers – to be responsible and accountable – and they should be – received 16 reminders (between the two of them) from the SAVE JOHN MARSHALL campaign.

Mayor Jackson never responded to the request for a meeting to SAVE JOHN MARSHALL – spread over ten months despite five reminders. Three requests were made via e-mail and certified mail, and two were hand delivered.

While Mayor Jackson has said that the proposed levy to cover the $66 million deficit is for the kids – our kids, a response (pending for three months) has not been provided explaining why his honor is permitting on the $50 million John Marshall High School Construction Project -- destruction of the auditorium, which our kids need; destruction of the underground running tracks which our kids need; and destruction of the swimming pool which our kids need?

A School District with a $700 million budget that aspires to be the premier district in the United States and teaches our children ethics and fair play has not played fair with the petitioners. CEO Gordon – provided the first response to request for information after eleven reminders spread over eight months – a response, which unfortunately does not address errors in the financial numbers nor provide requested critical information. Meanwhile the School District is getting ready to destroy our architectural gem.

Mayor Jackson was told at the April 24, 2012 Community Meeting held at the Cudell Recreation Center – both verbally and in writing: “However, if the School District still goes ahead with its plans to demolish our architectural gem – and there is no intervention from your honor’s side to SAVE JOHN MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOL – an intervention pending for the past 10 months -- as a last resort – because of the gross injustice meted out to the petitioners -- there will be a Hunger Strike ( to SAVE JOHN MARSHALL. A Hunger Strike – is a cry for Justice – and the media should inform the whole world why this is happening in Cleveland, Ohio, on a 50 million dollar construction project – and why an historic building can be renovated into a 21st century casino but an historic school has to be demolished and cannot be renovated into a 21st century learning facility -- similar to the renovation of 83-year old John Hay and 80-year old Rhodes High Schools.”

Mayor Jackson has also been requested (both via e-mail and certified mail) to let us know -- if his honor plans to intervene to SAVE JOHN MARSHALL HIGH SCHOOL. If there is no response, then the SAVE JOHN MARSHALL campaign will start using the VOTE NO TO TAX LEVY signs in our demonstrations because City Hall which has meted out gross injustice to petitioners -- can neither be trusted nor is accountable to citizens who have neither power nor wealth.