Oct 24, 2023 - News

Explaining Columbus' Nov. 7 school levy conflict

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some local Black leaders are campaigning against Columbus City Schools' Nov. 7 levy, arguing now is not the time to increase homeowners' expenses.

Why it matters: After a polarizing teachers strike and threats of a recession thwarted last year's levy attempt, the latest opposition signals lingering community frustrations with the Columbus Board of Education.

Details: If the levy passes, the district would receive about $99 million yearly.

  • One-third ($38.6 million) would fund operating expenses.
  • The remaining $60.49 million would be the first significant contribution to the district's permanent improvement fund, to finance ongoing facility maintenance and replace items like buses and laptops.

By the numbers: The levy — which would not have an expiration date — would increase homeowners' annual property taxes by $270 for every $100,000 of appraised home value, at current rates.

  • Impending home reappraisals are expected to lower the cost to $179, the Franklin County Auditor's Office tells us.

Threat level: If it doesn't pass, the district says, buildings will continue to deteriorate and cuts are coming — including no preschool expansion, reducing student support programs and eliminating some staff positions that were added using federal COVID relief funds.

What they're saying: Columbus NAACP president Nana Watson tells Axios that homeowners' budgets, especially among seniors, are already being stretched too thin. The school board also didn't proactively communicate with residents before putting the levy on the ballot, she says.

  • Watson's group is distributing "vote no" signs and participated in an unusual debate versus a school board member last month, arguing against the levy.
  • A coalition of Black religious leaders also opposes the levy.

Of note: The Columbus Education Association supports this year's issue.

  • Last year, before the school board removed the similar levy from the November 2022 ballot, the teachers union had argued that more funding would be available if the board stopped supporting tax abatements.

The other side: School board president Jennifer Adair tells Axios some frustrations are out of the district's control — like inflation, rising property values and Ohio's method of funding schools primarily with property taxes.

  • But the board's relationship with community groups is "something we have to continue to improve on," Adair says, so they can work together to improve kids' lives.

The intrigue: The Equity Now Coalition, another local Black advocacy group, is supporting the levy after previously asking for it to be pulled from the ballot.

  • According to WOSU, chair Jerry Saunders "now realizes CCS needs money from this levy immediately, not next year."

Go deeper: Other Franklin County school levies on the November ballot

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Columbus Education Association did not oppose last year's proposed levy but wanted the school board to stop supporting tax abatements.

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