Monday, October 30, 2000

CPS chief is upbeat on levy

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Supporters of Cincinnati Public Schools are wrapping up their campaign for a 6-mill, $35.8 million levy, a tax measure that Superintendent Steven Adamowski calls a “necessary evil” to ensure a good education for the city's children.

        The levy has won wide-ranging support in the community from the Democratic, Charter and Republican parties and from several religious and community organizations.

        Mr. Adamowski recently talked about the levy with the Enquirer.

        Enquirer: To what do you attribute the broad-based support this levy has gained?

Mr. Adamowski: Proficiency test scores are up; we are redesigning low-performing schools. We have a breakthrough with our teacher-compensation system. Many of the things we talked about as plans, we finally have some results to show.

        People like to be on a winning team. And it's been helpful to have the endorsement of the Republican Party.

        If the levy passes, how soon will it be until we see that new money be ing used for class-size reductions, building improvements and more money going to neighborhood schools?

        In January we will release our cash reserve, which we would need for the rest of the year if the levy fails. That's about $180 per child. Since staffs are already in place at the schools, the schools could use that money for textbooks and materials.

        Next year we would do class-size reduction in as many schools as possible.

        Any schools being re- designed would get it first, then schools in intervention (One of four categories CPS uses to rate its schools. Those tagged for intervention are sent teams of teachers to help improve), then those with space.

        Even though we talk about phasing this in over three years, we will try to do it in grades K-3 all at once.

        The mill for building maintenance, that money will go into a trust fund.

        Neighborhood school funds would be available to those schools with a plan for a design, such as Success For All.

        And for schools that already have a design in place, they would be able to fully implement that design.

        Other schools without a design plan will have to come up with one.

        If the levy fails, when would we see cuts?

If the levy fails, without the 2 mills for inflation that's about $20 million that would have to come out. Seventy-five percent of the money is in the schools, and it is really a question of how the schools reduce their expenditures.

        You've made promises: better test scores, more money for neighborhood schools, better buildings. How much of that do you need to accomplish to retain confidence for the next levy vote?

        The greatest point of leverage is early literacy. What we have to do is meet the needs of students with the biggest deficiencies.

        I would anticipate that given lower class size (the district would hire between 170 and 180 teachers to create classes of up to 17 students) and with our early literacy efforts we will be the only city in the nation that will be able to guarantee every third-grader can read. If we can do that, achievement will rise.

        The building projects are what people can see. Five years from now you should be able to go around the city and see schools that people can be proud of. We've got 15 projects ready to go, and we're doing maintenance work in nearly all of the buildings.

        You've said before that you think this could be the last levy vote the district ever asks for. Can you explain why?

        I hope that within five years the state will fix the school funding system.

        Right now the breakdown is roughly 40 percent funding from the state and 60 percent local. It should be reversed. If we did that this levy could last 10 years. But I'm not optimistic it would be fixed overnight.

        Why should people vote for the levy?

        It's one of those questions that speaks to everyone's level of citizenship. We have to plan for the next generation and make sure children receive a good education.

        What are your feelings about whether the levy will pass or fail?

I'm optimistic, but then I'm an optimistic person. Of course, the contacts I have tend to be positive. There are so many groups for which the schools are important.

        Regardless of whether the levy passes or fails, what have you learned from this campaign?

        I've met a lot of wonderful people I haven't met before. I've spoken to new groups, going to coffees and neighborhood house parties.

        I can tell you there is a frustrating aspect. At the same time we have all this old baggage. We have the smallest central office staff in the United States (only 5 percent of the district's budget is used by the central office), yet people think we are wasting money.

        Some of these frustrations are from what we are now and what we were a decade ago.

        I hate having to ask people for money, but this is one of those necessary evils. I'd rather spend my time on instructional issues, which is my life's work.

        I am encouraged by some things. Most of the people I've met tell me they think the district is on the right track.

       How school funding is determined

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