Thursday, November 09, 2000

Children know what levy means

More money for books, supplies, school buildings

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The results of a levy passed Tuesday by Cincinnati voters will be most noticeable in a school like South Avondale. The neighborhood school is so crowded the auditorium and cafeteria are now used to house offices, resources classes and a music room.

        As students lined up outside the building Wednesday morning before classes, they talked about what the new tax money will mean to Cincinnati Public Schools.

  Voters Tuesday approved a 6-mill levy for Cincinnati Public Schools that will generate $35.8 million a year. The district plans to use it this way:
  • 2 mills, or $11.94 million, to keep pace with an estimated inflation rate of 3.3 percent, as well as textbook and staffing costs.
  • 2 mills, or $11.94 million, for class-size reduction, to allow for classes in grades K-3 to be at a maximum of 17 to 19 students per teacher.
  • 1 mill, or $5.97 million, for building maintenance.
  • 1 mill, or $5.97 million, for increased spending in neighborhood schools.
        “They said this will get us some new computers and supplies and math books,” said sixth grader LaTasha Shields. “We don't have a lot of math books.”

        LaTasha's sister Erica, a seventh grader, said she can't wait for a new roof and smaller classes. “We've got too many people in the seventh and eighth grades.”

        Around the 500-student, K-8 school and the district, the levy was the talk of the day for parents, teachers and students.

        The first levy for new money to pass since 1995, Issue 33 set a 30-year record by gaining 56 percent of the vote. The operating tax will mean about $175 in taxes on a house with a market value of $100,000.

        As district officials and volunteers thanked voters for their support at a news conference and an afternoon “honk-in” rally on Fountain Square, folks in the schools couldn't help but anticipate what the new tax money will bring.

        Parent Marie Francisco, 32, said the new money means she can continue to send daughters Summer, 5, and June, 3, to the school's Head Start program.

        “If the levy hadn't passed these two would have to go somewhere else and I wouldn't be able to walk them to school,” Ms. Francisco said. “The class is already packed. Now maybe they'll get some more room.”

        Principal Cathy Lutts said she can't wait to move forward with education reforms and building repairs.

        She plans to use her portion of the cash reserve for building maintenance, supplies and additional text books and reading books.

        “Now we should be able to do what we need to do,” Ms. Lutts said.

        Because South Avondale is a neighborhood school, it will receive additional funding from the district. One mill, or $5.97 million will be used to give neighborhood schools the same funding per student that the district's magnet schools receive.

        That means the school can keep its full-time art, music and gym teachers and full-time psychologist - staff not seen in every school.

        Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Rick Beck said that money will allow teachers to seriously plan for the future.

        “There are over 3,000 teachers with a lot more spring in their step,” Mr. Beck said. “And when teachers do budgets this year, it will be a treat for them to be able to add resources instead of playing survivor.”

        South Avondale will benefit from that money, too, even if it doesn't have the space to reduce classes to 17 students.

        An extra teacher could mean at least smaller reading classes, to provide that 17 to 1 ratio for part of the day.

        “We're using every nook and cranny in this place,” Ms. Lutts said.

        And she's not kidding.

        The psychologist's office is literally a closet. Music teacher Karyn Makonnen teaches in the cafeteria.

        At the start of the year, the school several classes with more than 40 students. Some students were transfered to the nearby Rockdale School.

        Kindergarten and first graders attend classes in portable units on the school's grounds. Seventh and eighth grade classes have an average class size of 28 students.

        Yet this is a school where students work hard, pay attention and show respect. And they paid attention to Election Day.

        Even Meka Allen, 7, knew the levy passed. She ran up to Ms. Lutts, offered a hug and showed off the “Yes on 33” sticker plastered to her shirt.

        What the vote means, parent Jerome McQueen said, is giving children a better education.

        As he walked daughter Nellie McQueen, 4, to school, he talked about opportunities.

        “When I was in school we had a lot of opportunities,” he said. “they've cut out a lot of things. I want my kids to have the same opportunities to learn that I did.”


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