Are Suburban Voters Holding Back Cincinnati's Public Schools?

Is it time to dump the suburbs? The Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) includes several suburban areas, such as Cheviot and part of Green Township, in addition to the city of Cincinnati. Three weeks a

Is it time to dump the suburbs?

The Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) includes several suburban areas, such as Cheviot and part of Green Township, in addition to the city of Cincinnati. Three weeks ago suburban voters effectively killed Issue 2, keeping $480 million out of the hands of the school district.

Now, as their school buildings continue to crumble, some Cincinnatians are asking why their schools should suffer at the hands of the suburbs. Voters within Cincinnati's city limits supported the levy by a margin of more than 3,000 votes. But the bond issue lost by 611 votes due to the overwhelming opposition from suburban communities in the school district.

The results of the Nov. 5 election seem to show that people in Cincinnati saw Issue 2 as a key to rehabilitating dilapidated facilities. The results also seem to show that anti-tax suburban communities don't want to help. Perhaps the answer is for the suburbs to cut ties with CPS and form their own school district, a seemingly radical proposal.

If suburban precincts don't want to financially support CPS, why not leave the district and join another, leaving the city of Cincinnati to decide its own educational fate?

This is exactly what Cheviot City Manager Steve Neal says his city wants. Voters in Cheviot and Green Township strongly opposed Issue 2. In fact, they voted so overwhelmingly against the levy that, if they hadn't been part of CPS, the issue would have passed.

Neal says a lot of people in Cheviot didn't want to pay the tax because they send their children to parochial schools. But he says there are other factors, as well.

"People here have no confidence in Cincinnati Public Schools," he says. "We find people will move just so their kids don't have to go to Cincinnati public high schools."

Neal says people in Cheviot, who voted 1,954 to 658 against Issue 2, would rather be part of the Oak Hills School District.

"But Oak Hills doesn't want us and Cincinnati won't let us go," he says.

Getting suburban communities to vote in favor of new school taxes has long been a problem, according to Brewster Rhoads, field coordinator for Cincinnatians Active to Support Education (CASE).

Rhoads says CASE probably did not campaign as much in the suburban communities because there are fewer CPS parents there. While the communities did see some direct mail, TV advertisements and yard signs, it's almost as if campaign organizers have written off these tough-sell communities.

The connection between suburban communities and CPS also has a long history. Cheviot, for example, has been part of CPS since — well, no one is sure. Chris Wolf of the CPS public affairs department looked into it, but says she could not find any solid information about the history between Cheviot and CPS.

"It's our feeling that it's been in the district for many, many years," she says.

Some records indicate the Cheviot Elementary School, part of CPS, was built in 1926.

While the reason these suburban areas are part of the CPS system remains unknown, there is no mystery about the difficulty of a separation.

Sam Schloemer, a member of the Ohio Board of Education, says the first step in Cheviot's case would be a petition from CPS to release Cheviot and a petition from Oak Hills to accept the new territory. After that, it would be up to the state board to decide what happens.

Oak Hills School Board President Steven Hausfeld says his district passed a resolution in 1999 to prevent the attainment of new territory.

"We're not in the position to accept anymore students," he says. "And I know the city of Cincinnati would fight vehemently, because they would lose tax money."

While it is unlikely that Cheviot will cross the school district fence, the idea could have advantages for both cities. Perhaps then children in Cincinnati could get out of overcrowded classrooms and broom closets to learn in facilities that at least meet state standards.

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.

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