Election 2019: Cincinnati Public Schools Levy and Other County-Wide Levies

CPS is asking voters to extend a levy that generates $65 million a year for the growing school district for 10 years instead of the usual five years.

Oct 15, 2019 at 4:15 pm
click to enlarge CPS' Oyler School in Lower Price Hill - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
CPS' Oyler School in Lower Price Hill

It’s no secret: Cincinnati Public Schools District is growing. In the last six years, enrollment has increased by more than 4,400 students to 36,000. That’s a great sign for the district and the city — but it comes with its own costs. 

In the coming year, the district is poised to open new schools, including the Clifton Area Neighborhood School and Gamble Montessori Elementary School, as well as expanding Gamble Montessori High School to adapt to its growth.

In June, the CPS board voted to ask voters to renew a levy that provides the district more than $65 million a year. Voters have approved that levy every five years for the last 15 years by more than 60 percent each time. This time, however, it’s a bit different — CPS is asking that the levy extend a full decade, saying that will make it easier for the district to budget for long-term investments. 

“We are grateful for the sustained support of the Cincinnati community, and we believe a 10-year renewal levy will provide the financial stability for the district to continue to expand opportunities for students and families, without raising taxes,” CPS Board President Carolyn Jones said in a statement after the board voted to present the levy.

But some skeptics say the 10-year period will give voters less say in how the district manages its budget. They also point out that CPS received an overall “D” rating on the Ohio Board of Education’s annual report card. That is similar to or better than the state’s other large urban districts, which face unique challenges due to the number of low-income students they serve. But the grade still signifies that the district isn’t living up to state standards, critics say. CPS, however, points out a number of strides reflected in the state’s report card. 

The district received a “B” grade in gap-closing, or helping under-performing students do better. That’s a three-grade jump. Fourteen of the district’s 63 schools improved their overall grades from the year prior, and 32 improved the number of points they scored in the state’s rating system. 

A yes vote for the levy wouldn’t raise property taxes in the district, since it is a renewal. The levy represents about one dollar per $100 in valuation on a property. 

In addition to the school board levy, there are two county-wide levies that would renew funding for family services and treatment programs and developmental disabilities services. The first funds prison reentry programs, provides sentencing alternatives via treatment programs for addiction and mental health issues and funds work by nonprofits like Talbert House toward those ends. The five-year levy raises about $6 million a year. The latter five-year levy raises roughly $75 million a year to fund the county’s Developmental Disabilities Services, which serves about 8,000 individuals through various programs around housing, case management, educational services and other needs.