School Levy Coming, Amount Unknown

Voters' rejection of a tax levy last month for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) means options need to be considered by the board of education. The fallout is more than financial, but money was the

Joe Lamb

Eileen Cooper-Reed says last month's elections weren't just a financial setback but also a challenge for the school board to be accountable.

Voters' rejection of a tax levy last month for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) means options need to be considered by the board of education. The fallout is more than financial, but money was the topic of the board's Dec. 10 meeting.

"It is really pretty much the first time that we've had to deliberate about options on when and how much a levy should be," says Eileen Cooper-Reed, president of the board. "The board decided to move two positions forward for consideration. … The 7.95 mill levy for about $65 million — we passed a resolution to send it to the auditor. We voted to send forward the 3-mill permanent improvement levy."

The board has until Dec. 20 to pick which levy to put on the ballot on March 4, 2008, when Ohio holds its presidential primary. It will schedule a meeting after hearing from the county auditor.

Both will be discussed after the board receives comments on the viability of the proposals. The permanent levy is a new idea floated by board member Susan Cranley.

The hope is that such a levy will be more palatable to voters because it's small and will be earmarked for specific use.

Cooper-Reed didn't offer support for or opposition against this idea but says it does reflect an issue the board needs to address: accountability.

"The community has some serious issues with the credibility with the way the board behaves — the academics and the financials," she says. "We need to build credibility and communicate with the community and instill in the community that CPS is doing the best job it can. I think we've got to show this community that our children come first, and we have to be willing to stand up and make difficult decisions whether they're popular or not."

Explaining that the financial and administrative policy and decisions made by CPS need to support and be guided by student needs, Cooper-Reed said that isn't necessarily going to be popular.

"We differ on a lot of the important public policy questions, and we need to put those aside for the sake of the children," she says.

Noting there will be dramatic change in the make-up of the board — with three of the seven seats about to be taken by new members — in addition to the failed levy, Cooper-Reed believes this is a "watershed" moment for CPS.

"The community has spoken in terms of wanting change," she says. "We've now got the beginning of change. How we manage that change is going to be crucial."

Mere Workers Will Feel at Home
Developers of The Banks assured a city design panel Dec. 6 that the proposed housing, shopping and office district along the Ohio River won't include just upscale condominiums but will also contain more affordable rental units. AIG/Carter and Harold A. Dawson Inc., the Atlanta-based developers selected by Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials to build The Banks, met with the city's Urban Design Review Board to discuss preliminary plans. Comprised of local architects, the board serves as an advisory panel to the city manager.

Bailey Pope, head of design and construction for the Dawson firm, told the panel that The Banks' first phase would include a minimum of 300 apartments, 150 condos and some townhouses. Once the entire project is completed, it probably will include 1,500 to 1,800 residential units overall so it has a critical mass of people who live there and feels like a viable neighborhood.

"Our experience has been you need at least 800 to 1,000 residential units to establish a neighborhood," Pope said.

The plans calls for a mix of units targeting most income levels including "workforce housing," he added. Referring to future residents, Pope said, "They're regular folks. They're not just tourists. They're not just there for the game. They're there all the time."

Trent Germano, an executive vice president with Carter, said, "It's really a neighborhood first. … It's predominantly a residential community."

John Senhauser, an architect on the city panel, said he wants the final design to ensure maximum public access to a large park planned along the riverfront.

"In projects like these, the civic benefit really comes from what happens in the public rights-of-way," he said. "Cul-de-sacs tend to privatize things, as do changes in elevation. These need to be kept as part of the public realm so they aren't viewed as someone's private lawn."

Developers told the panel that access to the park would be clear and open. Also, several sidewalks throughout The Banks would be 20 feet wide to promote the use of sidewalk cafes and encourage pedestrian traffic.

Initial work on The Banks, which includes building a street grid and parking garages, will begin by the first quarter of 2008. Construction of its first phase, which will include 70,000 square feet of retail space and 300 apartments, will begin by the third quarter of next year. When completed, The Banks will cover eight city blocks and contain up to 2.8 million square feet of space.

Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 138) or [email protected]

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