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If you’re the type of gambler who enjoys a long shot, the 2013 Columbus City
Schools levy might just be the bet for you.

On Nov. 4 voters will be presented with a 9.01 mill levy, effectively adding
just over 300 bucks of taxes per year for every $100,000 worth of home a
resident owns. It will generate half a billion dollars over five years, most
of which will go to general operations, teacher training, the renovation of
ten schools, adding access to tech and proving Pre-K for more of the city.

All of which sounds fine and dandy. The issue is that one mill of the levy
will go toward (cue the gasps) charters schools. That means that for the
first time ever a $42 million chunk of the taxpayer pot will be accessible
through a partnership between CCS and qualifying charters.

Making matters worse for the district is the levy is all or nothing. House
Bill 167 required going to the ballot with recommendations from Mayor Michael 
Coleman’s Columbus Education Commission. Efforts to split the levy into
multiple ballot issues failed, meaning the ballot issue will sink or swim with
charter schools.

Toss in CCS’s, um, credibility issues over the past few years and you have
the potential for a very tough sell

Generally speaking, the district comes to the voters with hat in hand every
four years. In 2008 voters passed a 7.85 operating levy and 1.13 bond issue by
a nearly 2-to-1 margin. It was a win for CCS that came on the same day a
handful of the city’s suburban districts said no to new revenue.

And, all things being equal, the district would have liked to return to the
ballot last November to coincide with the increase in turnout for the general
election. But as those familiar with the attendance scandal are keenly aware,
all things were most certainly not equal last year.

So, in early July of 2012, the board voted to hold off for a year. Additional
time for engagement with the community was cited publicly by
then-Superintendent Gene Harris. But behind the scenes there was concern
expressed by some CEC members that the voters weren’t quite ready to trust
their school district.

Which brings us to the lead-up to this November. Board of Education member
Mike Wiles (the loser in a 6-1 levy vote in July) says he thinks if the vote
was held right now it would go down to defeat by a 3-to-1 margin.

“I’m not sure what they’re going to come out with,” he said of the
levy campaign that began this week with TV ads. “But with the info we have
currently (it wouldn’t pass).”

With that in mind, the key word for Gary Baker when it comes to voters seems
to be education. Baker, a member of the BOE who also happens to be part of the
campaign committee, stressed that only certain charters will be eligible to
share in the revenue.

“A new set of standards will be developed for community schools,” Baker
said. “Only nonprofit schools that meet those standards will have the option to
be part of the partnership. It’s not going to be a free-for-all.”

Baker admitted the charter schools will likely be the toughest part of the
committee’s goal to “educate” voters. “It’s the biggest concern
I’ve heard,” he said.

Thus far it hasn’t been made clear what exactly constitutes a
“nonprofit” charter school, given that companies which manage them are
often for-profit. And it’s probably going to be a challenge to convince
voters that a somewhat complex marriage of various government and private
entities is the best way to serve students.

“I need more guarantees about who is going to be controlling the money,”
said Wiles.

Wiles, for one, isn’t moved by references to non-profit charter schools or
the levy campaign talking about standards which will be set for the charter
schools: “It’s like ‘give us the money and then we’ll decide how to
spend it,’” he said.

The trick for the levy campaign will be getting voters to trust both the
Columbus schools and that getting in bed with charter school is a good use of
public money. So far Wiles has a good sense of the betting favorite.

“People are still telling me they’re not voting for it. They don’t care
what the campaign is - as long the charter piece is in there, they’re totally
against it.”

Shuffle up and deal.