Wednesday, August 03, 2005


"Stealth" campaign backfires, Cleveland school levy crushed

Despite a low-key campaign intended to bring out only supporters, the Cleveland schools tax was crushed in Tuesday's election by angry West Side opponents.

Thirty percent of all votes cast on the issue came from Old Brooklyn and the city's far West Side, neighborhoods known for their aversion to school tax increases. Only about 43,000 voters turned out at the polls, or about 13 percent of those eligible, which shows that a core group on one side of town sealed the fate of the issue.

Unofficial results showed 65 percent of voters against the tax and 35 percent in favor, an even bigger margin than the failed school tax issue in November.

While those pushing the tax levy had sought to make only likely supporters aware of the vote, the strategy may have backfired badly:

Campaign manager Chris Carmody said confusion among voters about the difference between an operating tax and the construction bond issue passed in 2001 contributed to the loss, as well as a bad local economy. He also blamed negative press coverage in the last week.

Backers of the tax ran no television or radio ads and mailed fliers only to a carefully screened list of likely supporters, hoping that opponents would forget about the vote. The tactic failed.

Emily Lipovan Holan, a candidate for the City Council seat that includes Old Brooklyn, said she was surprised by the anger of voters who thought a tax was being forced on them without their knowledge.

She said opponents seemed to come out in the last four days.

"There was no literature on the West Side and they're livid," Lipovan Holan said. "They're very angry with the mayor that they didn't include the West Side."

Also working against the school levy is a widespread perception that the Cleveland schools are badly managed, top-heavy and bloated, with a superintendent making a huge salary and receiving tax abatement on her residence. In fact, tax abatement may have been a major factor in bringing out angry opponents.

Levy supporters were embarrassed when local media disclosed that the couple prominently displayed in their advertising pieces was paying only around $800 a year in property taxes on a $150,000 house, with a $2,200 tax abatement through the year 2011, raising questions about how much residential tax abatement was handed out in the Cleveland school district.

Other recent disclosures that the district had miscalculated the number of students riding buses for several years and would have to reimburse the state probably didn’t help either. For several years, the district simply reported the number of eligible students, instead of the numbers actually riding, and collected state monies based on the inflated figures. The Cleveland Schools are now required to repay the difference.

School levies failed all across northeastern Ohio, with only a couple passing. One likely conclusion is that Ohio voters, pretty much across the board, don't want to pay more property taxes.

Trying to blame the defeat of the levy on “confused voters” or a “bad economy” is a load of nonsense. The levy was defeated for a variety of reasons, and those were NOT among them.

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