By Sue Botos
Historically, Clevelanders have defined themselves as “eastsiders” or “westsiders.” But area school districts smarting from state funding cuts know no boundaries.
Rocky River administrators and school board members recently met with representatives from the Beachwood City School District to talk about fund- generating methods, particularly the potential attraction of businesses to Rocky River.
“We discussed how we could work together to advocate business. It was a fruitful conversation,” commented board Vice President Jon Fancher at last week’s committee session.
Board member Jay Milano elaborated. “Part of the idea was (to explore) how we can react to the political climate.” He referred to the pending Ohio House Bill 136, which would expand the statewide voucher program for public school students with a family income of $95,000 or less. The measure also proposes that all students, regardless of district performance, be eligible for scholarships to attend schools outside of their home district.
Milano pointed out that while Beachwood was more politically liberal and “east side” in contrast to Rocky River’s conservative “west side” profile, the two school districts had similar interests.
A look at statistics for both systems shows Rocky River being much larger, with 2,700 students as opposed to Beachwood’s 1,650. The schools in both cities are configured the same, with one elementary building housing students in grades K-2, and a second for grades 3-5. Both cities also have one middle school and one high school.
Successful passage of operating levies is also a highlight for both school systems. According to information presented on the Beachwood City Schools’ website, the district has never seen on operating levy fail. Rocky River officials could not put a date on the last levy failure, but estimate that it occurred in the 1980s.
Beachwood was also successful in passing a $30 million capital improvements levy in 2010. River voters approved a nearly $43 million measure that same year.
What the two districts don’t share is the frequency of operating levy appearances on the ballot. Beachwood’s last one was in 2005. River voters are usually asked for a tax increase every two years. Superintendent Michael Shoaf said that through careful budgeting and some personnel cuts, the district was able to stretch the last levy, passed in 2009, an additional year. The district will be asking voters to support a 5.9-mill operating levy in March.
Milano pointed out that discussion with Beachwood officials emphasized business, the schools and city government working together. The school district’s website refers to this partnership as the “Golden Triangle.”
“We need to continue to try to work with the city,” Milano added, stating that Beachwood has used some “creative tax issues” as well as the services of a business consultant.
“We’re not suggesting any solutions,” cautioned Milano. “We’re charged with protecting our money, and the state tries to take away our money,” he said, adding that the district could possibly team up with Beachwood when confronting the state about budget cuts. The two districts are expected to meet again.
Shoaf asked board members if a meeting could be held with city officials, and most members agreed to a discussion.
When reached for comment, Mayor Pam Bobst said she has not been approached by school officials regarding the subject of revenue generation, but said she would be willing to discuss the issue. She expressed some wariness, however, about the idea of “creative tax issues,” particularly tax abatement.
“I believe abatements are a slippery slope,” said Bobst, who added that she would not be opposed to discussing tax easements for specified areas of the city. “We would be very willing to look at the community and areas where we would like to spur investment,” she said. Bobst added that the city’s not offering abatements has not compromised investments.
Bobst also mentioned Tax Incentive Financing (TIF), which offers a reduced tax to investors. “If we can define an area of need in the city, then I would be willing to have those conversations,” she stated.