Hamilton County Commissioner wants CPS to remove levy; draws fire

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann says Cincinnati Public Schools needs to remove their levy from the November ballot.

Right now, CPS is looking to pass a $7.95 mill levy. District leaders are asking the owner of a $100,000 home to pay an additional $243 a year in property taxes. Hartmann said he believes now is the wrong time to ask voters for more money.

Hartmann wants to teach CPS a lesson. It's one on levies, and who should be able to place them on the ballot. Hartmann said the system is broken. He added that it's too easy for CPS, or any district, to ask voters to pass a levy.

"The main reason I'm concerned about it is the access that the schools have to the ballot," said Hartmann. "It's awfully easy for them to seek a levy increase on the ballot whenever they want. We've just been through the process at the county where we provide real scrutiny before we allow levies to go to the ballot. I don't see that same scrutiny and I think that there might be a better way to do it that requires the schools to go through another authority when they're trying to seek the kind of tax increase they're trying to put on the ballot this fall."

One solution? Hartmann said that a separate budget authority, for instance City Council, should vote on the issue before school districts are able to place a levy on the ballot. Hartmann said he plans to talk to Governor John Kasich about the issue next week. He's hoping to change the law and implement a process that all school districts within Ohio would then have to follow.

CPS Board President Eve Bolton said that won't work.

"Mr. Hartmann needs a civics lesson," said Bolton. "The reality is we are the governing board and this school board is not associated with the City of Cincinnati. As a matter of fact, the district is larger than the City of Cincinnati."

Council Member Wendell Young agrees.

"It's the voters who need to make that decision," said Young. "Not two people who are not education experts deciding in some ivory tower that they know more than the school board, they know more than the citizens, that they know more than the people of Hamilton County. It's just a joke. It's an affront. He should apologize."

Hartmann admits CPS is in a tough position, but said, right now, everyone else is, as well.

"I'm not going to micro-manage how they run things," said Hartmann. "They've dealt with difficult economic realities, as we have with the county. We've laid off 1,400 people. We've cut 25-percent, $65-million out of our budget. Our employees haven't had raises like theirs haven't in four years, but those are the times that we're in."

"Unlike the county, we have to come up with a five-year forecast," said Bolton. "Unlike the county, we have to go to the voters even more often than the county does regarding the amounts of money because we have an unconstitutional way of raising money, if you will, for school funding."

Hartmann said this is more about changing what he calls a broken system than just focusing on this CPS levy.

Still, Council Member Young said he plans to send a letter to Governor Kasich and the school board with his strong feelings against the idea next week.

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