The Cleveland Municipal School District currently faces a large deficit of approximately $65 million, according to the Mayor. Because of poor economic conditions and the demographics of the district, Cleveland schools receives a majority of its money from the state, but as we have highlighted many, many times - state aid to public schools was slashed by the Governor to the tune of almost $2 billion. According to projections, for fiscal year 2012 this results in a net loss of $31.7 million for Cleveland and another $19.3 million in FY2013.
The bulk of the deficit faced by Cleveland public schools is a direct result then, of the draconian budget enacted by columbus politicians and supported by Governor Kasich. Why Mayor Jackson has not called upon the Governor to restore funding to his schools, instead of seeking his help in denying teachers basic collective bargaining rights, remains a deep mystery.
If business support for Cleveland Schools is to be judged by the passage of levies, the Cleveland business community walked away decades ago. Cleveland has passed only 1 levy since 1983, and that was in 1996. 30 years. One levy.
Cleveland has also undergone many "transformations" to turn around its financial and academic performance. In the 1990's vouchers were introduced, but the majority of recipients never attended public schools, charter schools were also introduced in the late 1990's, and continue to have a very mixed record. Some perform well, but are able to select their students, while most (including White Hat ran schools) produce abysmal results and serve only to extract valuable dollars from the traditional public schools. Administration of the schools has undergone many transformation, including a 1997 decision to make Cleveland the first, and only, district under mayoral control.
Judge Krupansky’s decision came after more than twenty years of state and federal intervention aimed at desegregating Cleveland’s schools, the aftermath of a 1976 court decision which found the system plagued by de jure and de facto segregation.
Reading the history of Cleveland public schools is like listening to a record, broken and stuck on failed leadership, failed administration, lack of state support and a community financially in decline with serious socioeconomic problems.
Case Western Reserve University and Western Reserve Historical Society have an excellent article on the history of Cleveland schools, which we hope they won't object to use excerpting at length.
In 1963 the Program for Action by Citizens in Education (the PACE ASSN.), organized with the support of the Cleveland Associated Foundation, and advocated a variety of school reforms: early reading assistance, libraries in elementary schools, a human-relations curriculum, black teacher recruitment, a tutor corps, interdistrict vocational training and summer schools, and the establishment of an agency to promote its recommendations, which became a foundation-supported organization developing a wide variety of programs improving public education, before its demise in 1974. ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS such as the Cleveland Urban Learning Community of St. Ignatius High School, the United Independent Schools of E. Cleveland, and the Urban League's Street Academy, provided non-traditional options in the 1970s and demonstrated the need for reform. In 1964 PAUL BRIGGS†, head of the PARMA schools, became superintendent and the board ended the "dual system" of administration that existed since 1904 by making the Business Dept. report to him. Briggs announced that the schools would have "a new look" through federal assistance that would expand preschool education and a new center for adult education. The enrollment of adults in literacy classes almost doubled. Antipoverty programs and the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965 funded many new programs. Assisted by PACE, 105 elementary libraries opened in 1966. Briggs launched an ambitious building program in 1968 that included a downtown Supplementary Education Ctr. for students throughout the city and an extensive school-building program. The public passed another bond issue to build schools for the over 150,000 students.
After a survey demonstrated that two-thirds of high school dropouts were unemployed, the federal government established a Student Neighborhood Youth Corps, providing after-school jobs. In 1965 the government's Manpower & Training Ctr. was established, including basic or remedial courses and vocational education. Programs in cooperative and distributive education in high schools provided students with on-the-job work experience. A vocational Occupational Program was to reduce the number of dropouts without marketable skills. In addition, the school cooperated with the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide workstudy programs for boys who qualified. An Occupational Work Experience Program, including a work laboratory with wood- and metal-working equipment, began for below-average high school students. Under contract with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the Woodland Job Training Ctr. enrolled over 1,000 in a factory school in 1968, training hard-core, unemployed city residents.
Briggs recruited black teachers and administrators, appointed Jas. B. Tanner, a black educator, as his assistant superintendent, and helping organize a Master of Arts in Teaching at JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY He declared that the federal government's Aid to Dependent Children would provide over $1 million in the first 6 months of 1968 to finance 11 new programs for 29,289 disadvantaged learners in 81 schools. But in 1973, the NAACP filed a suit claiming that quality education was not legal or possible in a segregated environment. On 6 Feb. 1978, Federal Judge FRANK J. BATTISTI† issued a remedial order as a result of his finding the previous year that the Cleveland school system and State Board of Education were guilty of de facto and de jure segregation of black students in Cleveland. Briggs and the school board, headed by Arnold Pinkney, a black businessman, defended neighborhood schools and claimed that segregation was the result of residential housing patterns they were not obligated to correct. The desegregation case demonstrated that the board's actions, which included busing, constructing schools, and reassigning students for the purposes of segregation, had racially isolated and violated the 14th Amendment rights of the city's black children. Briggs predicted the court order would increase both white flight from the city and the dual system of public education that left schools in central cities with predominantly disadvantaged minority children. His problems were increased when the public rejected by an almost 2-to-1 margin a request for a school levy to remedy the school system's deficits, and he resigned his position. In Sept. 1978 the system obtained a $20 million loan from Ohio's Emergency School Assistance Fund. The state also found Cleveland's public schools below minimum standards and made compliance and the appointment of a financial administrator the basis of a second loan in 1981.
The federal court established a Dept. of School Desegregation Relations to eliminate the effects of prior desegregation and to provide an integrated educational environment. The Office of School Monitoring & Community Relations was established to foster the public's understanding of desegregation and to report on its progress. Chas. Leftwich, the court-appointed deputy superintendent, had the school department report directly to him. After Leftwich resigned, the court approved the board's appointment of Margaret Fleming in Nov. 1978. The Monitoring Commission reported to the court that the school system had resegregated black students transported from the Addison Jr. High district and should be held in contempt for obstructing the court's desegregation plan. The court removed Fleming from her position and appointed Donald Waldrip to head the Dept. of Desegregation in 1980. The court order led to crosstown busing, massive teacher transfers, a mandatory reading program, and other measures to equalize the schools.
Superintendent Peter Carlin, Briggs' successor, described his efforts as "Working Together for Excellence." He and the school board addressed the teachers' needs after Cleveland's United Fed. of Teachers, organized in 1933, struck in 1978 and 1979. Carlin reported that the schools made progress toward integration by daily transporting over 30,000 students in 550 vehicles. The schools now served over 12 million free or reduced meals, had a computerized scheduling program, School Community Councils and Parent Awareness Project, human-relations training for staff and teachers, improvement in elementary reading scores, compliance with the state's minimum standards except for facilities, repayment of both state loans, and a Code of Rights, Responsibilities & Discipline for students. But conflicts among school board members, school closings and program reductions, layoffs, the continuing poor performance of students, and declining enrollment diminished the public's confidence. In 1982 Carlin left the system, suing for its failure to evaluate him before his non-reappointment. Two years later, Waldrip departed under a dark cloud for both his inability to obtain funding for the expansion of magnet schools and his purchase of a million reading programs from a firm he had represented.
The cost per pupil, up more than 100% between 1971-80, ranked the expenditures of the Cleveland public schools in the top 10% of districts in Ohio. The percentage of the system's budget spent on educational programs and teachers declined, but the expense of maintenance, administration, and non-teaching personnel increased as enrollment dropped. In 1980 Judge Battisti ordered the State of Ohio as a co-defendant in the desegregation case to bear half the cost of the court order. Faced with resistance from the school board, Battisti had to issue 4,000 orders between 1976 and 1984 to implement desegregation of the public schools. Strikes by teachers and other employees further complicated matters. But the desegregation order was not met with the mob violence that had occurred in other cities. In 1983 an accounting firm's study estimated that the board expected to spend $1.3 million for custodial employee overtime. A coalition to reform the school board budget continually criticized the board's spending priorities.
The debate about the role and performance of the public schools revolves around the larger question of how America can live up to its commitment to human rights and equality. The court's desegregation order reaffirmed the importance of the schools as part of the nation's democratic heritage. But their poor performance eroded the belief that schools can cure the problems of American society. Cleveland's public schools freed themselves of political control and the image of being a charity organization before the Civil War but were, by the 1980s, reverting to these conditions. The continued crisis of public education in Cleveland prompted proposals for its takeover by either the state or the mayor. After Carlin's departure, Superintendent Frederick Holliday committed suicide, and his successor was forced to resign. Alfred Tutela, who came from Boston as a member of the court's desegregation team in 1978, was appointed superintendent in 1986. He announced that the system needed over $50 million to repair facilities. With diminishing federal support and local taxes, prospects for such massive rehabilitation looked remote. Diminishing resources jeopardized the school system's ability to survive its escalating problems.
The Cleveland voters approved a bond issue to repair the schools but refused to pass a tax levy for their operation, despite the fact that the district had to borrow money from the state on 3 occasions between 1977 and 1983. Some school leaders and citizens saw the busing program for racial integration as an unwanted financial burden that had to be removed before the passage of a new levy. Due to conflicts with the school board over the use of the newly acquired bond money, Tutela left the system after the school board bought out his contract for more than $300,000. In 1991 Superintendent Frank Huml predicted a $30 million deficit, but the board refused to put a levy on the ballot. Cleveland's per pupil expenditures were still higher than most districts in its region. The Plain Dealer and educational summits under the sponsorship of Mayor Michael White's office, the business community, and community leaders pointed to the deficiencies of the educational system. The majority of students were not able to pass Ohio's new proficiency test for 9th grade students. Many graduates couldn't qualify for entry level jobs. Governor Voinovich called for a state take-over. The majority of Cleveland's residents gave the school system a D or F grade in a poll taken by the Citizen League's Research Institute.
In 1991 Mayor White successfully campaigned for a reform slate to become the majority of the school board. John Sanders, the new state superintendent, endorsed the proposal for a state take-over. Governor Voinovich also proposed a plan to appoint the state school board rather then allow the public to elect its members. Faced with the threat of a court suit to equalize school funding in Ohio, the governor advocated taking funds from wealthy school districts for redistribution to poorer areas and to allow parents to use school vouchers to attend schools of their choice.
Despite the loss of tax revenue from tax abatements for downtown projects, the Cleveland School Board refused to close schools and to make necessary financial cuts to balance the budget. The state superintendent predicted a school deficit of $55 million by 1993 and $114 million by the following year. The state controlling board approved a $75 million emergency loan without state receivership of the schools. The school board promised to ask the public for additional funds.
Supported by the new school board, Superintendent Sammie Campbell Parrish proposed "Vision 21" as a plan to renew the educational system during the summer of 1993. It made crosstown busing voluntary so parents could choose either magnet or community-based schools. Special reading and conflict resolution programs were also emphasized. Cleveland's NAACP praised the plan and advocated greater emphasis on the educational program than on busing, since the overwhelming majority of students were African American. But fears and conflicts arose over the high cost of more than $90 million per year to finance the plan and its possible negative impact on desegregating students. Critics also argued that Superintendent Parrish was too distant from the financial and administrative operation of the school system. Parents and teachers also felt that they were not consulted about what was needed to improve the schools. After the failure of another school levy in May 1994, the school board angered parents by threatening to eliminate 300 to 400 employees to prevent a $51 million dollar deficit. Despite the threat of severe cuts, the public refused to pass another levy in Nov. 1994.
With a budget of $500 million, the district's debt was 25% higher than other large school systems in the state. Another levy was cancelled after Parrish resigned in Feb. 1995, as a result of conflicts with Mayor White and the school board and the imminent state takeover. After the death of Judge Battisti in Oct. 1994, Judge Robert Krupansky was appointed to oversee the desegregation case. In May 1994 Judge Battisti had announced that the schools would be self-governing by the year 2000 and accepted "Vision 21" as the blueprint for the future. Judge Krupansky initially gave the impression that the district would be gradually relieved from busing, but in Feb. 1995 he ordered a state take-over in the face of the financial woes and administrative chaos that had subverted the court's remedial orders for desegregation of the school system. The state superintendent was empowered to seek a $29 million loan and to appoint a new superintendent of the Cleveland schools. The court cited the school district's inability to account for the use of previous state funds as evidence of its financial mismanagement. It was ordered to close 14 schools to help remedy the deficit.
The second half of the 1990s witnessed several new initiatives aimed at helping the struggling schools. The state allocated $5.5 million to provide vouchers of up to $2,250 to allow district students to attend private independent or religious schools beginning in the fall of 1996, but the voucher program stirred heated opposition from the Cleveland Teachers Union and civil libertarian organizations, facing repeated judicial challenges ultimately leading to a Supreme Court hearing, slated for June of 2002. By April of 1999, the district had established 10 charter schools. In November 1996, voters passed a 13.5-mill operating levy, the first since 1983. In the summer of 1997, the Ohio state government approved House Bill 239, vesting the Cleveland mayor with control of the city schools, a move opposed by the teachers union and the NAACP. In March of 1998, Judge White declared that U.S. federal court oversight of the school district would end in July 2000. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a respected New York City educator, was appointed CEO of the Cleveland schools in November 1998.
But the problems of the schools were deeply rooted in the challenging social and economic conditions of the central city. More than 70% of Cleveland's school children now receive some form of public assistance as single-headed, impoverished families became the norm for many inner-city children by the mid-1990s. Integration became more elusive as the percentage of minority enrollment increased from 58% in 1976 to 71% in 1994. Almost 50% of the system's students were failing to graduate from high school, while employers increasingly require secondary and post-secondary degrees. For those remaining, their performance on reading-comprehension tests became poorer the longer they stayed in school. Attendance in the junior and senior divisions was the second-worst in the state. Only 37% of the city's adults had a secondary education in 1986. Nancy Oakley, director of Project Learn, a volunteer tutorial program, estimated that 47,000 illiterate persons lived in Cleveland. Poverty and the culturally different learner had been inextricably bound with illiteracy and student failure throughout the history of public education. The consequences of the shortcomings of the schools were a direct result of confused priorities resulting in public reluctance to bear the responsibility for providing a system of universal education that included those who have the greatest needs but the least resources. The condition of public education reveals society's values and priorities. What supported schools in the past was the belief that they were more important than any other institution outside the family and could meet the needs of different learners; this belief/priority seemed sadly lacking in the 1990s.
Edward M. Miggins
Cuyahoga Community College
Cleveland has tried many things, but few ideas seem to have involved true democratic control, with full state support.