Cincinnati Public Schools' big ask: Where the money goes

Investment goes far beyond preschool expansion
Where does the money go if CPS levy passes?
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 05:48:15-04

CINCINNATI -- Just where will the money go if Cincinnati voters approve a new school levy on Election Day?

And what happens if voters say no?

WCPO sat down with Cincinnati Public Schools' top leaders to find out.

The district is asking for $48 million a year more for five years, its first request for new money since 2008. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $277.55 a year, a 19.5 percent increase over the current levy.

Far more than Preschool Promise

We've heard a lot about how $15 million a year from the levy would pay for a dramatic expansion of public and private preschool within the district boundaries.

The money would help make two years of preschool free for all children whose family income is 200 percent of the federal poverty line or lower and subsidize middle-income families.

Related: Cincinnati is nearly 4,000 high-quality preschool seats short of potential demand

But the other $33 million -- more than two-thirds of the levy -- will be earmarked for improving K-12 education.


How the $48 million school levy would be distributed. Chart provided by Cincinnati Public Schools.


The 35,000-student district serves a wildly diverse community of students who may be homeless or wealthy, star athletes or severely physically disabled.

Schools like the Academy of World Language in Evanston serve refugees among a student body that speaks an astounding 80 languages, while Walnut Hills High School serves gifted students who move on to Ivy League colleges.

More than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, while others commute from Kentucky or Indiana and pay full tuition to attend the School for Creative and Performing Arts or Walnut Hills.

CPS, which is already the top-ranked urban school district in Ohio, is hoping to use the new money to put more computers in the hands of students, bolster college- and workforce-readiness and to close the gap between its high-flying magnets schools and low-performing neighborhood schools.

Boosting neighborhood schools: $2 million

Parents from across the racial and economic spectrums told CPS in recent surveys that their No. 1 priority for the district was bolstering the performance of neighborhood schools.

While a few of CPS neighborhood schools like Hyde Park Elementary and Kilgour Elementary have excellent graduation rates, test scores and other achievement markers, many others suffer from high dropout rates.

Low-performing schools have created more demand than supply for successful magnet schools like Fairview-Clifton German Language School and Sands Montessori.

This fall, the district rolled out new specialized programs at seven neighborhood schools that chose their specializations. Cheviot School started a new gifted program; Hays-Porter started a high-tech program; and Chase School started a new arts and culture program among the seven.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Myles is optimistic the new programs will boost achievement at neighborhood schools due, in part, to families helping devise them and investing their time in making them successful.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Myles

"We're trying to move the mark," Myles said. "Successful schools have engaged parents and resources at early grade levels."

Should the levy pass, the district will continue to introduce specialized programs in as many neighborhood schools as want them, Superintendent Mary Ronan said.

The relatively low price tag of $2 million is the result of partnering with other organizations in the community, Myles said.

If the levy fails, those efforts will be curtailed as the district seeks ways to cut spending.

More technology across the curriculum: $8.8 million

CPS's My Tomorrow program has put laptops in the hands of all students in sixth grade through high school.

Ohio mandated that districts eliminate taking standardized tests on paper, which put low-income students who don't have home computers at a great disadvantage, Ronan said, including third graders who must take a computerized reading test.

"It really isn't fair to have a child walk into a classroom in March and take a standardized test on a computer if he doesn't know how to use one. It does beg the question -- is it a reading test or a test of your technological expertise?" she said.

Sarah Trimble-Oliver, CPS chief information officer, said the district has gone beyond the state mandate to begin integrating lesson plans subjects across the curriculum on computers.

Chief Information Office Sarah Trimble-Oliver

Parents can log on to monitor their children's progress, and they can get mobile phone text alerts if their child's grades have dipped or they missed a class.

Trimble-Oliver said CPS has bulked up its wifi to accommodate all students who are online simultaneously.

If the levy passes, the district plans to buy tablets and laptops for younger students so that there is at least one device for every three students.

Part of the money will also go to replacing computers as they become obsolete or break.

Money will also go toward training teachers to master the new technology.

If the levy fails, the expansion into lower grades will be curtailed, and the district will be hard-pressed to fund replacing existing laptops and tablets. Teacher training would also be curtailed.

Education basics: $15.8 million

CPS has collected the same amount of money from district taxpayers since 2008, with no adjustment for inflation and no extra local money for the increased enrollment.

The district's enrollment has grown for five straight years, and Ohio only covers 42 percent of the average cost of educating a pupil, Ronan said.

CPS wants to use new funds to pay for more teachers, transportation, textbooks, classroom supplies and materials.

"The budget needs more money, period," Ronan said.

CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan

If the levy fails, the district would continue having to make do with the same funding it had in 2008, which would mean fewer teachers, fewer services for children and other cuts to basic services.

College & Workforce Readiness: $6.4 million

The district wants to increase the number of career and college counselors to place at least one in every high school.

The money would also expand Advanced Placement course offerings, SAT and ACT guidance and College Credit Plus coursework.

"Walnut Hills High School has 32 AP classes," Ronan said. "But others don't have the critical mass to teach on site."

As a result, about 400 students at other high schools are taking a handful of AP courses online.

If the levy fails, counselors will continue having to divide their attention among multiple high schools and students would receive less advice on their options after high school.

More about preschool:

The district decided not to wait on the levy to add 400 preschool seats this fall, including opening Rising Star Academy -- a new preschool -- in the old Vine Street Elementary School in Over-the-Rhine, bringing the total number of preschoolers it educates to more than 1,500.

If the levy passes, the district will use new funds to subsidize the cost of preschool classrooms as well as providing more training for teachers.

If the levy fails, Ronan said the expansion would be reversed, in part. Rising Star would remain open but with fewer seats. Other preschool locations among the 38 in the district would also likely cut the number of classrooms or seats it offers.

Myles said passing the levy will lead to a better trained workforce and a more attractive place for employers to locate businesses.

"We want the city of Cincinnati to be competitive," he said. "We need to produce students who understand technology and can solve problems."

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