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Group wants ballot issue



Published: Wed, July 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some area school boards have adopted resolutions of support for the measure.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that they believe could cut property taxes by more than $2.5 billion statewide say they're hopeful the issue will be before voters this November.

"We're going to act like there's no tomorrow," Bryan Flannery, who leads Educate Ohio, the group that's pushing the schools-related initiative, said Tuesday.

"We're cautiously optimistic," said Bill Phillis, executive director of the Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding. The coalition of several hundred school systems that successfully sued the state over its school-funding system is backing the proposal.

With an Aug. 10 deadline to submit more than 300,000 signatures to the state to get the issue before voters this fall, Flannery and Phillis say Educate Ohio has gathered at least a third of the signatures and is gathering more every day.

Reduced property taxes

If the proposal makes it onto the ballot and is approved, the state would have to fund 100 percent of the identified cost of a student's education in the public schools minus 15 mills of local property tax, a provision that backers say could reduce property taxes statewide by more than $2.5 billion.

Flannery said the average statewide millage is 45 mills.

The proposed amendment would also create the Ohio Educational Opportunities Commission, made up of 19 members appointed by the governor and representing the different regions of the state.

Under the proposal, every two years the commission would be required to identify the components for "high-quality educational opportunities" based on high academic standards and the best educational practices.

The State Board of Education would be required every two years to conduct expert studies and determine the total cost of the ideas identified by the proposed commission, under the amendment.

Backers said the proposal could also allow the state to finally meet standards set by the Ohio Supreme Court, which in four decisions has declared the state's method of funding public schools unconstitutional.

Backers say they have legal opinions from attorneys who successfully sued the state over the school funding system which indicate the proposed amendment would pass constitutional muster.

The high court has said that an over-reliance on property taxes to fund public schools has led to inequities between so-called "rich" and "poor" school systems.

"It's a problem," said Flannery, a former Democratic state representative from the Cleveland area. Flannery unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state in 2002, losing to Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell.

"People are at least happy to know there is some answer out there. Our challenge is to get that message out," Flannery said.

Seeking support

Flannery said Educate Ohio has volunteer petition coordinators in every county.

Also, Flannery said he and other supporters have traveled around the state to get the word out on the proposed constitutional amendment.

"We'll do whatever it takes and whatever is necessary," Flannery said. He noted that if the issue qualifies for the ballot, an even larger effort will be necessary to secure passage statewide.

School boards in Boardman and Canfield, as well as the South Range School District, have passed resolutions in support of the measure, and several other boards are considering resolutions.

Backers of the proposed amendment need to supply approximately 323,000 signatures, roughly 10 percent of the number of Ohioans who voted in the 2002 gubernatorial election, to the state by Aug. 10 to qualify for the November ballot.

Backers also need to gather signatures equaling at least 5 percent of the last gubernatorial vote in at least 44 counties.

Republican Gov. Bob Taft is opposed to the amendment, Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said.




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