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Progress is being made in Youngstown schools; levy should be passed



Published: Mon, October 30, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Frankly, this newspaper's editorial board was not inclined to endorse passage of the 9.5-mill operating levy for Youngstown schools that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, and we suspect that a lot of taxpayers who pay a lot less in property taxes than this company feel the same.

But after hearing out Superintendent Wendy Webb and Board President Michael Write, we are convinced that the people who are charged today with educating Youngstown's students are sincere, thoughtful, realistic and working hard to improve the Youngstown City School District.

We have disagreed with the board of education in the past. Several years ago, the board approved wage and benefit contracts which it could afford at the time, but which we predicted it would not be able to afford in the future. We were right.

When it came time to hire a new superintendent, we strongly advised that the board conduct an aggressive national search. The board chose to promote from within, and gave the job to Dr. Webb. We will happy to be proved wrong in our belief that talent from outside the system was needed to solve the enormous problems facing the city school district. Webb may be able to do so.

She is caught between contract costs that the district cannot avoid for the present and that are not of her making. She faces the challenge of opening new schools that were largely financed with state money and closing old schools, which holds the promise for savings in the future. Unfortunately, at the same time, the district has seen huge losses in state revenue as 2,600 students have been lured from city classrooms into 23 different competing community schools, including four "virtual schools," which provide instruction via computer. The district is losing $17 million in state funds to the charter schools -- and in most cases the charter schools are performing no better than the public schools, and in some cases worse.

And she must compete with suburban school districts, many of which have higher pay scales, for teachers in her schools.

The starting point

Webb inherited a school district that was in academic emergency. It has improved to academic watch, and she says that within a year the district will achieve a rating of continuous improvement.

It has already made strides in several areas, including attendance and graduation rates, and can be proud of its innovative Youngstown Early College program at Youngstown State University.

The district has also attempted to address its fiscal problems. It has implemented $8.5 million in staff and other reductions for this year and has drawn up plans for an additional $14 million in similar cuts over the next two years.

Still, it will need the $3.6 million per year in additional operating money that would be produced by 8.5 mills of the 9.5-mill levy. One mill will be set aside for permanent improvements.

That is not an inconsequential amount, and the cost to city taxpayers will not be inconsequential.

The annual cost will be $55 on a home valued at $20,000; $165 on a home worth $65,000 and $274 on a $100,000 house.

Webb and Write, however, say they are committed to spending these additional tax dollars wisely. They say school employees know that cuts have been made, that more cuts are coming and that the employees will have to pay toward their hospitalization.

The district also knows that even if the levy passes, the state will be looking over the local district's shoulder because the district will likely remain under fiscal watch. If the levy fails, however, the district will go into fiscal emergency, and local control will be lost to the state.

We believe Webb, the board, and other employees -- from the administration office, to the classrooms to the maintenance room -- understand that changes must be made and improvement must be demonstrated.

That can't be done without the revenue that would be produced through passage of the levy. For that reason, The Vindicator urges a yes vote on the 9.5-mill levy for Youngstown city schools.




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