Saturday, August 14, 2004

Levy Issues

My involvement with public art projects in Cleveland has required me to meet with several block clubs and community development organizations. The people who attend these meetings are grassroots Clevelanders; concerned about their neighborhoods, willing to take active roles in problem solving, and very articulate.
When I am assured of the group's support for a proposal, I will turn the discussion, momentarily, to the school levy. I am discovering things in these impromptu conversations I had not considered before.

Clevelanders who own homes in the neighborhoods where gentrification is taking place, and whose property values are rising, will not vote for a school levy. They realize that the schools are in dire need of money, but unless they have children in the schools, they will vote for their wallets.

A general rule of community real estate holds forth: property values are hinged to the success of the school district. This was dramatically true of Cleveland in the 1970's, when forced busing effectively destroyed the school system and caused the value of residential real estate to plummet.
Thirty years later, Cleveland struggles to polish her tarnished image, luring developers with tax abatement.
The developers are a smart bunch. They know that in a city whose school system fails two-thirds of its students, the new housing market can only be geared toward the childless. Condominiums, town houses, and lofts are springing up in neighborhoods on both sides of the river. Gentrification has begun, and property values are beginning to rise, in spite of the deteriorating school system.
The housing market in Cleveland is no longer tied to the success of the school district.

How do you convince people without children to vote for a school levy?

In bad economic times, altruism will always take a back seat to the bank account at the polls. The challenge facing the levy campaign must be to convince voters;

a) The levy will not hurt them financially (geared toward renters)
b) The levy will be a financial benefit (geared toward home-owners)

When the success of the schools cannot be tied to the housing market, voters need to be informed of the school district's direct influence on the job market. This is a connection that is very evident to people who study regional economy, but not often brought to the attention of the general population.
In order for the school levy to pass, this connection needs to be placed in the forefront. Crowded classrooms will not sway a voters mind as effectively as the loss (or gain) of a job.

I wonder how much money the district is spending on the levy campaign?
I have not seen any evidence that the campaign organizers are even considering these issues. I certainly have not heard them being discussed in the mainstream media. I do read about teacher cuts, (most of those teachers live in the suburbs), crowded classrooms, and transportation cuts.
People without kids don't care about those things. A lot of Cleveland parents don't vote.
Which is easier, to sway the vote of the person who regularly participates in the electoral process, or to get people who never vote to the polls?

I know that Arnold Pinkney is handling this campaign. I hope he is doing his homework.

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