This year my wife Janet and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary. Some are surprised when I tell them that we have lived in the same house for 40 years and in the same neighborhood for 50 years. I think Janet and I are some of the longest standing members of Our Lady of the Lake formerly Holy Cross parish. Although we are Catholic and I’m a big booster of Catholic education, I am also a strong supporter of public schools.
I’m proud that when I was a state legislator, the state of Ohio instituted auxilary services and later on when governor we reimbursed non public schools for the cost of complying with state laws.
One of the proudest days of my life was when the Supreme Court ruled that the “school choice” Cleveland scholarship program that we had instituted was constitutional-- that is public money can be used to support students who choose nonpublic schools. I’m pleased that today 5500 students are taking advantage of it. also proud of their 5500 students who live in Cleveland and use the program.
When our daughter Molly was killed crossing the street by the driver of a van that ran a red light on her way back to Oliver Hazard Perry school after lunch, Janet and I decided that the way to preserve her memory, and our love for her, was to touch the lives of other children by establishing the Molly Agnes Voinovich Major Work education fund. Molly and her sister Betsy and brothers George and Peter were all in the Major Work program. George, Betsy and Peter attribute their success in school to the wonderful primary education they received in the Cleveland public school Major Work program, which is still thriving today at O.H. Perry school in the Collinwood neighborhood.
One of the reasons I have supported both public and nonpublic education is that I believe that supporting education is the best way to give witness to the second great commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
If you really love your neighbor you will do everything you can to develop their God-given talents so that they can take care of themselves and their families and make a contribution to society.
That is the major reason why Janet and I are going to support the school levy and why I took some of the money I had left over from past political campaigns and contributed to the Cleveland school levy campaign.
Since becoming mayor of Cleveland in 1979, I have worked to improve the system. One of the worst things in my opinion that hurt our public schools in Cleveland was court-ordered busing. When I was governor of Ohio I worked tirelessly to get our schools out of the federal court and into the hands of the state of Ohio and then back into the hands of the mayor of the city of Cleveland.
The mayor’s involvement over the years has led to the improvement of our schools and the quality of the chief education officer. I happen to believe that our new CEO Eric Gordon is the best I've seen and I applaud the mayor’s rejection of three candidates from outside the city to appoint Eric Gordon Superintendent.
I know Eric, and the plan he has in place in my opinion will take our school system in a new direction. I’m pleased that he’s not going for a permanent levy but rather one that must be renewed after four years. Basically he’s telling us, “Give me four years and I will improve the system to the extent that when I ask you to renew the levy, you will reward my leadership or not based on my performance, which is the way the new law allows me to judge teachers and principals in the Cleveland school district.”
On another level I’m really concerned about people moving out of the city and those of us that remain picking up more and more of the cost for our schools and city services.
My daughter Betsy lives in Lakewood and their school system is growing with new students as contrasted to Cleveland. We are losing students. A house in Lakewood exactly like one in Cleveland sells for more money because of the perception and the reality that Lakewood has a good school system.
I’m also concerned that not only is Cleveland losing residents but we are also losing businesses. Ten years ago homeowners like you and me paid about one third of the cost of our education system, the rest was paid by commercial and industrial real estate taxpayers. Today, businesses pay half the property tax for the schools.
I have been told time and time again by business people: “If you expect us to remain in Cleveland or expand our businesses or locate new businesses in Cleveland you had better improve your schools.” Because good schools attract good businesses, passing Issue 107 could lead to new and expanded businesses who will pay a higher proportion of school taxes in the future.
Last year my son George, who lives in Hudson Ohio, and who hates taxes, wrote a letter in support of the Hudson school levy: “I’m writing to those residents who are sick of government waste and who viscerally object to higher taxes, especially in these economic times. I ask you to recognize that the best expenditures of tax dollars occurs at the local level, and that overall frustration with taxes should not be taken out on the Hudson schools. I would rather pay higher real estate taxes (deductible expenses for those who itemize) because I can directly see the schools’ benefit to students, the enhanced value of my property, and the benefits to Hudson of boosting one of Ohio’s top school systems.” He went on, “I urge you not to use the levy as your opportunity to take a stand against taxes in general. Passage of the levy will support our students, our property values, and our town. I urge you to vote for the levy.”
My daughter in Lakewood and my son in Hudson pay much more in real estate taxes than we do in Cleveland.
I was pleased that the Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed the levy but was shocked when I read “for every one hundred students entering ninth grade in Cleveland, 63 will graduate--which I understand is an improvement--34 will enter college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.”
Cleveland cannot survive with those kinds of statistics. I really believe that we are at a crossroads today, one that I had hoped to see during my lifetime. I really feel as I did when I was mayor. We can do better, we can catch up, and we can be a leader again. You may not remember, but when I was mayor we received an unprecedented three All-America City awards in five years. At the time we received the awards, I said we will never really be an All-America city until we have an all American education system. We are blessed with our nonpublic and charter school systems and now is the time for our public schools in Cleveland.
I have had two mottos over the: “Together we can do it,” and “With God all things are possible.” Together and with God’s help we can have a school system that gives witness to the second great commandment, love thy neighbor as thyself.