by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, July 2014) On June 28, 1995, Cleveland City Council passed resolution number 1025-A-95 allowing that revenue from levying a parking facility tax, and revenue from increases in the motor vehicle lessor tax and the admissions tax “can be used to fund recreational, cultural and extracurricular programs within the Cleveland School System.”
Each year since that ordinance was passed, a Joint Board established by the ordinance meets to recommend how to allocate a portion of those tax dollars to the programs in the Cleveland School System. Three people sit on the Joint Board – a representative of the City Council, a representative of the Mayor’s Office and a representative of the Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Cleveland City Council is then asked to approve the allocation to the schools.
In ordinances passed on March 20 of 1996, Cleveland City Council allocated all the revenue ($1.9 million) generated by its new parking tax in 1995 to the Cleveland School System, plus some additional dollars from the motor vehicle lessor tax and the admissions tax. $198,000 was allocated to a middle school track program and an additional $1,802,292 allocated for additional programs.
City of Cleveland legislation allowed the money from the three taxes to be spent for three possible purposes: programs in the Cleveland School System, the Cleveland Stadium (Browns), and Municipal Services. According to a June 2004 study by Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs and Conventions, Sports & Leisure Inc., titled Economic Development and A New Convention Center in Downtown Cleveland: An Assessment of Issues and Viability, revenue from the parking tax increased from $1.9 million in 2005 to $8.5 million in its first full year in 1996. In the years after that, the tax generated roughly $10 million per year in 2002.
According to the study, the admissions tax revenue also steadily increased from about $7 million in 1995 to roughly $12 million in 2002.
Despite the increasing revenue, the portion of the money given to the Cleveland Schools in the years after 1996 remained at about $2 million per year. That is until 2010, when the amount was dramatically reduced to $1 million per year.
For the past several years educational advocate Gene Tracy, a retired Cleveland Metropolitan School District Math teacher, has been trying to get Cleveland City Council to restore $1 million dollars to funds promised to Cleveland school students for recreational and cultural activities.
Tracy said the payment to the school system of $2 million per year was first proposed in about 1994 or 1995 to help make the schools whole for the property tax exemption granted to the Browns stadium. He estimates that at the time the property tax exemption was worth $4.1 to $4.3 million. If levied, the Cleveland Municipal (now Metropolitan) School district would have received about 53%, he says. He estimates that now the exemption is worth $6 or $7 million a year. Over half of which would have gone to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, if not for the property tax exemption of the stadium.
When Tracy confronted Cleveland City Council members at a recent Finance Committee meeting, he said he got the impression from the City Council members that they “thought taking $1 million from our children to improve the stadium was a great idea.” He quoted them as saying to him, “We have a city to run.”
Tracy notes that the combined revenue from the three taxes mentioned in Ordinance 1025-A-95 is now at roughly $27 million this past year. He says the stadium is now receiving $16 million of that amount.
Tracy cites the success of the programs outlined each year in a Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Plan (CEAP) report issued by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District on the collaborative agreement between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the City of Cleveland. The 2011-2012 report notes “the program contains five critical components: Marching Band/Instrumental Music, Elementary Non Traditional Extracurricular, K-8 School Athletics, High School Athletics and Secondary Extracurricular Activities. Each of these programs provides recreational or cultural enrichment activities for the children of the City of Cleveland.”
The report from the school district outlines how the money was used, how many students participated in the programs and the increased academic performance and attendance rate of students participating in the programs, when compared to students not participating in the programs. In the 2010-2011 school about 70% of the students in the school district participated in the CEAP. The average Grade Point Average of students participating in the CEAP n the middle schools and high schools was above 2.6. The GPA of students not participating in the CEAP was just above 2.1.
Similarly students participating in CEAP have better attendance than those who do not participate. Attendance for those participating in the programs was about 85%, while the attendance of non-participants hovered at around 75%.
Tracy says he encouraged City Council members to read the sample CEAP report he provided. He encouraged them to read the report he says demonstrates the schools are using the money for programs that “enhance, engage, make learning fun and are truly successful.”
Tracy says of Cleveland City Council’s majority, which has ignored his request to increase the funds, “the motives to cut $1 million per year from this program and use that money to improve the football stadium should be painfully clear and clearly demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the powers to be in Cleveland do not want to provide a quality public education for the children.”
Tracy urges citizens to act, “We must demand that not only should the money for the children be restored to $2 mill per year, but because of the clear success it should be increased to $3 million and the city should be made to pay back the $4 million it deprived the children of, for the past 4 years.”