Cleveland Heights-University Heights school levy unofficially passing by ‘razor-thin’ margin

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — By an unofficial but current margin of 65 votes in favor of a new 4.8-mill operating levy, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District officials remained “cautiously optimistic” Wednesday morning (Nov. 4) about the outcome of Issue 69.

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As it stands unofficially, there were 14,598 votes (50.1 percent) cast in favor of the levy, compared to 14,533 (49.9 percent) against, with 1,154 unreturned mail-in ballots as of Nov. 4.

“This razor-thin margin is a testament to the fact that every vote is important,” Superintendent Liz Kirby said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.

Voter turnout more than doubled since the pandemic-infected spring primary, when less than 13,000 total votes were cast on a proposed 7.9-mill levy, which lost by about 600 votes.

This time around, there were over 29,100 votes tallied, with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections officials noting early that there were still 1,154 unreturned mail ballots out there as of Wednesday morning.

Kirby deferred any questions about a recount to the county election board, although district spending critic, levy opponent and Heights High graduate Garry Kanter pointed out that any remaining and properly postmarked mail-in ballots will be counted for 10 days after the election.

“Then they announce ‘certified results’ on Nov. 18 — then an automatic recount if it’s within 0.5 percent,” Kanter noted, adding that the unofficial voting margin on Issue 69 is currently 0.2 percent.

Speaking on behalf of the school district, Kirby said on Wednesday: “We are cautiously optimistic with the results as of this morning. We trust the process and look forward to receiving the final results.

“Heights residents have proven time and time again that they are committed to seeing their public schools healthy and thriving,” she said.

That commitment varies by precinct and community, as an official 53.2 percent of Cleveland Heights voters approved the Nov. 3 levy, with 11,723 in favor to 10,299 against.

But over in University Heights, only 39.4 percent voted in favor of the levy, which garnered only 2,509 unofficial “yes” votes, compared to 3,855 votes (60.6 percent) against.

And in South Euclid, a section of which makes up a sliver of the CH-UH district, an unofficial 379 voters shot the levy down (50.9 percent against), compared to 366 in favor (49.1 percent) — a baker’s dozen difference of 13 votes.

On behalf of all Tiger Nation staff and students, Kirby went on to thank all who voted in favor of Issue 69.

“This levy is needed for CH-UH Schools to forge ahead with vital academic programming, equity work, extracurriculars and strategic planning,” Kirby stated. “It will help our district fulfill its mission of preparing all of our students for success in college and career.”

The school board also pointed to millions of dollars they say are being rerouted out of the public district through EdChoice private tuition vouchers that allow students to enroll elsewhere — and take state education funding with them.

Levy opponents continue their call for a state Performance Audit; the last one was commissioned in 1999.

Kanter said Wednesday that he would also like to see the district get on board with the Ohio Open Checkbook program.

“When will the school board start engaging the other 50 percent of the community?” Kanter asked, further telling the CH-UH Board of Education that, “by every measure possible, this district has spending problems and you’re ignoring them — and dismissing those of us who bring this to your attention.”

As for the performance audit, school board officials have pointed to the fact that they’re supposed to be conducted on “normal operations,” which have been anything but typical since the COVID-19 state health emergency was declared in March.

“On Oct. 30, the Board of Education voted to continue the 2020-2021 school year in a remote status until at least Nov. 30,” the district announced, with the motion also specifying that if the Cuyahoga County Public Health Advisory Alert Level is upgraded to “4 (purple),” all students would move to remote learning.

“I made this recommendation to the board because Thursday’s announcement (Oct. 29) that Cuyahoga County remained in Level 3 was a surprise, given that the county was trending toward a Level 4 (purple) alert,” Kirby said earlier.

“I feel strongly that we need to see more trend data over the next several weeks in order to make an informed decision for the second quarter,” she said.

“The board and I want to bring our students back to school as soon as possible, but only when it is safe to do so,” Kirby added. “It’s important to note that when that time comes, families will still have the option of keeping their children home to learn remotely.”

Meanwhile, district officials were set to return to the bargaining table with the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union on Thursday (Nov 5) to resume contract negotiations on what had been a “last, best and final offer” approved by the school board, but overwhelmingly rejected by the union last month.

Read more from the Sun Press.

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