by German Lopez
Conservative group involved in two lawsuits related to streetcar, CPS levy
A local conservative group is making a lot of use of member and
lawyer Chris Finney. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST) was involved in two lawsuits filed this week: one regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal and another regarding Cincinnati
Public Schools (CPS).
Criticism of the Blue Ash Airport deal is not new for
COAST. The group has repeatedly criticized the deal, largely because as
much as $26 million from the deal will be used to fund Cincinnati’s $110
million streetcar. In the past, COAST has repeatedly characterized the streetcar
as a “boondoggle.”
The deal between Blue Ash and Cincinnati is not new, but
it did get reworked earlier this year. In 2006, the $37.5 million deal
had Cincinnati selling Blue Ash some land on the Blue Ash Airport
property, which Blue Ash would then use to build a park. Blue Ash voters
approved the deal, which contained a 0.25 percent earnings tax hike, in
a two-to-one margin.
When Cincinnati couldn’t get a $10 million grant from the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city stopped working on the
airport as it became too costly. The city then tried to shift the
proceeds from the deal to the Cincinnati streetcar, but the FAA said
funding must be used for airports since the property is classified as an
Eventually, Cincinnati asked Blue Ash to rework the deal.
The plan was Blue Ash would rescind the deal, and then Cincinnati would
officially close down the airport and resell the land to Blue Ash while
it’s no longer classified as an airport.
At first, city officials said $11 million of the opened-up
money would go to the streetcar and $26 million would go to municipal
projects. Since then, the city has shifted $15 million of that municipal
project funding — supposedly temporarily — to help Duke Energy move
underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route,
at least until the city and energy company can work out an ongoing
The reworked deal, which was approved by
Blue Ash City Council in a 6-1 vote on Aug. 9, seemed like a win-win for
both sides. Cincinnati would get more funding for ongoing projects,
and Blue Ash netted $2.25 million from the deal — $250,000 to cover fees
for Blue Ash’s new park and $2 million was subtracted from the deal
since Blue Ash would no longer have to match the FAA grant.
But COAST does not approve. The organization doesn’t want
any funding redirected to the streetcar, and it claims the reworked deal
is not allowed. The lawsuit filed by Blue Ash resident Jeffrey Capell
and Finney cites a section of the Blue Ash City Charter that disallows
some contracts: “No contract shall be made for a term longer than five
years, except that franchises for public utility services and contracts
with other governmental units for service to be received or given may be
made for any period no longer than twenty years.”
Mark Vander Laan, Blue Ash’s city solicitor, says the
city charter section the lawsuit is referencing is irrelevant. He argues the deal is
not a contract as the city charter defines it; instead, it’s a mortgage and debt
instrument. In the Blue Ash City Charter, there’s another section that
deals with debt instruments, and that’s what the rescinded deal falls
under, according to Vander Laan. He says the city would not function as
it does today if the lawsuit’s claim was correct: “If that were the
case, all the bonds we’ve ever issued would have been incorrect.”
Vander Laan says the real issue here is disapproval of the
streetcar, not any legal technicalities: “They may have a complaint
about the streetcar, but that’s not the city of Blue Ash’s issue at all.
We don’t think it’s even an appropriate basis to challenge this.”
He added, “Frankly, if somebody had an issue with (the
deal), they should have taken that issue back in 2006 and 2007.” That’s
when Blue Ash voters first approved the airport deal, but back then, the
money wasn’t going to the streetcar, which didn’t even exist at the
In another legal battle, COAST filed a lawsuit against CPS
over staff allegedly campaigning for Issue 42, a ballot initiative that will
renew a CPS levy voters approved in 2008. The case goes back to 2002, when Tom Brinkman, chairman
of COAST, sued CPS for “illegal and unconstitutional use of school
property for campaign purposes,” according to the lawsuit. That case
ended in a settlement, which forced CPS to enter into a “COAST Agreement” that says, “CPS will strictly enforce a policy of preventing … Other
Political Advertisements on CPS Property.”
But COAST now says that agreement has been broken, and the
lawsuit cites emails as evidence. The emails show staff promoting voter
registration drives, which aren’t directly linked to Issue 42, and
staff offering to contribute and volunteer to the campaign. In the
emails, there are a few instances of Jens Sutmoller, Issue 42’s campaign
coordinator, asking CPS staff to give him personal emails, which shows
he was trying to avoid breaking any rules.
In CityBeat’s experience, CPS officials have been
pretty strict with following the settlement with COAST. In a Sept. 20
email, Janet Walsh, spokesperson for CPS, told CityBeat she could
not provide some levy-related information during work hours: “Yes, but
due to constraints about doing levy-related work on work time (we
can't), it may have to wait until I can get on my home computer.”
COAST has endorsed a “No” vote on Issue 42. In CityBeat’s
in-depth look into CPS and Issue 42 (“Battered But Not Broken,” issue
of Oct. 3), Brinkman defended COAST’s position by saying they’re not
necessarily against the school getting funding. COAST is more
interested in holding the school accountable: “It’s a five-year levy.
The reason we have five-year levies is so the public can gauge after
four or four and a half years how the entity where the taxes are going
to is doing with the money.” In that sense, for COAST, it’s important to
bring the levy renewal to voters as late in the game as possible —
November 2013 in this case. CityBeat this week endorsed a "Yes" vote on Issue 42 here. Criticism of CPS levies is
also not new for COAST. The group campaigned against last year’s new, permanent $49.5 million
levy, which CPS said it needed to meet new technology needs and keep
some buildings open.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 31, 2012
CityBeat recently covered
Cincinnati Public School’s (CPS) financial problems and what makes the
levy renewal a necessity for the school (“Battered But Not Broken,”
issue of Oct. 3). Under the broken state funding system for schools, CPS
has to rely on levies to sustain and improve its education program. If
CPS doesn’t get this levy renewed, it will be down $51.5 million — or
approximately 11 percent of its budget — in 2015. That’s a hard hit to
take after a decade of budget cuts at CPS. The school district has
already cut about 22 percent of its total staff in the last 10 years and
closed down 17 buildings. It shouldn’t have to do more.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 24, 2012
After two years of racking up an
excellent rating on its state report card, Robert A. Taft Information
Technology High School appears headed for a lower grade.
by James McNair
Posted In: CPS
at 04:27 PM | Permalink
Scores down after controversial ascension from "academic emergency" to "excellent"
years of racking up an excellent rating on its state report card, Robert
A. Taft Information Technology High School appears headed for a lower
school report cards released Wednesday by the Ohio Department of
Education show an “effective” rating for Taft, a technology-magnet
school for grades 9-12 in Cincinnati’s West End. Taft had won accolades
nationally for its steady climb from academic futility during the past seven
years. In that span, Taft went from “academic emergency” in the 2004-05
school year to excellent in 2009-10 and 2010-11, mainly on the strength
of Ohio Graduation Test pass rates that were the highest of all public
high schools in Southwest Ohio. The U.S. Department of Education gave it
a coveted National Blue Ribbon Award.[Download the Ohio Preliminary Report Cards spreadsheet here.]
CityBeat called those achievements into question in a February article ("Miracle or Mirage," issue of Feb. 22). CityBeat
found that the same graduating classes (2009-10 and 2010-11) that were
posting regionally high OGT pass rates had average composite ACT test
scores of 15, or the 10th percentile in Ohio. CityBeat also took
the first hard look at an independent audit showing that, of 1,707
erasures on Taft OGT exams in 2006, 88 percent resulted in correct
answers, an outcome one nationally prominent testing expert called “not
logical.” Cincinnati Public Schools, then led by former superintendent
Rosa Blackwell, refused to investigate the matter, and ODE let the
district get away with it.
2011-12 school year, Taft still posted high pass rates on the OGT, but
its graduation rate of 82.1 percent (down from 91.4 percent in 2010-11)
and attendance rate of 91 percent (down from 96.7 percent) were below
state benchmarks, leading to the effective rating on its interim report
fell from excellence among the city’s public schools, another school,
James N. Gamble Montessori High School in Spring Grove Village, received
its first-ever excellent rating. And Walnut Hills extended its
long-running streak of excellent ratings. Winners of effective ratings
were Clark Montessori and Withrow University high schools.As for the
district, Cincinnati Public Schools itself fell one notch on its state
report card. Last year, CPS was rated effective, making it the
highest-rated urban school district in Ohio. For 2011-12, it dropped to
“continuous improvement.” Said CPS spokeswoman Janet Walsh: “We really
would have loved to have gotten effective again, but the fact remains
that overall performance, as rated by the state performance index, did
reach 88.5, which is our highest score ever, and we continue to
After a decade of budget cuts, CPS looks to Issue 42 for stability
3 Comments · Wednesday, October 3, 2012
By the end of November 2011, Cincinnati Public Schools
(CPS) knew it would soon have bigger financial problems. The school
district had just lost the battle for Issue 32, a permanent levy that
would have raised $49.5 million for CPS every year.
by Danny Cross
Local subscribers to Time Warner and Insight cable woke up today without access to WLWT-TV
(Channel 5) after the station and companies failed to reach a new
retransmission agreement. Instead, the cable companies offered Channel 2
from NBC affiliate Terre Haute, Ind. The Enquirer is all over
the story, reporting that Todd Dykes and Lisa Cooney in the morning were
replaced by someone named Dada Winklepleck in Wabash Valley, Ind. Don’t
worry: 30 Rock will still be on your new local Indiana station. Visit
mywabashvalley.com for further details about additional programming. Or
you can just hook up an antennae and get WLWT in hi-def for free.
Anyone in the market for a school building? Cincinnati
Public Schools is adding four closed buildings to a for-sale list in an
attempt to raise the capital necessary to complete an overhaul of its
in-use buildings as part of its Facilities Master Plan.
The new buildings on the list are Central Fairmount, Kirby
Road, North Fairmount and Old Shroder schools.
Ohio brought in $23.5 million during the first seven weeks of legalized gambling in the state.
Mitt Romney says he’s not hiding anything in his offshore
accounts. The proof: He doesn’t even know where they are, so they’re
technically hidden from him, too.
Barack Obama is in Iowa apparently setting up an issue on
which to debate Romney later this fall. Obama is pitching an extension
of the Bush-era tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000,
while Romney wants to extend them for rich people, too.
The FDA went against the advice of an expert panel,
deciding not to require mandatory training for doctors prescribing
long-acting narcotic painkillers that can lead to addiction.
Three-hundred-square-foot apartments in New York City? Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked developers yesterday to try to make them work.
City planners envision a future in which the young, the
cash-poor and empty nesters flock to such small dwellings — each not
much bigger than a dorm room. In a pricey real estate market where about
one-third of renter households spend more than half their income on
rent, it could make housing more affordable.
Droughts in 18 states have made the price of corn go up, and the soybeans are hurting a little bit, too.
Sitting less adds two years to U.S. life expectancy.
A new study found that babies are healthier when there are dogs in their homes.The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will take place
tonight in Kansas City. The Reds’ Joey Votto is a starter, while Jay Bruce and Aroldis
Chapman are also likely to play.
1 Comment · Wednesday, June 13, 2012
A Minnesota high school student was recently forbidden
from wearing black and silver rosary beads in support of his breast
cancer-stricken grandmother because school officials said the beads
could symbolize gang membership. WORLD -1
by Danny Cross
Former Bengal Chad Ochocinco will return to Cincinnati
Oct. 7 as a member of the Miami Dolphins, if reports by his OchoCinco
News Network are true: Ocho says he has signed with the Miami Dolphins. Cincinnati Public Schools on Monday
voted unanimously to put a levy renewal on the November ballot. The
current levy is set to expire in 2013, and the renewal would be for
$51.5 million for five years.
The second day of the Jerry Sandusky
sexual abuse trial continues today, with a second accuser expected to
testify. In his opening statement, Sandusky's lawyer questioned the
credibility of the eight young men accusing him of multiple crimes
over several years, claiming that they have a financial motive to
make false claims. He also acknowledged that Sandusky's behavior and
his showering with young boys was “kind of strange” but said it
was not sexual abuse.
Mitt Romney says Barack Obama's
“Forward” slogan is absurd. And so is the notion that he wants to
reduce the number of police, firefighters and teachers. Absurdity.
The LA Times says Obama's complicated
message will pose a challenge to convey, especially against Romney's
simple argument: Y'all mad and it's Obama's fault.
counter-argument is layered with nuance and complexity.It
starts with an attempt to undercut Romney. As a corporate buyout
executive, Romney shipped jobs overseas and reaped millions of
dollars in fees from takeover deals that destroyed U.S. factory jobs,
the Obama campaign says. As Massachusetts governor, Romney built a
poor record on job creation, the argument continues.Turning
to his own record, Obama tells voters that he inherited an economy on
the brink of collapse and averted a depression. He takes credit for a
resurgence in manufacturing, the rescue of the automobile industry
and the creation of more than 4 million jobs since February
2010.Obama also slams Republicans in Congress for blocking his plans to stimulate more jobs. To
inoculate himself from potential setbacks over the summer and fall,
he warns of economic trouble spilling over from Europe.In the
end, Obama says, he would keep the country moving forward while
Romney would take it back to the George W. Bush policies that wrecked
the economy in the first place.
Verizon is changing up its cell phone
plans, moving toward monthly plans that allow users to connect up to
10 devices, including tablets and PCs, to their cell phone network.
There's a new Retina-display-bearing
MacBook Pro. Whatever that means.
Sunday night's Mad Men season finale
broke a ratings record with 2.7 million viewers.
The Los Angeles Kings won the NHL's
Stanley Cup on Tuesday, the organization's first ever championship.
1 Comment · Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Tenth graders at Robert A. Taft
Information Technology High School — which went from academic futility
in 2004-05 to excellence in 2009-10 — this year posted their worst
showing on the Ohio grade math and reading tests since those bleak,
by German Lopez
at 01:48 PM | Permalink
New assessments could result in worse ratings
Ohio received a No Child Left
Behind waiver yesterday, and the state is now expected to evaluate its schools
with a more stringent assessment plan suggested by Gov. John Kasich.The state released district-by-district
data showing how each school district would fall under the new system, which
uses letter grades to evaluate schools. The simulation, which uses 2010-2011
data, shows most local schools would dropCincinnati Public Schools would
drop from the second-best rating of “Effective” under the current system to a
D-, with 23 schools flunking and Walnut Hills High School retaining its top
mark with an A.Charter schools in particular are
worried about surviving under the new grading system. Under Ohio law, if a
charter school flunks two out of three consecutive years, the school has to
close down.Some local charter schools are
especially desperate to improve performance. Earlier this year, Dohn Community High School began a program that would literally pay students for showing up to class and working hard.The waiver from No Child Left
Behind frees Ohio from a requirement to make 100 percent of students
“proficient” in math and reading by 2014. Many parents, teachers and schools
had criticized the No Child Left Behind requirement for being unrealistic.With freedom from No Child Left
Behind, Ohio now has the responsibility of paving its own path toward school
and student accountability. The new grading system was singled out as a big
caveat by the Obama administration. Ohio is also expected to put extra funds in
low-performing schools and create new accountability measures for teachers and
principals.Ohio is expected to work out the
full details of its plan by Sept. 15. If it doesn’t, the No Child Left Behind
waiver will expire. The suggestions would then need to be approved by the
legislature before January 2013 and go into effect August 2013.The Obama administration is using
the waivers as an incentive for education reform in states. Ohio was one of
eight states to get waivers yesterday. Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana,
Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island also obtained waivers.