Two Columbus City Schools measures failed at the polls Tuesday, despite receiving campaign support from Ohio State President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee, football coach Urban Meyer, Undergraduate Student Government members and other student organizations.
USG President Taylor Stepp said Wednesday he was surprised at the result, and said watching the poll returns come in was “surreal.”
“Not only myself, but many other students were engaged to support the levy. It was a lot of hard work, so I was disappointed. The work, though, was not about us, it was about the students that it would have benefited,” he said.
Though the levies didn’t pass, Stepp said he’s proud of the work OSU students did to propel turnout. In order to gauge the success of their efforts, Stepp said turnout was benchmarked to the 2009 general election, which he said was similar in being an off-year and in the comparative significance of legislation on the ballot. In 2009, the university district saw 189 voters, Stepp said. He said by 4 p.m. Tuesday, the university district already had 675 voters and was projected to have nearly 1,000 by the end of the night.
Stepp said he was proud because “turnout showed that students really are invested in Columbus City Schools and the education of K-12 … and it really solidified that this really is USG’s business to be doing this.”
The issues in question, 50 and 51, comprising the Columbus Education Plan, were strongly supported by Mayor Michael Coleman, and were proposed following a series of investigative stories by The Columbus Dispatch in 2012 which found that Columbus City Schools were performing much poorer than previously believed.
The Dispatch’s reporting found school administrators had progressively manipulated student data over several years in order to improve the state’s assessment of schools, thereby securing more funding.
Accurate assessments following those revelations revealed that more than half of the district’s schools received failing grades from the state.
The fallout of the data scandal is the reason why the Columbus Education Plan included Issue 51, which would have established a new auditing position. Coleman said an independent auditor would provide a much-needed check on the power of the Columbus Board of Education, which Coleman said has more autonomy than a government entity should have.
“I don’t run the school district, but I thought we were doing pretty good, because that’s all I heard,” Coleman said at a USG meeting Oct. 1. “But the data scandal caused me and others to intervene into the district and find out what’s really going on — and it opened my eyes.”
If approved, Issue 50, a $9 million levy, would have allowed the school district to issue $175 million in bonds and demand a 24 percent increase on property tax.
Issue 50 was defeated 69 percent to 31 percent, with nearly 64,000 votes. Issue 51 was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent. It was the first time since 1991 the district didn’t pass a levy.
Tim Bosserman, a fourth-year in public affairs who sat on the steering committee for USG’s student campaign, Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools, said the failure of the measures was disappointing news.
“We were disappointed. We felt the levies would help the students of Columbus, and at Ohio State, we had the chance to impact the future of Columbus by providing a better education for the students,” Bosserman said. “It’s hard, but I think the positive is that we had increased turnout from 2009 to 2013, so I think we took care of things on our part. Considering the limited time we had to run a student campaign for the levies, we did a good job. Ultimately, we wanted the levies to pass, but in terms of turnout, we accomplished our goals.”
Other OSU students who were uninvolved with the campaign for the levy said while it was acceptable that OSU officials and USG backed the issues, Columbus needs to consider other ways to advance its schools.
“I don’t see reason why they shouldn’t have supported it, but I will say that money isn’t the sole factor that improves education,” said Tyler Thaxton, third-year in psychology. “Better teachers are what does that, so if (they) were to pay teachers more or give them more respect, that’s more important than getting more money.”
The USG General Assembly voted unanimously to back the two measures on Sept. 25, and formed Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools to campaign for them, along with representatives from College Republicans, College Democrats and Greek Life.
The group organized more than 100 volunteers over the past month to spent almost 150 total hours passing out flyers around campus, canvassing door-to-door and talking to a variety of student organizations, said Tyler Duvelius, a third-year in international business and the governmental affairs director for USG, in an email.
Gee had also campaigned for the measures, and held a forum at Gateway Film Center Monday to urge students to support the measure.
“You cannot have a great university without a great city,” Gee said. “We cannot have a core of a city that is deteriorating in front of us, without all of us being affected.”
Meyer also lent support to the campaign, allowing his image to be used on flyers that were distributed throughout the city.
Other measures on the ballot fared better than Issues 50 and 51, as four other bond issues were all passed, which in total will supply more funding to the city’s utilities, parks and recreation, safety and public service.
Logan Hickman contributed to this article.