Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Postmortem Part 1: Issue 78

This has been an odd day. On the national liberal blogs and on Air America, commentators are positively giddy about election results across the country. In the Ohio blogs, depression, recriminations and excuses for the pancaking of the RON effort.

For myself, I have awakened from the fevered dream of fair redistricting and acknowledged that RON doesn't look nearly as good by the harsh light of day. I have reserved all my depression, anger and bargaining for the defeat of Issue 78.

This caught me by surprise. Obviously, a school levy effort doesn't have the resources to put a poll in the field. But the signs were all good. No organized opposition emerged. The BJ contained relatively few LOEs against. What I heard from the phonebankers was positive.

I also thought that other campaigns' GOTV would be complimentary. The four judicial candidates, the school levy committee and RON supporters were all doing GOTV targeting essentially the same folks.

I don't think the problem was a failure of Democratic turnout. Two Democrats won Muni Judge spots over appointed incumbents. This was the first race in which judges were allowed to declare party affiliation in their campaign materials. That along with their strategy of casting the election as a referendum on Taft made this the most partisan race I've seen in Akron. What's more, Akron voters chose Eve Belfance and Kathy Michael by sufficient margins to overcome the inevitable Republican majorities in Bath and Richfield. This could only have happened with considerable Democratic turnout.

So what went wrong? Here are my best guesses. First, that economic realities make it hard to support any new tax. People are looking at a long, cold winter with spiking gas prices. Akron's economy remains dormant. Uncertainty permeates the air.

Second, while APS made the case that they deserve a raise, they didn't make the case that they need one. I heard that the belief within the campaign was that discussing the need for more money is too much of a downer. "People don't want to hear that" was the quote. The problem is, without laying out why the schools need a raise, people don't think you need one. They might not want to hear all that depressing, whiny stuff, but without it they won't understand that the need is dire.

Third, the campaign was too short, too concentrated and too dependent on teachers. They kicked off in mid-September. That's not enough time for the kind of voter education they obviously need to do.

I hope that with a concentrated effort to reach voters and walk them through the basics of why Akron needs a new levy it can pass the next time around. The alternative to me is believing that Akron is overrun with dickheads and I don't want to indulge in that kind of defeatism.


Anonymous said...

Over run with dickheads? No - crack heads and meth heads maybe. I think you are getting clsoe with your analysis of #78 did not pass - people don't want to raise their own taxes and they figure if they have to do more with less so do the schools. I always want to see the schools do more self-promotion - publish the names and photos of students of the month in the BJ for example. There is strong school news in the Leader publications but the audience for those papers is limited. I wonde rhow much of the recent Loretta Haugh school board controversy has reflected poorly on the schools in general and if that had a negative impact at the polls.

Anonymous said...

I voted against 78 because the logic didn't make sense.

"We have fewer students so
we need more money."


Pho said...

I appreciate your comments, A1 and A2.

A2, your comment is instructive and I will pass it along to the levy committee as we plan on our next steps. I've heard the same thing from citizens and from legislators in Columbus.

Two problems. The first is that charter school drain is only part of the financial picture. The bigger pieces are 1) real property tax revenues are essentially static due to HB 920, 2)business personal property taxes will phase out rapidly starting in two years, state aid drops every three years thanks to the phantom revenue effect and 4) state aid is budgeted to drop in two years due to how the GA rejiggered the funding formula.

As to the charter school drain, the problem is that the loss of marginal revenue is greater that the drop in marginal cost. To put it in non-econ-wonk terms: until APS loses 15 students in one grade level in one building, they cannot save money (i.e., lay off a teacher) without affecting programs and/or class ratios.

I expect that doesn't clinch the deal for you, but in the interest of you having all the facts, there it is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for explaining it a bit more.

I would be more willing to vote for the millage if I thought the APS was more willing to be innovative. My kid goes to Akron Digital Academy - the APS's only charter school and we get treated pretty shabbily at times. That's one reason I voted for Mr. Hardy for school board. If something is working for the school system, then let's support and promote it!

I'd also like to see APS do things like encourage homeschoolers to take classes in the regular school and earn more revenue that way. Wadsworth does that.

But until I see more innovation on their part I'm probably not going to support it. I am psyched about the James Hardy on the school board though.