sby Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2017) On June 28, 1995, the Cleveland City Council passed legislation which increased parking, admissions and motor vehicle leasing taxes. The legislation allowed the money to be used for extracurricular activities for the Cleveland Schools, repairs for the football stadium and the general fund of the City of Cleveland.
With the funds designated for the school system, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District created the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Program. The legislation created a Joint Board made up of the Mayor of Cleveland, the Council President and the Superintendent (now CEO) of the school system or their designated representative to oversee the funds that were to go to the school system and agree on an annual budget.
Why, might you ask, was the City of Cleveland getting involved in passing taxes to fund the school system, which has local property taxes already designated for its use? Educational advocate and retired Cleveland School Teacher Gene Tracy, who has been involved in advocating for the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Program (CEAP), says the reason for the funding for the schools was to make the Cleveland School system whole for the Cleveland Brown’s stadium being exempt from paying property tax.
During the county-wide campaign to raise funds to build the stadium, it was promised that the new stadium would result in increased property taxes to fund the schools. Instead Mayor Michael White went downstate and successfully lobbied for the stadium to be exempt from local property taxes. Tracy says at the time the stadium, if taxed, would have meant an additional $2.3 million for the Cleveland schools. While Cuyahoga County voters overall supported the new taxes for building the Browns’ stadium, the tax did not win a majority of Cleveland voters.
To make up for the loss of property tax revenue for the Cleveland Schools, Tracy says the Mayor and Cleveland City Council proposed a portion of the revenue from the parking, admissions and motor vehicle leasing tax be given to the school system for extracurricular activities. The amount given to the school system amounted to about $2 million a year from the 1997-1998 school year until the 2009-2010 school year. In the 2010-2011 school year the amount dropped to $1 million and has remained roughly at that level since.
Tracy sees the cut in funds allocated to CEAP as a betrayal of a promise made to make the school system whole for the loss of property tax revenue from giving the stadium a property tax exemption. A number of years ago, Councilman Jay Westbrook told the Plain Press, the million dollars was moved to the general fund to make up for State Budget cuts. In a recent interview with Mayor Frank Jackson, he gave a similar response. Jackson said as a result of the recession and State cuts of $10 million, the money was needed to provide City Services. What Westbrook and Jackson failed to mention was that the Cleveland Stadium fund received $3.5 million in the 2010 City Budget, the same as the previous year, while funds for the extracurricular program for the Cleveland Schools were cut from $2 million to $1 million.
Mayor Jackson said he believes the extracurricular programs do help students. He recalled some of the many activities funded by the program. Not just sports, but chess clubs, cheerleaders, and arts programs, he noted. Jackson said the City of Cleveland continues to give to the program “whatever we are able to provide.”
Jackson said that students that develop a passion for an extracurricular activity, always do better. He cited passion, as a reason the School of Arts does so well. Indeed, data, presented by the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Program, reveals that students participating in the program had both higher attendance rates and higher grade-point averages than students that did not participate in the program.
As he has done for years, Tracy spoke at the Cleveland Board of Education, meeting on November 21st, calling upon Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon to demand that the $1 million per year be restored to the Comprehensive Extracurricular Activities Program budget to bring the level back to the $2 million level that was originally promised. Gordon is one of the three members of the Joint Board that must agree each year on the amount given to the program.