The impact of an Ohio school district's decision to cut sports (cont.)
In an interview at his home in Grove City, Jones was hesitant to reveal any personal information about himself. He did say that he collected unemployment benefits. In August, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Jones is an unemployed roofer who is married with two adult children. The paper also reported that Jones' mortgage lender began foreclosure proceedings two years ago, but Jones managed to keep his house.
Jones has good reason to keep his biography private. He said his life has been threatened and his truck has been vandalized. Some levy supporters even targeted the wrong Terry Jones. Terry E. Jones attended a school board meeting in August to explain that he is not the Terry Jones leading the anti-levy campaign. Jones, who, coincidentally, works at a roofing supply company, told the Grove City Record he had seen messages on the Internet calling for a boycott of his business. He also said he had received an anonymous, threatening phone call at work.
District leaders: Little left to cut
School district officials paint a much different picture than Jones. They argue that sports and busing were cut only as last resorts. "I'd feel differently if that was the board's decision to make our first cuts," Superintendent Bill Wise said. "But after you've implemented $18 million of cuts and cut close to 12 percent of your staff?"
Mark Mayers, the father of Mike Mayers, the Grove City quarterback and one of the organizers of the pro-levy group Citizens for Southwest City Schools, also took issue with the anti-levy crowd's argument that citizens shouldn't vote for a levy until the district learns to spend more efficiently. "I have compassion for the person that actually can't afford it," Mayers said. "I don't have any compassion for the person who says, 'Well, we need to fix the funding system.' I don't disagree that we need to fix the funding system, but turning down our levy does not fix the funding system. It's like having cancer and saying I don't want any treatment. I'll wait for the cure."
A major problem, levy supporters said, is Ohio's system for funding education. When the state government's contribution to local districts remains flat or falls, a district has only two options to manage rising costs. It can cut employees or services, or it can ask the voters to approve an additional tax. South-Western voters have been a notoriously tough sell; in the past 15 years, they've passed only one operating levy -- in 2005 -- and that took several tries. Johnson, the school board president, said every cut has pained her because each one represents "an opportunity lost for a child." Johnson is campaigning for the levy as well as her own seat, which is one of three up for election in November. She warned that no matter who sits on the board, a defeat of the levy will force the district to cut even deeper. Athletics would be gone, but that probably would be a secondary concern. "The next round of cuts will directly impact classroom instruction," Johnson said. "That's what we've been trying to protect."
'Who would want to move here?'
That's what scares Jordan, the Grove City football coach. He moved his family to Grove City from northeast Ohio to rejuvenate the Dawgs' program. He did that in his first year. But Jordan also has a day job teaching Advanced Placement American history and college-prep government. He worries AP classes might be endangered as well.
"My concern as a teacher is, what's the next level of cuts?" Jordan said. "Are Advanced Placement classes on that list? You don't have to offer that stuff. Now you're getting down to bare-bones curriculum ... Now you're getting to the point where you've got the old brain drain."
While anti-levy voters contend that solutions can be found without a new tax, levy supporters believe a no vote in November will trigger classroom cuts that eventually could doom the district. Chas McCutcheon is a graduate of the South-Western system and a former soccer coach at Central Crossing. An art teacher, McCutcheon left the district before he would have been laid off. He worries about the future if the cuts go deeper. "If we vote no again," McCutcheon said, "the quality of education is going to go through the floor."
A few miles from Franklin Heights High, Broad Street meets Interstate 270, the beltway that runs around metro Columbus. Along the street, multiple business have closed. On one white building, a star-shaped scar reminds passers-by that a Macy's has moved on. Near the northbound on-ramp, a billboard reminds motorists that a big-box electronics chain franchise has picked up and moved to Hilliard. Just like the Central Crossing cross country coach.
Levy supporters worry further cuts would spur more residential moves -- assuming they could sell their houses. Buechner, the Central Crossing booster president, said a district with no sports, no extra-curricular activities and a scaled back academic program could cause a run on For Sale signs purchased in vain. "If it doesn't pass again, I don't know what they'd do," Buechner said. "Who would buy your house? Who would want to move here? No one with kids."
So instead of playing, many of the students in South-Western will campaign this fall to get the levy passed. Meanwhile, Jones and his supporters will campaign to defeat it. Mark Mayers said that after all the ballots were counted, the August initiative fell short by 406 votes. For both sides, every vote will be precious.
Mayers' son, Mike, can't win another football game. He could have left the district, but he chose to stay and continue what he believes is a fight for the future of the place he calls home. "We're from Grove City. We're not from anywhere else," Mayers said. "This is about sports, but it's also about Grove City. The community itself isn't the same."