CLEVELAND -- Governor John Kasich's signing of a bill approving big changes that could help improve Cleveland schools now clears the way for the next important step -- a levy campaign.
"Why shouldn't they have the same chance as I did?," Kasich asked, gesturing to a group of Cleveland school students present at the signing ceremony at John F. Kennedy High School, a school in need of an upgrade.
"The sun is coming up on Cleveland rather than going down on public education here," he continued.
The bill enables the system to strengthen successful schools, eliminate underperfoming schools, make teachers more accountable, reduce the role of seniority in layoffs and influence what happens in charter schools.
"This gives us the tools we need," said CEO/Superintendent Eric Gordon, who will be a part of the decision on how big to make a levy, what to promise voters the money will go for, how long it will last and who will run a campaign.
"We have to face the fact we have been disinvesting in children in Cleveland for a number of years," he said.
Cleveland voters have not passed an operating levy since 1996.
Prospective firms to run the campaign met with Mayor Frank Jackson and other officials Monday.
The depressed economy will make the levy a hard sell to many struggling voters who may only view a levy increase in terms of its impact on their household budgets.
"People are concerned whether or not they can afford to pass a levy. My answer back to my constituents is, we can't afford not to," said State Senator Nina Turner, a bill co-sponsor.
Councilman Mike Polensek said, "I think it's a 50-50 shot. It's giong to be very very difficult and it's all going to be based on the size of the levy."
State Representative Sandra Williams, a co-sponsor, said, "I truly believe once people understand what's at stake, we'll get this through."
Speakers at the signing said it's essential to keep the same partnership of business, non-profit , union, civic and political leaders who got plan legislation passed.
Business leader Albert Ratner, who played a behind-the-scenes role lobbying, said, "The team that put this together...we're indistinguishable. We'll each do what we have to do to get it done."
Joe Roman, President of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, said the group's supporting the legislation and now the levy campaign because "This is something we're getting behind because it's so critical....We need more people to get schooling in every field this city has to offer."
Jackson said more Cleveland residents and voters are willing to listen to a levy sales pitch instead of rejecting it outright.
Speakers paid tribute to his determination and commitment to pass the legislation.
He says he is running for re-election next year, largely to oversee implementation of the plan.
The vote will come next fall as students, teachers and parents are coping with another round of layoffs and program budget cuts.
Cleveland Teachers Union's Tracy Radich hopes that will help make a case for the levy instead of causing a backlash,
"This budget can't be stabilized until it has increased funding, " she said.
Levy backers have four months to make their case.
Cleveland School Levy coverage