CLEVELAND -- It was an emotionally-charged debate in the heart of Cleveland's Lee-Harvard neighborhood.
Community activists organized an informative debate at the neighborhood community center, moderated by State Rep. Bill Patmon, to help educate constituents about Issue 107, a 15-mill property tax levy to fund an overhaul of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
City and business leaders say the outcome of the election will make or break the school system.
"What do you tell a senior citizen if she can't afford her medication?" argued levy opponent Tiffany Brown. "Yes, our schools need to be fixed, but not on the backs of our taxpayers!"
Supporters of the levy fired back, including former Cleveland School Board President Gerald Henley.
"It's like you're taking the kids and throwing them into the lake, and letting them bottom out," he said. "It's already bottomed out. What are you going to do about it?"
About 50 people attended the debate, and opponents of the levy appeared to outnumber supporters 2 to 1. For many voters, their minds are already set. However, for the estimated 14 percent of voter who are undecided, school and city leaders have a message about Cleveland's future:
"Education is key to our success," said Mayor Frank Jackson at an earlier meeting with the Council of Small Enterprises, or COSE. Jackson and CMSD CEO Eric Gordon made their pitch for the levy to local small business owners by stressing that the success of the entire region depends on overhauling Cleveland schools.
"There will be people who say it's a bad investment," said Gordon. "The reality is, while we're not where we want to be, we have made great gains."
The district has not passed an operating levy in 16 years. In that time, it's seen a 23 percent increase in the graduation rate.
Meanwhile, the district has seen a total loss of 168 million dollars in funding over the last 2 years because of state and federal cuts.
"We're talking accountability and responsibility!" shouted opponent Brown, to a cheering crowd at the debate.
It was a demand heard over and over again.
Gordon made a promise to voters: "We should prove substantial gains particularly on graduation, and if we don't, we shouldn't get the levy back," he said.
Issue 107, which will be on the ballot November 6, will generate about $67-million each year of the 4-year levy. It would cost the average Cleveland homeowner about 63-cents a day.
Issue 107 coverage