Attack on teacher benefits neither fact-based nor fair

In a September Heights Observer opinion piece (“18 residents call on CH-UH school district to fix health care spending”) rife with inaccuracies, flawed reasoning and unfair assumptions, Tony Cuda and 17 co-signers urged the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (CHTU) to agree to a cut in members’ health benefits, so that the CH-UH City School District can reduce its operating budget. While Cuda does not mention Issue 69 [the proposed school operating levy], he strongly implies that if greedy teachers and their families would sacrifice for the greater good, there would be no need for the 4.8 mill levy on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Cuda et al. believe that, because teachers in neighboring districts (specifically Shaker Heights and Beachwood) pay a larger percentage of their health insurance premiums, along with higher deductibles, it is “fiscally responsible” and “fair” to impose comparable costs on CH-UH teachers.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:48 PM, 09.30.2020

It's time to move on Millikin

On Sept. 3, the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) voted to reject further discussion of proposals [for Millikin], brought to them by unanimous vote of Cleveland Heights City Council, [that were] in response to years of citizens seeking progress at the Millikin site and the desire to increase [tax] revenue. [Many] residents are appalled. How is refusing to explore [new] revenue possibilities a good idea, while [the BOE has proposed] levying residents for more revenue? The audit the BOE refused to undertake might have shown great possibilities could come from developing the Millikin property. Council [members], like many districtwide, believe it holds much promise.

With a declining population, the district will need to close more buildings. Millikin should be a warning to every neighborhood in the district: Coming soon to your neighborhood!

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:52 PM, 09.30.2020

BOE can no longer abdicate responsibility for Millikin

In a single-family housing district, 11 acres sit almost abandoned. They’re home to a decaying building only used for storage, a historic stable now used for school district equipment, and some lovely, but uncared for, woodlands. This property is generating zero tax dollars for the school district or the city, and has been a community liability since 2006, when the CH-UH school district closed the Millikin school. An attempt to sell it for $650,000 collapsed when it was discovered that bringing the building up to code would entail millions of dollars in abatement. That revelation left the property essentially worthless, and the school board barely gave it another thought until this year, when the city of Cleveland Heights proposed a transfer of the property to the city, to entertain development proposals.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:53 PM, 09.30.2020

BOE's benefit spending should be in-line with other districts

The CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) could save $10.4 million by 2025 and upwards of $17.8 million by 2030. The savings would come from simply realigning the district’s spending on employee benefits to be in-line with other local school districts.

While CH-UH currently spends 47.7 percent of salaries and wages on employee benefits, the average spent on employee benefits in other local districts is about 40 percent: Shaker spends 40 percent, South Euclid-Lyndhurst spends 40 percent, Euclid spends 40 percent, Beachwood spends 33.4 percent and Mayfield spends 40.5 percent.

Indications are the CH-UH BOE plans to increase spending on employee benefits to 51 percent over the coming years. Instead of bringing spending on benefits in-line with other districts, the BOE appears to be heading in the other direction with plans to spend more on employee benefits.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:45 PM, 09.30.2020

Vote 'no' on Issue 69

As longtime Catholic residents, our family has supported multiple school levies over the years, while choosing St. Ann's and Benedictine for our three sons. The CH-UH school board has a fiduciary responsibility to consider the interests of all Cleveland Heights and University Heights citizens. However, it has refused to allow an objective look at the operations of the CH-UH school district through an outside performance audit. This audit would investigate every possible way to uncover savings as well as offer suggestions for future spending made in the best interest of the students.

This audit request is not new. I ask, Why is the CH-UH administration afraid to do what residents are requesting? The petition to request a performance audit has been ignored.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:29 PM, 09.30.2020

I'm voting 'no' again

Why is there another school tax levy on the November ballot? Didn’t we just go through this a few months ago?  As I write this, it is raining outside and my 100-year-old house with the leaky basement is letting water in.

I don’t have money for foundation repairs. I’m worried about COVID-19, as my son has returned home from college, quarantining for 14 days. I’m wondering if my job will sustain itself through this pandemic. Cleveland Heights' water and sewer bills are endless; there’s talk of our city tax being increased. Right now I need money for so many emergencies that it is depressing to think of another property tax increase. My property tax is so high already it’s like a separate mortgage payment.

A public school is a benefit to the community when it is affordable for residents to maintain.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:27 PM, 09.30.2020

Cleveland Heights council member reflects on 2020

When I became a Cleveland Heights City Council member, I knew I would face challenges. The city had just decided to change to a elected-mayor form of government. Top of the Hill’s (TOH) financing was before council. Legislation was needed to improve the foreclosure bond. The Waste Management Task Force report would need action. From walking Noble, I have been concerned about housing stock, so I led a team drafting legislation to amend the foreclosure bond.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 10:53 AM, 09.30.2020

How is Millikin development a good idea?

At its meeting on July 20, Cleveland Heights City Council approved sending a letter of intent to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education (BOE), offering to take the Millikin Elementary School building off the BOE's hands for $1, and market the property for redevelopment.

We citizens need to write the city thank you letters immediately. So kind of council members to ask the school district to unload the 11 acres of 200-year-old trees, stables from the Severance/Millikin estate, animal habitat, playground, all-round-beautiful natural area, and the school district's maintenance department's home for $1 and a tax deferment. Why wouldn't we neighbors [consider development] a terrific asset to the neighborhood? And, how would anyone in city government know that we Millikin neighbors might not like the idea?

How? Well, we had a Zoom meeting back in March that Mayor Jason Stein attended.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 3:57 PM, 08.31.2020

Developing Millikin land would be a tragic loss

Imagine a mile-long wooded corridor giving life to an urban landscape.

Imagine destroying that natural area in order to build a few more houses in a city where vacant lots and vacant houses abound. Once destroyed it will never come back. Then, where will the children go to learn to love nature?

Imagine saving this small piece of nature for yourselves, your children, your community.

Around the perimeter of Severance Town Center, there is a mile-long wooded buffer stretching east from South Taylor Road to Severance Millikin school, and then north to Mayfield Road.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 3:56 PM, 08.31.2020

BOE explains sale of Delisle Center land

Several residents have asked about the property transaction involving four parcels of land at the Delisle Center that the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education (BOE) recently sold to the city of University Heights. Since the community is interested, I’d like to explain the factors which led the BOE to this decision—many of which may not be readily apparent.

First, Ohio Revised Code (ORC) has specific rules regarding the disposition of public school properties, which are considered public assets. We must follow the law even though the law may not enable a school district to maximize potential revenue the way a city can.

Second, the Ohio Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) program permits municipalities and counties to designate CRAs which provide a direct incentive tax exemption for up to 15 years, depending on the construction project.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 3:55 PM, 08.31.2020

Black education matters

It has been heartening to see so many Black Lives Matter signs in Heights yards, and to see our neighbors and friends show up for justice at rallies, protests and workshops.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone. We pride ourselves on being a diverse community that supports social activism. But, are we really doing all we can as a community to support racial justice and combat systemic racism?

Would it surprise you to know that white families opt out of CH-UH schools at a rate of 85 percent—a rate significantly higher than many surrounding suburbs?

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 3:50 PM, 08.31.2020

Remove Monticello name from CH school and street

Equity is a topic that has been a part of critical attempts for change in our CH-UH school district for at least four years now. As a community, we created waves when we brought to the district’s attention the injustices at Oxford Elementary School, and the movement has picked up momentum since.

For those of us who can see the clear lines in our cities, due to demographics and long-standing prejudices, issues of equity do not end with our schools.

As recent developments regarding Black lives pick up speed, much has come to light about the history of our country. It has been white-washed, and I cannot ask for forgiveness for these words that make us cringe, but regrettably are true.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 10:28 AM, 08.25.2020

18 residents call on CH-UH school district to fix health care spending

Our Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district is currently engaged in its most consequential contract negotiations in decades. The most important issue being debated: health care benefits. The problem: The current health care benefit package for CH-UH teachers is completely out of line with that of other school districts, and is costing CH-UH taxpayers millions of dollars more than other districts. The current contract is unsustainable.

Here are some examples:

  • CH-UH teachers pay 6% of their health care premiums with a $0 deductible.
  • Shaker Heights teachers pay 13% of their health care premiums with a $500/$1,000 deductible.
  • Beachwood teachers pay 15% of their health care premiums with a $1,500/$3,000 deductible.
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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 11:37 AM, 08.18.2020

CH City Council must demand access to police policy materials

At the July 20 Cleveland Heights City Council meeting, there was a discussion between City Manager Tanisha Briley and Council Member Kahlil Seren that should worry any Cleveland Heights citizen who thinks that our elected officials need to be, at minimum, privy to all decisions about governmental policy in our city.

After Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg’s report to council, Seren referenced ongoing work with the firm Lexipol, for the purpose of crafting our police department’s policies. Seren asked whether, as the policymaking authority for the city, council would be able to see the materials that Lexipol is providing to our police department. He then made a request that council have access to those materials.

I thought this seemed perfectly reasonable. City council members are, after all (for the time being), our only directly elected and accountable government officials, and they are indeed ultimately responsible for overseeing policy for all city matters.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 10:06 AM, 08.10.2020

Another curve to flatten: the absentee ballot curve

Thanks to Covid-19, the term “flatten the curve” rests at the forefront of our minds. As we head toward the November election, where we undoubtedly will find ourselves casting votes in the midst of a pandemic, there’s another curve that we need to flatten: the absentee ballot curve.

I’m encouraging all Heights Observer readers not only to print out your absentee ballot request form, but also to print out a few extra copies for your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Start having conversations now about the November election.

In a video conference with Ohio’s Ready for November Task Force, Ned Foley, director of the election law program at The Ohio State University’s Mortiz College of Law, said:

“We cannot procrastinate with respect to voting this year.

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 9:47 AM, 07.31.2020

School district should repay misspent funds

In October 2019, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District commissioned a survey of “500 likely March 2020 primary voters” in the district from R Strategy Group (RSG) and Lake Research Partners (LRP), costing taxpayers $34,675. An investigation by the Ohio Auditor of State found the survey work performed was in support of the levy campaign. The levy, Issue 26 on the March 2020 primary ballot, asked voters to approve an $8.9 million annual property tax levy increase.

In January 2020, Cleveland Heights resident Garry Kanter submitted a complaint to the State Auditor of Ohio alleging public tax dollars were being spent on a survey that violated Ohio Revised Code prohibiting local school districts from spending public money to influence elections. 

Kanter provided evidence from the survey itself, as well as e-mail correspondence between the district and its consultants, to support the allegation that the intent of the survey was to help the district position the levy for passage.

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 9:46 AM, 07.31.2020

Why I marched with Safer Heights

On June 14, 2020, I marched in my first protest march. 

Like most of us, I was horrified to witness the slow, public execution of a man who, by all accounts, had done nothing to warrant his death sentence.

Nonetheless, at first, when people started protesting and calls for reform were being made, I did nothing. Not because I didn’t care. But because I knew nothing would change. This was just another remake of a tired old story.

But then I read an article (which I’ve since lost track of). The writer argued that this time might be different.

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 9:48 AM, 07.31.2020

How we move forward together is in our hands

Four hundred and one years ago, the first Africans arrived to this continent. Brought here in chains.

As children we are taught the mythology that the Pilgrims, Puritan, English and other colonists came to America for freedom. But that is far from the whole story. The freedom of the colonists was made possible by the labor of the enslaved.

This nation was founded claiming certain self-evident truths, that we are all created equal, and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Lofty words written by a man who owned 609 slaves over the course of his life. The paradox of this equality was that it was not for everyone.

That has changed over time, but not enough.

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 1:47 PM, 07.01.2020

Resident recalls interactions with CH police

in 2014, my partner and I were headed home on the East Shoreway when two packs of Cleveland Police cruisers zipped by us at frightening speed.

The following morning’s radio news told of more than 20 police cruisers chasing a speeding car into East Cleveland, ending up in a middle school parking lot, with an unarmed couple inside the car killed by 137 bullets. A newspaper photo of the windshield, with dozens of bullet holes in it, tagged with numbers, still haunts me.

Later, I read a newspaper story about Cleveland Heights police chasing a speeder far enough to record his license plate number.

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 1:45 PM, 07.01.2020

Local animals show support during pandemic

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a humorist, I do appreciate a good laugh and often favor satire as a way of adding levity to a heavy situation. This is what prompted me recently to write a short story to post on NextDoor. It was a success, with many neighbors appreciating the humor, but creating the piece was equally satisfying.

 After writing a first draft, I started to get a bit of interest from my wife and daughter, but the idea wasn’t grabbing them. The story needed the right visual to make it click. I started with the Internet, hoping to find an image of an animal standing at a podium; no luck. Not being a Photoshop expert, I decided to capture my own photo. 

I quickly put together a “podium,” roughly sizing it to the intended user. My daughter created the podium’s medallion. Setting the prop in our backyard, I loaded it with sunflower seeds, aimed a remote-controlled camera, and waited. After a surprisingly long time, given the attractiveness of the bait, my subject arrived and became the star of my story.

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 1:35 PM, 07.01.2020

Resident foresees positive future for CH

As all of us who live in Cleveland Heights know, this is a unique, special city.

It has a diverse, progressive, open-minded citizenry; eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and commercial establishments; and stunning, historic architecture.

I have lived here for almost half of my life, and much longer than anywhere else I called home. I find it hard to imagine finding a more welcoming, livable, walkable city in Northeast Ohio, or the country.

Over the years, Cleveland Heights has suffered through many of the same problems as other inner-ring suburbs, as the housing stock continues to age, taxes increase to support the schools and city government, and the infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

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Volume 13, Issue 6, Posted 10:46 AM, 06.02.2020

BOE should better manage school funds

Now that the election is over, I think it time FutureHeights and the Cleveland Heights League of Women Voters open their eyes to the internal management decisions of the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE). I, like almost all residents of the school district, want our district to succeed. But I am concerned that higher taxes are a deterrent to attracting young families to the Heights.

CH-UH BOE members, past and present, have done grievous damage to the school system they were elected to oversee [by failing] to manage the funds entrusted to them, for the benefit of our children, in a practical manner.

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Volume 13, Issue 6, Posted 3:47 PM, 05.18.2020

Voters must insist on qualified leadership

The coronavirus crisis has reminded us of the fragility of our species and the frailty of the local communities that support us. We sometimes take our communities for granted and relate to them as consumers, rather than as citizens. We have to be careful to break from this pattern in our current up-ended situation.

In the Heights, we have an enviable collection of retail and restaurant businesses, many of them locally owned, along with arts organizations, theaters, citizens’ groups, and other community institutions. Though it has been heartening to see how residents have rallied to support these enterprises during this difficult time, we are still at risk of losing many of them, and must continue to be supportive.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 11:43 AM, 04.30.2020

Testing folly on steroids

The League of Women Voters of Ohio adopted a position against high-stakes testing last June. The use of such testing to grade school districts has always simply measured the wealth of the families using those public schools. (This is not an opinion and is verified by the Ohio Department of Education's (ODE) own data. The ODE does not phrase it in quite that way, but it is where their data [leads]).

The coronavirus ended testing for public school students this year. Next spring, if sanity is not able to prevail, the gap between the haves and have nots will widen.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 11:54 AM, 04.30.2020

LWV Heights chapter endorses school levy Issue 26

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Greater Cleveland endorses passage of Issue 26, a proposed tax levy for current expenses of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. 

Policies recently enacted by the Ohio state government have created a sudden financial crisis for our local public schools. Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program—which is based on school ratings using questionable testing practices and dated testing information—was expanded to affect more schools, and to provide vouchers to private-school students who had never attended public schools.

The state’s practice of paying for EdChoice vouchers through deductions from affected districts’ state aid, the unexpected inclusion of Heights High on the EdChoice school list, and the expansion of EdChoice eligibility to private school students with no prior connection to the public schools precluded the district’s ability to plan for the near-term financial impact of this program.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 11:32 AM, 03.09.2020

Where's the TOH public greenery and 'wow' factor?

Cleveland Heights Zoning Code 1165.05 (c), for large-scale residential development (more than 2 acres), calls for 30-percent active or passive open space. The present Top of the Hill (TOH) design falls well short of that requirement. The city has not justified allowing the diminished open space to be approved. 

Only one place for public assembly is shown, and it is a skimpy space, intersected by a retaining wall, west of Nighttown. The Astroturf dog park in front of the Buckingham Condominiums is gated, and Buckingham residents cannot use it. The grove of trees currently on that site will be removed. 

Let’s go back to Oct. 10, 2018, to a TOH meeting at the CH Community Center chaired by CH Council Member Michael Ungar, council's liaison with the developer, Flaherty & Collins.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 4:22 PM, 04.02.2020

TOH critics not to blame for delay

After sitting through the final CH City Council meeting on the topic of Top of the Hill (TOH), on Feb. 18, I found it unfortunate that critics of the project were being blamed for how long it has taken for TOH to happen.

Was it critics who selected a prominent local developer with a history of quality projects, and then could not come to an agreement with the developer? No, that was the city of Cleveland Heights. Was it critics who orchestrated a Potemkin Village of "public engagement,” and then ignored that input? No, it was the city. Was it critics who crafted a poor design and submitted incomplete drawings to the Architectural Board of Review (ABR), drawing out the process? No, it was the developer. Was it critics who failed to conduct any sort of market survey, showing how this project will be a catalyst for the entire city, and post all relevant material on the city’s website? No, it was the city. Was it critics who failed to develop this site over the last 25 years and—by the way—are now on their third (or is it fourth?) developer at Lee and Meadowbrook? No, it was the city.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 9:10 AM, 03.11.2020

Smarter state policy would bring equality in education and taxation

Here comes another school levy. Here come the same letters and arguments we’ve heard over the past 20 or 30 years. And here comes the aftermath of the vote, with a small majority of voters relieved, and a large minority discouraged but determined to try again. This same drama has played out over and over for decades, with the local actors stuck playing roles defined by a tired old script. What would it take to change this predictable and unsatisfying plot?

Let’s set aside for the moment the effect of school vouchers siphoning off local school funding, or whether we think teachers and administrators are overpaid. Even without those factors, there is a kind of triple whammy with taxes and schools in a place like Cleveland Heights:

One, for any given amount the CH-UH district spends per student, that given amount will be a higher percentage of property value (thus a higher tax rate) compared to the Solons and Beachwoods of the world, because the average home in the CH-UH area costs less and thus is a shallower well for revenue generation.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:57 AM, 02.28.2020

TOH is a cautionary tale for future CH development

The city of Cleveland Heights passed an ordinance in December 2018 approving the purchase of a property on Euclid Heights Boulevard, to be added to the Top of the Hill (TOH) site. The city authorized Liberty Development—a partner of Flaherty & Collins (F&C), the main TOH developer—to buy the property from the owners, then turn it over to F&C, who would then sell it to the city for no more than the property’s purchase price, plus closing and due diligence fees.

The maximum amount the city authorized Liberty to pay for the property—known as the “Green House”—was $395,000. The actual total came to about $311,000 (the purchase price, plus closing and due diligence fees), yet the city paid $369,000.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:30 AM, 02.28.2020

We support CH-UH schools and the levy

We wanted to share our thoughts on the CH-UH school district, having lived in the Heights for over 25 years. I [Jeff] grew up in Shaker Heights and Susan traces her Heights’ roots back to the class of ’36 when her grandfather, Eric Knudson, graduated from Heights High. 

You may question how we compare to other schools, public and private, in the area. We challenge you to look at the universities our graduating students attend, examine the number of National Merit Scholars, and study the amount of educational scholarships that are awarded. Our schools do a wonderful job preparing our children to become productive members of society.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:37 AM, 02.28.2020

What happens if the school levy fails on March 17?

[If the tax levy fails on March 17,] for all of us who do support public education, the CH-UH school board will still have $100 million-plus high school building debt, and a budget in excess of $110 million to educate the roughly 5,000 students who come to school. (We have 20-percent chronic absenteeism.)

After adjustments in state formula funding (including EdChoice scholarships), the school board will still spend $20,000 per pupil, compared to $15,000 at “similar districts,” and to the $12,000 statewide average. District salaries for teachers, administrators and staff will still be at the top of the range in almost all categories, and fringe benefits will still add 49 percent on top of salaries.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:30 AM, 02.28.2020

Parent wishes she'd used Heights school sooner

When my son was ready for kindergarten, I looked at the school report card and, like many, decided that I would never send my son to Heights schools. After a long search, I enrolled him in a charter school where we had one problem after another. I felt like his teacher had written him off after just two months in class. She only listed problems without ever giving solutions. I felt like I was failing my son—the worst feeling in the world. 

After another year of poor (or nonexistent!) communication and the school constantly switching my son’s classroom, I was fed up! They made me feel like he was unable to learn, and I just didn’t believe that. 

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:08 AM, 02.28.2020

School levy threatens Tiger Nation

Voting for Issue 26, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights 7.9 mill school levy, will put our Tiger Nation on the list of endangered species.

In years past, it was unthinkable for anyone in my family to vote against a school levy. My husband spent his career as a Cleveland Heights elementary school principal. I was the Beachwood Schools communications coordinator for two decades. My sister taught at Shaker High. Our four children are Heights High graduates, and one became a school psychologist. We believed, and still do, in public education.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:34 AM, 02.28.2020

Issue 26 is symptom of larger problem

Voting against Issue 26 doesn’t mean that we don’t support our schools, nor that we don’t love our community. Voting against Issue 26 at this time will help ensure a bright future for the Heights. The CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) prefers to ask for more money before making a substantial effort to cut expenses. Furthermore, the state of Ohio has yet to determine the future of the voucher program for 2020, and to request a tax increase at this time is entirely premature.  

The BOE threatens that vouchers are robbing the public system to pay for the various school alternatives. The reality is that the impact of vouchers is minimal compared to poor budgeting and overspending by the BOE. [In its] own publications, the BOE cites it has cut $750,000 from its annual budget.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:56 AM, 02.28.2020

Public education and citizenship

Public education creates citizens. A public education is the most powerful, positive and transformative relationship a person will have with any government activity. It is the beating heartbeat of every community. The public education heartbeat of Cleveland Heights and University Heights is weak. This weakness is not from a lack of money, inadequate buildings, or poor teaching. It weakened over years, the consequence of the community’s diverging perception of its reality with the reality of many students in CH-UH schools.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 11:17 AM, 02.10.2020

Flower power

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. To quote Joyce, “love loves to love love.” Loving one’s partner, loving one’s grandmother, loving one’s self is a beautiful thing. And [people] can show their overabundant feelings for one another, or themselves, through a simple and economical token—flowers.

Flowers are great and definitely not overrated. They are perfect for any occasion, and more often than not look beautiful in any setting, involve little work (on the consumer’s end, at least), and often support local businesses such as nurseries and gardens.

But beware. Some are particular about the various kinds of flowers. It is essential to know what particular connotations a flower may have to a beloved friend or significant other.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 11:18 AM, 02.10.2020

University Heights passes Move to Amend Resolution

On Dec. 16, University Heights City Council unanimously approved Resolution 2019-70, “Calling on Congress to Amend The United States Constitution to Establish that Corporations are not People and Money is not Speech.”

Both of these constitutional doctrines—political money as free speech, and corporations are persons—have caused tremendous harm to people, to communities, and to democracy itself.

Move to Amend [seeks to reduce] the negative influence of big money on elections, [and to] reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, [via] a constitutional amendment [that would end] corporate personhood and money as free speech.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 11:18 AM, 02.10.2020

CH-UH taxpayers don't slack in supporting our schools

The state of Ohio calculates a “local tax effort index” for each school district in the state, using a four-part formula (read the description of Item 39 at the Ohio Dept. of Education District Profile link below, for more information). The purpose of this measure is to assess how much effort the local community is putting into supporting its schools, in the context of residents’ ability to pay, measured by income. The state average is used as a baseline (set equal to 1.0000), so that every school district’s effort can be compared to the statewide average.

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights local tax effort index is 1.4567 for FY 2019, according to the district's profile. This data shows that we (CH-UH) are making a substantially greater effort to support our schools (given our income) than the state average as a whole (1.0000), and in comparison to “similar districts” (local tax effort: 1.2036) as defined by the state.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:13 PM, 02.01.2020

CH-UH schools are the foundation of our cities

We are rebuilding University Heights. After years of hearing it can’t be done, we’re redeveloping University Square. We are building new houses and townhomes. We have added bike lanes, improved our housing stock, rebranded our city, and worked together to build a sense of community through events such as Fall Fest, our revamped summer concert series, and our inaugural City Beautiful 5K run.

But the foundation of any successful city is a successful public school district. University Heights was established on the foundational strength of educational opportunities. We need to protect our foundation on March 17, by voting Yes on the CH-UH school levy.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:00 PM, 02.01.2020

TOH revenue bonds: more deceit and giveaways

CH city staff and some council members are determined to build the Top of the Hill (TOH) project regardless of the financial consequences to the city. Until now, the primary financial issues have been the loss of city revenues. However, now the city is trying to issue debt to pay for some of the costs of the project. The debt is being justified because all TIF developers ask for and receive financial commitments from governments as a show of good faith in a project.

In December 2018, CH City Council authorized giving $1.8 million to the TOH developer, Flaherty & Collins, to help it get a construction loan. At that time, the city finance director certified that the money was in the city treasury; it was not. So the city spent the last year unsuccessfully looking for outside funding. And it still could not find treasury money.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:31 PM, 02.01.2020

TOH 2016 to 2020: What has been lost?

In 2016, when interviewed by the city, developer Flaherty & Collins (F&C) presented to CH City Council the idea of an iconic development and community gathering place [for Top of the Hill (TOH)].

In April 2018, the signed development agreement stipulated 20 for-sale town homes (now gone from the plan), a five-story height maximum (gone), Port Authority financing (not chosen because it required prevailing wages), public gathering and green space (gone, with the nominal exception of a small knoll, intersected by a retaining wall, west of Nighttown).

F&C has been skilled in leading our city's project leaders down the primrose path ending in maximum monetization of a highly desirable 4-acre site.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:36 PM, 02.01.2020

Development without tax abatement isn't realistic

In a January 2020 opinion published in the Heights Observer, Cleveland Heights resident Joan Mallick advocated that CH City Council not approve the final “financial subsidies” required for the Top of the Hill (TOH) project to proceed.

According to Mallick, among the costs to the city that TOH would incur is a tax rebate of $1.2 million a year for a total of $36 million over 30 years, part of a total cost to the city of $43,970,000. She estimated a net loss to Cleveland Heights of $23,719,700 over 30 years.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:33 PM, 02.01.2020

Support our children and our community

The first time I took part in a school levy campaign, I was a toddler and my mom was holding a neighborhood meeting in support of the levy in our backyard on Bradford Road. From the time I could walk, I was knocking on doors and handing out literature in support of the levy.

My mom, a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School herself, impressed on me from an early age how deeply important it is that public education be free and excellent, and how crucial our public school system is for the health and strength of our community.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:04 PM, 02.01.2020

How Heights public schools shaped me

Have you spent time at Heights High in the past 10 years? I mean really spent time there—no meetings, no walk throughs, no stories on the news. The answer is probably not.

I spent every day of my life there from 2014–18, and every day of my life before that at Roxboro Middle School, and before that at Fairfax Elementary School. So, when I say that going to Cleveland Heights public schools was the best decision my parents could have ever made for me, I know what I am talking about.

I learned so much more at those schools than I could have anywhere else. I learned about cultures from all over the world from my peers, and how to be a brave and confident performer in countless well-produced concerts.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:06 PM, 02.01.2020

Neighbors' kindness inspires

Christmas 2019 has come and gone, but our family has a memory that will linger on. At 96, I can recall many past Christmases, but this memory stands out because it so beautifully expressed that true meaning of the season that we all seek, but that so often gets lost in our flurry of decorations, wrapping paper and tinsel.

I live with my granddaughter and her husband in University Heights. Two days before Christmas, they were rushing around the house, preoccupied with last-minute preparations for the big event. The doorbell rang, and we all wondered who or what was interrupting our Christmas “busyness.”

When my granddaughter opened the door, we were anticipating a plea for donations to a charity. Instead, before us stood two of our neighbors’ very young children.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:02 PM, 02.01.2020

Out-of-control school spending is destroying the Heights

The CH-UH school district spends money at astronomically high levels, and it’s devastating our community. The district’s budget shows that it plans to spend $615 million over the next five years. That is $200 million to $250 million more than every other comparable district in Greater Cleveland—other than Shaker; we are “only” spending $80 million more than them.

Do you have the income to pay more than $72,000 in property taxes, the highest rate in Ohio, on your $130,000 home over the next 12 years, or $132,000 on your $130,000 home over the next 20 years? This is what is coming down the pike if we don’t dramatically change course.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:54 AM, 01.03.2020

TOH project uses doublespeak

Doublespeak, according to Wikipedia, is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.

Here in Cleveland Heights we're told that Top of the Hill (TOH) will provide luxury apartments. Examples of luxury are difficult to pick out, because the architectural drawings that have been provided to citizens are missing critical pages, and the pages that have been provided frequently lack detail. The developer says the lane between the tower building and the garage will be “stamped asphalt.” Stamped asphalt seems cheap. How can cheap be luxury?

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:52 AM, 01.03.2020

Empty nesters should flock to TOH

I’m pleased to learn that Cleveland Heights City Council, by a 6-1 vote, approved [what I understand to be] the proposed $84-million, 10-story Top of the Hill (TOH) project with 275 market-rate luxury apartments.

When I moved to Cleveland Heights in 1966, I lived near an eight-story brick building facing Cedar Road west of Fairmount Boulevard, a former apartment house that served as Doctors’ Hospital. Someone, I don’t recall who, startled me by saying, “Don’t go to that hospital. It is a bad hospital!”

Eventually Doctors' Hospital moved to Mayfield Heights, and now is Hillcrest Hospital, part of the Cleveland Clinic. From what I can tell, it is a good hospital. The former hospital site, however, has been a parking lot ever since.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:46 AM, 01.03.2020

Requiem for responsible development in CH

Barring a miracle, CH City Council will pass financial legislation this month that will allow construction to begin on the Top of the Hill (TOH) project. This legislation will complete the package of financial transactions associated with the project. The city has yet to produce a comprehensive financial statement indicating revenues and costs to the city for TOH. At public meetings, city representatives discuss revenues but never costs. I searched council minutes, legislation, and TOH contracts to calculate the revenues and costs shown below. They show that TOH will be a major, long-term drain on city finances.

Total estimated revenues to CH over 30-year term of agreement: $20,250,300           

  • Land lease at $10/year: $300
  • Payment by developer in lieu of taxes (tax rebate) to schools of $400,000 per year: $12 million
  • Payroll taxes of new residents and employees of $275,000 per year: $8.250 million
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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:38 AM, 01.03.2020

Lake Erie Ink inspires growth

Just a few months after I graduated from college in 2018, I sat down for an interview with Amy Rosenbluth at Lake Erie Ink (LEI). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but Amy listened to my ramblings and half-assured statements about my qualifications. I had experience as a writing tutor, working with children, and being a member of a team. I had never stood in front of a classroom or created a lesson plan. Instead of that being a problem, [Amy presented it] to me as an opportunity—a way to expand my professional skills. With each question, I replied with, “Sure, I could do that.” LEI seemed to fit my assortment of interests and proposed a new challenge, so I dove in.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:30 AM, 01.03.2020

Beyond race, CH marketing video remains problematic

I have no doubt that the Cleveland Heights marketing department now has an understanding that race was mistakenly misrepresented in its initial marketing video. While the marketing staff is bound to fix it, it was unfortunate, and certainly preventable.

I have a profound concern that the original video failed for a second, and entirely different, reason, and I’m concerned that, for likely contractual reasons, it will not be fixed on the second go-round.

The video’s stagnant camera work, the rigidly scripted "older" voice of the voice-over talent, the editing, and music were ‘80s old-school and corporate in approach.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:55 PM, 12.02.2019

A modest proposal to participate in CH redevelopment

After presenting many rejected concerns about Top of the Hill (TOH) [to the city], I realize that it’s time to stop resisting and join the city in its redevelopment efforts. I’m offering the city a proposal: instead of selling my 100-year-old house, I will stay in Cleveland Heights and convert it and the house next door into a high-density, mixed-use residential property including a restaurant. In return, I expect the city to grant me the same financial and other assistance it gave to the Indiana-based developers for TOH.

My credentials are that I’ve lived in my house for 40 years, restored the interior to its original condition and added amenities, including a second-floor enclosed porch and a formal garden. I have successfully developed and sold property in Novelty, Ohio and Sedona, Ariz. Unlike the TOH developers, I know that the main road is called Cedar Road, not Cedar Street.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:45 PM, 12.02.2019

Top of the Hillóbottom of city council

For the last six issues of the Heights Observer, there have been two major subjects addressed in its pages—the first, the CH elected mayor and new council members; and the second, the Top of the Hill (TOH) development project at Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. We have been relieved, after an election, of the first issue—and the right thing happened at the polls.

The second issue, not subject to election, or any other visible means of effective citizen response has, after nearly 40 meetings, and approaching 50 years, not been relieved, and portends even further absence of relief.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:38 PM, 12.02.2019

CEM says 'thank you, letís work together'

Cleveland Heights voters made history on Nov. 5, 2019. They voted—by a majority in every precinct across the city—to transform a nearly 100-year-old council-manager system to an elected-mayor form of government they believe will be more accountable to the voters.

They said they want a mayor who will spend full time leading Cleveland Heights in a new way to address our challenges and maximize our assets—a mayor who will be our voice across the region and state.

Now that voters have spoken, we need to pull together and make the transition as one community: city council, the administration, city employees and citizens need to collaborate to transform our government into one that is truly representative of the voters’ decision.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 10:09 AM, 11.26.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: For the person who has it all

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Pharaoh cylinders, a relaxation and meditation tool. ($60.00 to $350.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

“Wind Breaks Over the Marsh.” Collector’s edition of 10; 24” by 16”. Archival pigment ink print on watercolor paper depicts winter in Northeast Ohio. ($895.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)  

Two Tickets to an upcoming Speakeasy Cocktail Class. ($80.00 plus tax, Quintanta’s Barber, Dream Spa and Speakeasy)

“Untitled 1”, framed embroidery by Katie Mongoven. ($920.00, Heights Arts)

French Macaron. ($2.00 each, Luna Bakery & Cafe) 

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:17 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts more than $150.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Natural amethyst point. ($520.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Necklace, Julie Cohn Design. Lapiz stone and bronze. ($495.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Tall serving bowl by Amy Halko. ($175.00, Heights Arts)

Italian leather handbag. ($175.00, Jubilee Gifts)

A gift certificate for an Aveda Signature Dream Ritual Package. Includes a 50 minute Aveda Customized Facial, 50 minute Swedish Relaxation Massage, Signature Manicure, and Dream Pedicure. (Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:16 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts from $50.00 to $150.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

“KongZilla.” ($65.00, Blank Canvas CLE)

Crocheted necklace. ($150.00 or learn to make your own for $35.00 plus the cost of materials, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Incense and ceramic hand holder. Made by Astier de Villatte from Paris. (Incense $50.00, ceramic hand holder $135.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Wine Spot customizable gift baskets featuring wine, craft beer, and locally-produced products. ($50.00 and up, The Wine Spot)

Aveda Rosemary Mint Hand and Body Wash. ($73.00, Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

Framed print by Joan Lederer. ($75.00, Heights Arts)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:14 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts less than $50.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

“Welcome to Cleveland' coaster. ($20.00, Blank Canvas CLE)

Carved shungite pendants. ($24.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Tresi necklaces with variety of stones. ($38.00 each, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Mariposa frames. ($49.00, Jubilee Gifts)

Aveda Men’s Pure-Formance Grooming Clay. ($26.00, Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

Red glass bird by Sue Berry. ($25.00, Heights Arts)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:13 PM, 11.01.2019

What happens after the Issue 26 vote?

My wife and I moved to Cleveland Heights in August 2016, returning to Greater Cleveland after moving back and forth to Toronto on and off for about five years. (The company I work for moved me to Toronto several times on expat assignments.) This was difficult for my wife and I, but we made it work. When we moved back the last time, we were ready to settle down, find a home, and raise a family. We had several ideas of where we wanted to be but didn’t know exactly where that was. We wanted to be within the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland as we both work in the city, but more importantly, we wanted to move somewhere that was conducive to raising a family, where you could feel the history when you drove through the city, somewhere that was walkable, and into a community that shared similar values.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 11:01 AM, 11.01.2019

Issue 26 is about competing in an ever-faster-paced future

Did you hear about that one guy who moved to Cleveland Heights because he wanted to live under a council-manager government? You didn’t because he doesn’t exist. There are lots of things that make Cleveland Heights special. Our plodding and dour system of municipal governance is the least of our appeal.

Cleveland Heights is blessed with innate advantages in terms of layout, housing stock and location. And yet we continue to be saddled with a seemingly incurable case of hidden-gem status, living in a self-imposed state of suspended animation, paralyzed at times by denial, fear and nostalgia. A “no” vote on Issue 26 is a vote to continue waiting around to be discovered.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:54 AM, 11.01.2019