Best Practices

Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic

City Hall Support for School Tax Levy

In 1994, Akron attacked two critical education issues at once. Under the leadership of Mayor Don Plusquellic, the city began a massive campaign to pass the Akron Public School Tax Levy. Concurrent with that was the creation of a mayoral task force on juvenile violence.

The tax levy -- the most basic endeavor, and the most crucial one dealing with public education in Akron -- displayed the will and capacity of City Hall to marshal its resources in the name of the schools. This was done in concert with diverse leadership and extensive community resources. The levy passed.

It was not always such a challenge to fund Akron Public Schools. For years they were rated the best among Ohio's urban districts. Backed by an industrial-based economy, fueled by many Fortune 500 companies, Akron Public Schools wanted for very little. The occasional levy would pass easily. But, by the 1990's, big industry was on its way out. So was much of its financial support. The school district was in turmoil. Three consecutive levies failed. Teachers, administrative staff and programs were being cut. The district was $20 million dollars in debt and the teachers were threatening to strike.

On the district's fourth attempt to pass a levy, Mayor Plusquellic and each member of the City Council worked to muster community forces in a grassroots campaign. The efforts drew momentum from all segments of the community, even from some constituencies previously on the sidelines, as a positive force to improve education. The successful levy effort was bolstered by more than 7,000 volunteers and 150 organizations. Without the levy, the once clear and bright vision of the future of Akron schools would have dimmed.

The efforts of City Hall paid off in more than just financial support for the schools. Since passage of the levy, nearly 31,500 parents have participated in school programs and activities. School/business partnerships now number nearly 500 pairings. It is that kind of involvement that has made a difference that money could not buy.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (216) 375-2345

Task Force on Youth Violence

No amount of fiscal resources can ensure high-quality public education when violence threatens our neighborhoods and our children. As American cities became increasingly frightened and frustrated over the wave of juvenile crime that erupted in the early 1990's, the Mayor decided to take action and again use the resources of his office to aid public education.

In1993, four Akron children were slain by other children carrying guns. Juvenile crime was on the rise. So were drug crimes that involved kids. Young people were becoming all-too-familiar with the criminal justice system. That is when the Mayor made the decision to create an 11-member Task Force on Youth Violence to detect causes and form a plan of action. By mid-1994 the group issued a report of 40 recommendations, most of which focused on the environment in and around schools. By the end of 1994, the task force had initiated 11 programs.

The list of security programs carried out to reduce fear and disruption in schools and in the total environment of school-aged children includes: a police-in-school program in Akron's public middle and high schools, nighttime youth curfew enforcement, daytime truancy law enforcement and pilot programs for random gun and drug detection in middle schools and high schools. Police/school education programs include D.A.R.E., gun danger awareness classes and gang resistance education sessions.

The Task Force on Youth Violence also initiated prevention programs. More than 450 public school students in 28 schools have been trained as peer conflict mediators, and more than 600 teachers have completed a conflict resolution skills curriculum course.

By 1996, the project began reaching even further into the community. City Hall initiated programs in the Akron Enterprise Community to offer children after-school programs in six elementary or middle schools. Two case managers on staff identified needs of at-risk students and specific program needs of neighborhoods. To enhance this work, Akron has received an Ounce of Prevention Grant in 1996 to prevent youth crime and violence among children ages 10 to14. The grant will go toward developing inter-agency coordination to address the particular problems of this age group.

In terms of results: The combined impact of many programs initiated in 1994 is generally believed to have contributed to a 17 percent drop in juvenile arrests in Akron from 1994 to 1995. A key factor in getting results has been the Mayor's Youth Violence Task Force. Top-level leaders on the front lines of service programs and policy decisions included the school board president, chief of police, juvenile court judge, Children's Service Board director, a high school principal, a parish priest, an attorney from the public housing authority, a city council member, local state legislative representative, a business leader and the president of Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron who chaired the task force. Working with the Mayor, these leaders could make almost immediate decisions to carry out activities.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (216) 375-2345

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

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