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Community Awaits Tally of Issue 2 Vote

Voters+arrived+at+the+high+school+on+May+8+to+decide+on+the+combined+operating+levy+and+bond+issue.+Photo+by+Vivian+Li.
Voters arrived at the high school on May 8 to decide on the combined operating levy and bond issue. Photo by Vivian Li.

Voters arrived at the high school on May 8 to decide on the combined operating levy and bond issue. Photo by Vivian Li.

Voters arrived at the high school on May 8 to decide on the combined operating levy and bond issue. Photo by Vivian Li.

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Issue 2 on Beachwood’s May 8 ballot, a combined 8.7-mill operating and bond levy, fell short by only 8 votes, according to the initial count.

Unofficial results from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections showed that 2,006 people voted against the levy while 1,998 voted for.

Absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted, and the official count for the issue will be released May 29.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Hardis is cautiously awaiting the results.

“Our goal right now is to ensure that every legitimately cast ballot, absentee or provisional, is counted, and then we’ll see where the chips fall—what the final count is,” Hardis said.

If the final count shows a difference of 0.50% or less, Ohio law will require a recount.

The operating levy, the district’s first in 13 years, sought to increase funding for the schools. If the levy ultimately does not pass, it would be the first school levy failure in Beachwood’s history.

The bond issue would provide the funds necessary for the consolidation of Bryden and Hilltop at the Fairmount School site, a project estimated to cost $38.8 million.

Bryden and Hilltop would be demolished and their properties used for a complex of single-family homes and a community park, respectively.

According to Hardis, the construction process for the consolidated elementary school is on hold until the official election results are released.

“We will start looking at our timelines … so if we pass, we will have a fallback plan with a revised timeline for how we’ll still bring the project in on time,” Hardis said. “Then we will begin contingency discussions about what the timeline would look like if we fail but pass in November.”

Hardis believes that if the levy ends up failing, it will be back on the November ballot in the same combined form as it was in May.

“The operating revenue is an absolute need right now and addressing our aging buildings is a need right now,” Hardis said. “The two issues are interconnected in many, many ways.”

“Maybe we would have been successful with one of them, but it’s not a success because we can’t operate without both,” said Loren Chylla, Chairman of Beachwood Citizens for Quality Schools, the group advocating for the levy.

The operating revenue is an absolute need right now and addressing our aging buildings is a need right now. The two issues are interconnected in many, many ways.”

— Superintendent Dr. Robert Hardis

Opposition groups against the levy include Low Tax Citizens, led by Mikhail Alterman, and Beachwood Community Connection, led by Bruce Bream.

Opposition groups are concerned about a variety of issues including rising tax rates, the consolidation of Bryden and Hilltop and the combining of the operating and bond issues.

Alterman believes that consolidation is not necessary.

“The assertion of the pro-tax position that it will cost $39 million or more to [renovate Bryden and Hilltop] versus new construction is just ridiculous,” he said. “Any other alternatives besides demolition and construction were not at all considered.”

Bream told The Cleveland Jewish News that he thinks separating the issues would have prevented such division in the community.

“You can see it’s 50-50,” Bream said. “The fact that [the board] had to combine it, trying to get their school plans passed at the same time, which was really not liked by a lot of the community, is really what set up all this acrimony.”

A website made by Beachwood Community Connection, https://savebrydenhilltop.wordpress.com/, provides an extensive list of points against the combined levy.

You can see it’s 50-50. The fact that [the board] had to combine it, trying to get their school plans passed at the same time, which was really not liked by a lot of the community, is really what set up all this acrimony.”

— Bruce Bream of Beachwood Community Connection

The American Policy Coalition, an out-of-state group responsible for funneling significant amounts of money into races across the nation, sponsored a Facebook video in early May that spread false information about the levy.

“Every single point in [the video] was a fabrication, a complete distortion … It used a lot of scare tactics and falsehoods,” Hardis said.

“[The video] included things that quite frankly were not true,” Chylla said. “[The goal was] just to get people angry and [turn them against] the schools.”

“To me, that was very frustrating,” he added.

Both Alterman and Bream denied any connection between their organizations and the video.

Alterman thinks that whoever was behind the video wanted to hide their name because they currently have kids in the schools or businesses in Beachwood.

“We obviously took a hit from it because it took us off [our original] message,” Alterman said.

According to Hardis, if the levy ends up failing, there will be several significant consequences.

Cuts to programs and services, such as extracurriculars and athletics, would have to be made as part of a 5-year financial forecast that shows the district’s revenues exceeding its expenditures for at least three years. In other words, the district must be able to show that it is making more money than it is spending for the next three years.

“It’s not that school would halt and nothing would happen, but in many ways we would have to hit pause on a lot of the operations of the district in terms of planning ahead, and we wouldn’t be able to move forward with them,” Hardis said.

New sources of revenue could also include shifting costs to parents.

“Right now, Beachwood has fairly low fees for parents compared to many other school districts,” Hardis said, “But we would have to start expanding the types of fees that we charge to parents to offset the costs that we face.”

Permanent improvement funds, which are used for routine facility maintenance and improvements, would have to be used to keep Bryden and Hilltop running as opposed to developing other projects, such as renovations to the high school pool.

Right now, Beachwood has fairly low fees for parents compared to many other school districts. But we would have to start expanding the types of fees that we charge to parents to offset the costs that we face.”

— Superintendent Dr. Robert Hardis

Hardis wants Beachwood voters to understand that the district only asks for money when it truly needs it.

“I think our school system is very transparent, honest and direct on all matters, including financial ones,” he said.

“As the leader of [Beachwood Citizens for Quality Schools], I tried to constantly share correct information—that was my whole goal,” Chylla added.

However, Alterman thinks that Beachwood citizens are overly generous when it comes to funding of education.

“The majority of the voters in Beachwood have become complacent over a long period of time,” Alterman said. “We’re working to change that.”

“We expect better results, and instead of running tax and demolition scams [the board] really needs to refocus on making Beachwood the best, not just claiming to be the best,” he added.

Less than half of the nearly 9,000 eligible voters in Beachwood voted on Issue 2.

“If [the levy] fails, then less than half the people that live here even participated in the process,” Chylla said. “It’s really important to study the facts and make an educated vote. Even if your vote is no, just vote for the right reasons; don’t believe lies.”

Hardis believes that there is a lesson to be learned from the results of this election.

“We need to learn from this and figure out ways to do a better job of communicating to not just the voters but to all the citizens in Beachwood,” he said. “Communicating with and informing the people of Beachwood is something we should be doing every day, not just during a levy campaign.”

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Community Awaits Tally of Issue 2 Vote