Citizens for a Better Norwood 3

Sunday, April 29, 2007

1/28/06 Enquirer article re: COAST

School tax opponents making waves

Local activists won three board seats, seek more in 2007


DEERFIELD TWP. - It was mostly political rally - with a little post-mortem thrown in - as Greater Cincinnati school-tax opponents met this week to review November's school board races and discuss future campaigns.

The quarterly meeting of the northern chapter of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes or North COAST, held Thursday, attracted more than 60 supporters to a subdivision clubhouse in Deerfield Township. There they traded congratulations, campaign war stories and solidified their mission to corral what they consider to be unrestrained school spending.

Until now, members had never allowed a reporter to attend one of these private meetings.

This session included a visit from the group's founder - Ohio Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout. He said the impact of their agenda extends beyond Greater Cincinnati.
"There is no question that you are having an impact and it is reverberating up there in Columbus," Brinkman said.

Brinkman's original Hamilton County-based coalition has expanded into Warren and Butler counties, fueled by tax concerns related to several fast-growing school systems in the region's northern suburbs.

In the November elections, candidates supporting the coalition's goals won school board seats in Fairfield, Mason and Northwest schools in Hamilton County.

The group ran candidates in Lakota, Kings, Little Miami, Springboro, Monroe, Norwood and elsewhere. They also battled - in some cases successfully - to defeat school tax issues in several districts.

Coalition officials claim they have about a dozen school board members sympathetic to their conservative agenda. But for personal or political reasons, those members have not publicly identified themselves with the group.

Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association in Columbus, said the level of Greater Cincinnati's conservative school activism is unique in Ohio. "It seems like they are more organized and I don't think we've seen this sort of organization affecting school boards around the state," said Ebright, whose association represents Ohio's 614 public school boards.

"What is unusual is that you have (them) in many different school districts."

Coalition members vowed to work even harder to gain more school board seats in the 2007 elections.

"The leaders of today and tomorrow are in this room," said coalition attorney Chris Finney. "We've had a massive growth in federal, state and local spending and it's your job to stand up and fight it."

Kim Grant, who lost her bid for a Kings school board seat, said coalition members are irritated at being labeled as simply opposing public schools.

"I'm baffled by people who think asking schools to be accountable for the money entrusted to them is some how being anti-schools," Grant said.

Del Landis, founder of the coalition's northern chapter and a former Kings board member, said the group's philosophy "embraces that taxes and spending should stay within the rate of inflation."

Long-time anti-tax activist and newly-elected Fairfield school board member Arnie Engel said he is actively lobbying state legislators.

His causes include changing Ohio law to forbid school systems from entering multi-year labor contracts with teachers if pay raises are based on the assumptions that future tax levies will be approved by voters.

Engel, who has already clashed with fellow Fairfield board members since being sworn in earlier this month, said he will continue to act as an adviser to activists in other Greater Cincinnati districts.

"One of the most important things about this group is that we help people in other school districts," Engel said.

Even though he lives in Fairfield, Engel was campaign manager for the opposition against a recent Mason school levy. The levy passed.

Jennifer Miller, who won in her first try for a Mason school board seat by campaigning as a Christian conservative, thanked the coalition for its help in her run for public office.

Thursday's meeting also marked North COAST's two-year anniversary.
"Our goal is to keep on expanding," said Roseann Siderits, a coalition coordinator.