The Columbus Board of Education Tuesday moved ahead on proposals that would grant a 30-year tax abatement to a near east side development, and tighten travel restrictions for future boards.
Alison Holm has more.
In the fiscal year that began July 1, Columbus City School board members have spent about $59,000 dollars on professional development opportunities – nearly half of what what previous boards spent in the last five years combined. Criticism from unions and the public prompted the boards policy review subcommittee to launch a discussion this fall, which led to a new bylaw, that passed unanimously Tuesday night.
Board member Jennifer Adair helped write the new bylaw on board travel, which she says gives the board more guidance.
“I believe in professional development, and I believe we need it. But, we also need to do it in the most transparent way to insure that we are using taxpayer dollars appropriately, and ensuring that we can prove a return on our investment.”
The new rule requires all professional development trips be logged and approved in advance by the board, and include what members expect to gain from the event. It stipulates that no more than three board members could travel to out-of-state professional developments at one time, and lame-duck board members would be barred from paid travel during the last six months of their term.
Board member James Ragland approved the new bylaw, but worries it might hamper future boards. He says all board members have the ability to vote no on travel plans they feel are unwarranted.
“Pull it off the consent agenda and discuss it. Discuss it openly. Discuss the reasons why we agree or disagree with the number of people going, the particular professional development opportunity itself. There are all kinds of things we can do within the confines of the rules that are on the table right now. Not everything requires wholesale uplift of policies, or changes of policies. You could just very simply say ‘no, I don’t approve’.”
Although it was not discussed at the meeting, the board also approved a 30-year, 70% property tax abatement for the proposed Trolley Barn redevelopment on the Near East Side. Brad DeHays of Connect Realty discussed the plan with the board earlier this month, accompanied by former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.
The$42 million dollar development has pledged a fresh food market in an underserved area. In exchange for the board’s support, Connect is promising apprenticeships for district design and construction students, high speed internet for East High School, and a designated market stall for students at the new development. The abatement plan has drawn criticsm from the Columbus Education Association and others, who say such they reward developers who are taking little risk, while taking money away from the school district.
The proposed abatement now heads to city council.