When Rocky River school board Finance Committee Chairman Scott Swartz said recently that “the deficit might not be so bad at the end of 2013,” the single clap of thunder was that of operating levy opponents smacking their hands together.

That sound you just heard was the sound of a point being made.

The district will not be in the black, but in acknowledging the district might come back with a smaller levy and be OK, the citizen group WASTE (We Are Simply Taxed Enough) won the battle of perception.

West Life endorsed the levy, the only operating levy on the March 6 ballot in Cuyahoga County to fail, on the perennial strength of such measures in Rocky River and the resulting notion that the levy would be needed to keep services at the status quo.

Apparently, popular sentiment is shifting in the economic sands.

I do wonder if the vote was so much a statement against taxes as it was a statement against anything so status quo as decades of levy passage. Just enough people asked, “What would happen if this levy didn’t pass?”

This is a lesson in perception and the use of language. Had board members appreciated beforehand the fact they could have done with a reduced millage, they might have been better off to make the cuts necessary to achieve that. It might also have had no effect whatsoever, as WASTE’s name would indicate any additional tax is too much.

Can WASTE accept the token victory and cuts being made by the board?

I think that might be a great thing for the following reasons:

—It is a moral victory for those opposed to levies. The board is forced to make cuts.

—The board, while having to make cuts, does not have to restructure the entire district to survive. These relationships can take on lives of their own, with levy after levy failing. Drive 20 minutes west or south, and you can see examples of those districts.

The problem with language is one both sides suffer.

Swartz is quoted as saying, “With some early cuts we can squeak by next year.”

Opponents who really want to shake the status quo will pounce on such wording as evidence that the district has not really received the message. It may behoove the district to do a little more than enough to “squeak by.” That feels counterintuitive if you look from the district’s perspective; but that’s the point. The district needs to look more from the public’s perspective.

To wit, Dr. Shoaf has already expressed an interest in receiving community input. That is to his credit and should be noted by the community.

On the other side of the coin, groups opposed to levies should be very clear in information they are presenting as factual for the purpose of comparisons. Using dated data on teachers’ salaries as the basis for suggesting cuts is misleading.

The most important instrument either side has is communication. Effectively done, it still might not prevent further cuts. It will, though, provide greater understanding for the effects of any more cuts to come.

To that end, I have left an open invitation with Rocky River Superintendent Dr. Michael Shoaf to be one of five West Side superintendents – from Rocky River to Brookside – to be part of a conversation I would like to generate at theciviccommons.com. The point of the conversation will be to deepen everyone’s understanding of school funding by also inviting in members of WASTE as collaborators. I would also be interested in members of StudentsFirst joining. Anyone with an interest should e-mail me, editor@westlifenews.com.

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