Grow Shaker supporter: It’s OK to vote no on Issue 6!

Please read and share this letter to the Plain Dealer editor from a Grow Shaker supporter.

It’s OK to say “No” to the 6.9 mil Shaker Heights School Levy. Don’t vote on Issue 6 before reviewing these points:

 1. Per, among comparable districts, SHSD is the second highest paying school district with an average teacher salary of $73,191.

 2. The district tax rate of $2,811 per $100,000 is top in the state and already more than double the average of $1,022.

 3. If the levy should fail, the revenue stream, which currently funds the district at one of the highest levels in the state, $16,420 per student, will remain in place.

 4. Teachers receive generous guaranteed pension plans with inflation protection and healthcare in retirement far outstripping anything available in the private sector.

 5. During the sluggish economy, 2003-2013, the average Shaker resident’s salary increased by only 8% while teacher salary increased by 30%!

 6. The district threatens taxpayers with teacher cuts if the levy does not pass. Teacher cuts will only occur if the school board, administration and unions refuse to negotiate and choose an unsustainable wage scale over the curriculum.

 7. Extensive data analysis reveals that there is little correlation between school spending and student achievement.

 8. If you have a home value of $350,000, your annual tax bill will increase by $845.00

 9. SHSD indicated that teacher’s salaries were frozen since 2009, but they are not telling you the full story: during that time period the average teacher salary rose by 4% since step increases were in place in 2012 and 2013 plus a 1% stipend across the board increase in both years as well. Misleading statements such as these should not be tolerated.

 It’s time for solutions that will keep the budget in balace without negatively impacting the curriculum or the students and bring more money into our classrooms such as:

* Bring healthcare benefits in line with the private sector. Teachers and administrators pay just 12% of their health care cost compared to 30% in Ohio’s private sector.
* since 77% of the school’s expenditures comes from salary and benefits, it makes good fiscal sense to slow the growth of these expenses to no more than the wage and benefit costs in the private sector.

It’s these kind of solutions that the school board refuses to recognize, because they don’t want to negotiate with the union and it’s easier to keep asking us for more money. Vote no against the levy and vote for common sense solutions that we all use in our own homes and businesses! As a parent of two in the Shaker schools, this was not an easy decision, but it’s hard to argue with the facts.


Vote No on Issue 6! Order your FREE yard sign today!

GS 2014 levy yard sign 18x24

Thanks to our generous donors, Grow Shaker can plant this sign in your yard at no cost to you. We love our beautiful suburb and support our schools, that’s why we want to see it grow and prosper by welcoming more neighbors, businesses and students who can afford to live and thrive in Shaker Heights!

Our tax authorities are once again up to their short-sighted, special interest ways. In good times, our public servants have done very well for themselves. They make on average 40% more than their private sector counterparts. But in this long term down economy, it’s way past time for them to step up to the plate and take a small hit for the community they serve.

The solution to stopping these tax hikes once and for all is simple and right on the sign: “cut costs — not education!”

Order your free 18″x24″ yard sign by sending your name and address to Some of you have already done this and are on the list. Hurry because we need to place this batch order soon to help sway the undecided vote before the May 6th levy election. Volunteers will also be needed to help distribute the yard signs once they arrive.

–Mark Zetzer

Van Aken demolition to make this rendering impossible; Save the Van Aken/Northfield connection!

Van Aken District looking South


If you like this rendering of the future Van Aken District, paid for by your tax dollars, then you should oppose the planned demolition of Van Aken Boulevard. Look closely and you will see that this sketch shows Van Aken still intact, looking South from Farnsleigh toward Tower East. The City of Shaker Heights has left the fate of our fair city in the hands of far off federal bureaucrats who would make this kind of street side development along Shaker’s main street impossible. We’ve faced this kind of challenge from outside forces before and won, and we can fight them again today.

In 1964 and 1965, the State of Ohio proposed new freeways that would tragically bisect Cleveland’s eastern suburbs and parkland including Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. The Clark Freeway was to provide a more direct route from I-271 to downtown Cleveland via Shaker Blvd, the Shaker Lakes, North Park Blvd and East Cleveland. The Lee Freeway was to run north from an interchange with the Clark Highway at what is now the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, over Lee Rd.

This proposal came at a time when the national highway system was at its peak of expansion, and many members of the community quickly felt that the proposals were a “done deal.” Thankfully, other residents felt differently and organized one of many “highway revolts” that took place across the country. By 1970, the Lee/Clark freeway plan was canceled.

Today, the City of Shaker Heights faces a similar but smaller scale threat to its historical character in the proposed demolition and rerouting of the Van Aken Blvd/Northfield Rd connection. This plan has been on the drawing board for many years, costing local taxpayers hundreds of thousands in urban planning costs and casting a long shadow of uncertainty over adjacent commercial development in an already sluggish economy.

Dubbed the “Van Aken District” Plan, the proposal would remove Shaker’s main street south of its intersection with Farnsleigh, including its connection to Northfield at the intersection of Warrensville Center Road and Chagrin Blvd. Funded largely by federal taxpayers, this project comes at a time when Washington DC bureacracy is at its peak of expansion, and many residents feel that it is a “done deal”.

Thankfully, there are others in Shaker Heights who feel that this plan should be stopped. As director of Grow Shaker, a nonpartisan organization for an affordable and improved Shaker Heights, I am concerned that the utopian scheme of a “walkable environment on streets scaled to humans, not automobiles” and “connectivity … by way of an iconic new transit station” will cater to the 7% in town who walk or ride the train at the expense of the 90% in Shaker who travel by car. It will do this by closing up to 10 lanes of car traffic, adding at least 2 new traffic lights, and reducing parking lot capacity.

Those of us opposed to this plan feel that it will diminish the traditional multi-modal character of Shaker Heights transportation, which was built 100 years ago to accommodate walking, riding and driving equally. Shaker Square and the Van Aken District both do this in a way unique to Shaker. The asymmetrical intersection at Van Aken may be less perfect than the symmetrical Shaker Square, but it is the fastest way to move people through it in all three modes. Hence the drawn out planning process thus far: there just isn’t a better way to design this intersection.

Improvements can and should be made, however, such as: 1) the addition of sidewalks along the Van Aken median and West side of Warrensville, 2) the enhancement of crosswalk striping, signage and traffic lighting visibility at all intersection corners, and 3) the enhancement of road striping visibility across Chagrin Blvd and Warrensville Center Road, where the six lanes of Van Aken merge in a jog East into the four lanes of Northfield/State Route 8.

These improvements that retain the Van Aken/Northfield connection will preserve more storefront real estate for future redevelopment along all Van Aken district sidewalks, with discreet parking in the rear rather than the current, outdated strip-mall style of parking lot frontage. Like the Shaker sketch shows, this type of redevelopment would emulate the successful commercial districts in neighboring Cleveland Heights, where Coventry, Cedar-Lee and even Cedar-Warrensville all blend the best of both foot-scale and car-scale travel.

Those like myself who wish to stop the Van Aken District project are not resistant to progress per se, but would just like to see a more prudent redevelopment that does not encourage government largess and social engineering overreach. Unlike our predecessors in the late 1960’s, I do not wish to organize a construction revolt or set up a barrier development in the path of this demolition scheme. I simply want to grow Shaker in a way that is economically and culturally sustainable by halting the Van Aken District plan immediately, before the lanes that have carried me through this intersection for the last 25 years are tragically gone forever.

 — Mark Zetzer

Shaker Schools rank poorly in new state scoring

The Ohio Department of Education has a new school district scoring that for the first time measures student academic growth over a school year. Click on the interactive chart to see that Shaker Schools are rated at below expected academic growth, and rank 803 out of 832 districts in value added scoring. How does this poor school performance justify the excessive per-pupil spending that ranks near to top of all Ohio school districts? Why are Shaker Heights property owners being repeatedly blackmailed into excessive taxation to pay for such poor school performance?   –Mark Zetzer


School supers prone to taxpayer abuse

school supers


Medina school board’s bonuses and perks for Superintendent Randy Stepp anger residents.

We need to keep what’s happening in Medina from happening in Shaker. Outgoing Shaker Schools super Mark Freeman (right) has been in power for 25 years. During his watch, school performance declined and school costs and tax rates soared.

Incoming Shaker school super Gregory Hutchings comes from a district in Virginia with its own shortcomings. See Failing Alexandria school awaits turnaround. We need to help Hutchings control school costs and tax rates, and improve education quality to create a more pro-growth environment in Shaker Heights.

–Mark Zetzer

State Funding Boost Should Preclude Any More School Levies Until After 2015

SHHS belfry small

Shaker Heights Schools Could See $1.6 Million Boost in State Funding

This news should preclude any more property tax levy votes until 2015 or later, and only then until a full performance audit has been performed on the Shaker school system.

The Performance Audit: An Important Tool for Local Government Accountability

After decades of prohibitive tax rates that have diminished the Shaker community, it’s time for the district to cut costs instead of pushing tax hikes and/or service cuts. This will grow the tax base in the long run and ensure prudent fiscal stability for the schools.

–Mark Zetzer