The Calkins Saga -- A Second Chapter

Explaining Why Cleveland's Schools Affect Harvard And Why Calkins Is Not the New Kennedy Part II

The Association said its goal was to apply continuing pressure on the same sensitive areas the PACE report had pointed out. For the next 18 months, Calkins gave speeches and provided quotes for newspaper articles in an attempt to swing taxpaying-Cleveland's mind toward the Association's point of view.

The reasoning behind Calkins' public-ralations campaign was a sophisticated variation on the original report's relatively simple task. The report unearthed the problems, but Cleveland still slumbered. What Calkins had to do was make the public feel sufficiently disturbed about its crowded schools. Then they might mobilize their city's finances to hire more teachers.

The Association's platform reflected this public-persuasion strategy. Instead of dealing with specific proposals like ghetto school improvement, it concentrated on broad tactics. It planned to "gain active participation from as broad a segment of the community as possible," and to "provide mechanisms for citizens and business leaders to work in the best interests of the schools."

The project's clearest success came among Cleveland businessmen. By late 1964, bankers and industrialists were telling business conventions that the whole Northern Ohio economy was in trouble if Cleveland school's kept decaying.

"An inferior public school system is the greatest single problem facing all of us in this region," the president of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company said. Other businessmen quietly looked over reports showing that Cleveland's industrial growth rate was suffering in comparison with cities that had revamped their schools.


Calkins did his part to woo the business community. He put a new cover on the PACE report's vocational-education plan and presented it in the interest of "improving industry-school communications."

The new version was a Greater Cleveland Vocational Education Council, and its purpose was to "keep abreast of job skills in a rapidly changing technological society, and to steer students into those occupations of benefit to themselves and to industry."

As public support for the general PACE idea rose, Calkins rolled out some other specific plans in 1964 and 1965. At a panel discussion, for example, he suggested merging Cleveland's neighborhood high schools into a city-wide system in order to expose white children to "people of other races, religions, and economic levels."

The single most important proposal Calkins made in his year with PACE was probably a tax-reform study he made in early 1965. The city schools' fundamental financial problem was clear: the Cleveland school district had a lower tax base to draw from than the suburban schools did, and Cleveland had to pay more of its tax-base revenue for police and firemen. There was simply too little money left over to support any kind of adequate city school system.

After the Ohio Appeals Board cut some $2.2 million out of the Cleveland school budget by slashing property valuations in 1965, Calkins started the special PACE study of new ways to get money into the city schools.

The study probed several promising sources of Federal aid, and also devised a way of decreasing the embarrassing disparity between school budgets in the richer suburbs and those in downtown Cleveland.

The plan was a county-wide income tax throughout Cuyahoga County -- which includes many of the suburbs, as well as Cleveland. If the proceeds were distributed to the poorest school districts in the county (i.e., Cleveland's), the practical result would be suburban subsides of the Cleveland system.

In April, 1965, two months after the tax study was started, Calkins resigned as PACE president, moved from Shaker Heights into Cleveland, and jumped into the race for one of four seats on the Cleveland School Board.

Calkins was immediately cast in the role of crusading reformer challenging the entrenched party hacks. He ran an exhausting campaign, fought hard to shake a suburbanite-carpet-bagger image, and finally came in third out of six candidates. That was enough to get him a four-year seat on the Board.

Since then, Calkins' record has been surprisingly consistent with the outlines he set during his PACE days. During the campaign and after the election, he emphasized the same PACE issues. Cleveland needed better schools, more money, closer cooperation with industry.