University of Cincinnati Geographer Examines
Cincinnati's East-West Divide on School Levies

May 1, 1998
Contact for photos or information: Marianne Cianciolo
(513) 556-1826 (O)

Cincinnati -- Anyone who has lived in Cincinnati for any length of time claims there are vast differences between the East Side and the West Side. A University of Cincinnati researcher has shown that these differences can make or break a school levy.

UC graduate student in geography Colleen McTague examined how the East-West divide can help explain support or non-support of Cincinnati Public School tax levies. For her master's thesis, she studied the levy vote on Nov. 8, 1994, which failed with only 48 percent of the vote in favor.

McTague selected this particular levy because many basic services for the children of the district "were subsequently either removed or drastically reduced, such as librarians, counselors and extracurricular activities."

Recently McTague presented some of her findings to the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Boston. Among her conclusions are:

"You would expect spatial variation across the district, but you would also expect it to be somewhat random," McTague said. "For such a high concentration of precincts that failed the levy to be clustered on one side of the city is quite striking."

McTague decided that "German ancestry" might be a surrogate for some other characteristic, so she looked for factors that were highly correlated to the precincts with high percentages of German ancestry. She found that high levels of private school attendance were highly correlated to this. This was true of both the East and the West sides. The difference in voting behavior, however, she found, was geographic.

West Side precincts with high levels of persons of German ancestry and private school attendance had low levels of levy passage. However, with the exceptions of Mt. Washington, Oakley and precincts surrounding Mt. Lookout Square, precincts with high levels of German ancestry and private school attendance supported the levy on the East Side.

"Passing a school levy is difficult in Cincinnati. It appears that when large areas of the city choose not to send their children to public schools and then subsequently choose not to financially support them through passage of local levies, the rest of the city must cast enough votes to compensate for them. Of course, the other alternative is to convince the private school supporters that a levy is important even though their children will not directly benefit from it."

In the process of her research project, McTague, a native of the western United States who moved to Cincinnati in 1993, concluded something else about the East-West divide in Cincinnati. The real boundary between East and West is not Vine Street, as so many people advised her it is the Mill Creek Valley.

"For a geographer, that's the boundary that makes the most sense. A barrier is an obstacle to communication, transportation and/or interaction between people. In Cincinnati, the historically frequent flooding of the Mill Creek and the use of the valley for industry and transportation (canal, rail and auto) has created that barrier."

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