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CLEVELAND -- Bill Burges and his team of political and communications consultants are dedicated to helping struggling city school systems like Cleveland's.

"We're pretty committed. We'll kill ourselves to save these systems," he said.

Burges has been involved with every Cleveland schools' money issue dating back to 1983.The scorecard?Four wins and two losses.

He's more comfortable in a behind-the-scenes role, but agreed to talk with WKYC's Tom Beres.

He's hoping to chalk up a win with Issue 107, the levy on November's ballot.

Recent stories about schools dropping academic performances and possibly fudging numbers to enhance graduation rates don't help.

"You've got a plan. You've got a budget. But life gets in the way, " he said.

But he says the key to a successful campaign is not only selling a message but listening to voters' feedback.

"You can listen to all the experts in the world. But you have to listen to people on East 185th Street, Kamm's Corner and in Lee/Harvard.....We are really a blue collar group and community. I think people appreciate straight talk and honest," Burges explained.

He calls his firm data-driven. They use tracking polls and surveys to keep abreast of how voters are reacting to messages.

Burgess helped come up with the campaign slogan, "The Right Plan at the Right Time."

He admits it's a challenge persuading a city with many poor, unemployed and elderly residentsthat 63 cents a day is an affordable sacrifice to help students, schools, neighborhoods and businesses seeking to create jobs.

"We have to break through on price," he agrees.

"If we could have quality schools, we would have a better quality of life. I think they are going to say yes to that being worth 63 cents," he predicts.

He says, "Issues pass not because of a consultant. They pass because of a campaign and a group of people working together and feeding back to a community it's hopes and concerns."

Burges' firm bested two other competitors to oversee the Issue 107 campaign.

He believes Mayor Frank Jackson and Superintendent Eric Gordon are hard-working andcredible spokesmen and making the levy's case.

"Mayor Jackson correctly believes you can build all the buildings and unless you build up kid' brains, forget about it....Eric Gordon is completely correct when he says it's "do or die" for Cleveland schools," he said.

And he thinksa coalition of supportive officeholders, labor unions, churches, non-profits, businesses and social service groups can achieve success.

He's heartened by a poll that showed most Clevelanders believe the schools need more money.It's been since 1996 thata levy passed.

"It has a pretty good shot," he said.

If Issue 107 is successful, Burges will likely let others be in front of the cameras.

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