Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Letter to the Editor

The following was submitted to the Hilliard Northwest News for publication Jan 17, 2007:

To the Editor, Hilliard Edition:

We have a perfect storm brewing in our school community, with several significant events occurring simultaneously.

First: After a few failed attempts, in May 2006 we finally passed the capital funds levy necessary to construct a new elementary school and the third high school. However, we have yet to be presented with the operating levy required to staff and maintain those facilities. The staff costs for the new high school alone will add $4 million to the annual operating budget.

Second: Our new Governor has promised to deal with the statewide school funding crisis, but we need to be realistic. Hilliard is considered one of the more wealthy districts in the state, and we should not expect that any solution the state devises will result in more funding coming our way. The likelihood is that it will be less - the per-student funding has already gone down. For example, the way the State Legislature has dealt with the perceived Phantom Revenue problem is to allow districts to enact local levies to reverse the effects of HB920, which protects homeowners from having their property taxes increased due to reappraisal. The state does not provide more funding, it has just given us a way to tax ourselves more at the local level.

Third: On December 31, 2007, the contract with the teacher's union will expire. We can expect the rising cost of healthcare to play a significant part in this negotiation.

Fourth: In 2008, Treasurer Brian Wilson forecasts that we will be spending more money than we collect, and consequently will consume all of our operating cash reserve by 2009. By 2011, we will have an accumulated cash deficit of $75 million, climbing at the rate of nearly $40 million per year. Of course, a school district cannot by law operate with this kind of deficit. So we will be faced with a choice of increasing our property taxes by a staggering amount ($1,000 or more per year on average I believe), or severely reducing the programming and services offered in our schools. The likely solution will be a combination of both.

I don't think our community sees this coming, or understands the magnitude of the problem. In my opinion, the #1 task of the school board this year is to prepare the community for this next levy, and that effort needs to start right now. In the meantime, for more information, see www.savehilliardschools.org

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