Sunday, January 7, 2007

What is the Win-Win?

In his continued campaign to shape the Big Darby Accord, Mayor Schonhardt recently said that the new ‘water without annexation’ policy, being contemplated by the City of Columbus as part of the Accord, allows an end-run around the Win-Win Agreement. He is right. But what is this Win-Win Agreement?

The story starts with the lawsuit of Penick v. Columbus Board of Education, which claimed in the 1970s that the Columbus City Schools were intentially segregated by race. Judge Robert Duncan agreed, and ordered a system-wide busing program to better integrate the schools.

Of course, with the wide selection of suburban school systems available in Franklin County, those who so wished could escape Judge Duncan's order by simply moving to a suburb. Available housing in the suburbs was quickly snapped up, and a demand for new housing was instantly created. It was a windfall for the developers.

There was one interesting wrinkle. It had long been the policy of the City of Columbus to use its exclusive control over the metro water/sewer system as the muscle behind its own growth policy. Specifically, if a developer wanted water/sewer service, the land had to be annexed into the City of Columbus (the exceptions were expansion zones granted to the suburbs in their water/sewer agreements with Columbus). Not a problem, said the developers. As long as the school district boundaries remained the same and the new development would remain in the suburban school district, this was fine. The suburban building boom was on.

Columbus City Schools cried 'foul' as this exodus became apparent. They appealed to the State Board of Education, who has the power to set school district boundaries, saying that not only was this 'white flight' making the Columbus schools poorer and blacker, it was economically inefficient because it caused the suburban districts to furiously build schools while at the same time Columbus Schools was closing buildings (notably, Central High School, now the home of COSI). Columbus Schools asked the State Board of Education to revert to the pre-1955 policy of moving school boundaries with municipal boundaries.

After years of bitter argument, including a truce period brokered by the Ohio General Assembly, an agreement was reached in 1986 which came to be called the Win-Win Agreement.

There is a lot of fine print in this agreement, but I think it can be distilled to a simple concept: In exchange for paying a ransom to Columbus City Schools, a suburban district can keep its already-developed neighborhoods. No one with a home within the boundaries of the City of Columbus but a suburban school district would have to worry about being shifted to the Columbus City Schools. For Hilliard City Schools, that ransom payment is now nearly $1 million per year.

But the Win-Win Agreement also specifies that if an undeveloped area is annexed into the City of Columbus, it is also automatically absorbed into Columbus City Schools. For example, the mammoth development north of Hayden Rd between Avery Rd and Cosgray Rd is all now in Columbus City Schools. But so is a little strip of 16 homes adjacent to Alton-Darby Elementary School, and several other pockets of homes in the midst of the Hilliard School District.

Under the terms of the suburban water agreements, all the land south of Roberts and west of Alton-Darby Rd would need to be annexed into Columbus if developed, and according to the terms of the Win-Win Agreement, it would therefore be shifted from Hilliard City Schools to Columbus City Schools. If Columbus implements the Water-Without-Annexation Policy, this same area could be developed without annexation by Columbus, which keeps the Win-Win Agreement out of the picture, giving the developers thousands of acres on which to build homes in the Hilliard City Schools, which is preferred by prospective homebuyers. Mayor Schonhardt is saying no, you have to go ahead and transfer this land into the Columbus City Schools just as though it were annexed by Columbus. I support the Mayor is this demand.

At some point, we need to ask ourselves whether continued participation in the Win-Win agreement is worth it. The New Albany (Plain Local) School District has concluded that Win-Win has a net positive effect for them. Their analysis is that the $600,000 they pay in ransom is more than offset by the $19 million they collect in property taxes from the territory which is in the City of Columbus, but the New Albany School District.

It seems to me that they leave an important factor out of this analysis: how many kids are in this area? Using round numbers, if they net $18 million/yr in revenue, and it costs $10,000/yr per student, then breakeven is 1,800 kids. Any more than that, and they would be better off ending their participation in the Win-Win and letting those kids attend Columbus City Schools.

We need to do this analysis in our community as well. In fact, I've asked for it before, but am usually met with blank stares.

But what if we found out that indeed the amount of tax revenue that Hilliard City Schools collects from Win-Win territory is not enough to cover the cost of educating the kids from that territory, plus pay the $1 million ransom? Is it as simple as declining to renew the agreement, and letting the kids go to their new schools?

In Hilliard, as with New Albany, these Win-Win developments are strongly tied to the suburban community. People built houses there so their kids could attend the suburban schools. Most of the developments east of I-270 and south of Schirtzinger Rd are in Columbus, for example. That includes River Place, Stonewyck Manor, Scioto Trace, The Glen, and Golfview Woods. So is most everything on Rome-Hilliard Rd south of Roberts Rd.

I don't think we can disconnect these neighborhoods from Hilliard City Schools without tearing our community apart. But we can keep it from getting worse. On this point, I stand with Mayor Schonhardt. If the City of Columbus provides water/sewer to a new development that previously would have been annexed into Columbus, the school boundary needs to be moved as though it were annexed.

For more background on the Win-Win Agreement, please go here


  1. Excellent summary! I am prospective buyer of a house for sale in one of the pockets that is currently Columbus Schools and surrounded on all sides by Hilliard School homes. This home is not part of a subdivision and does not have any other homes built around the same time also in this zone. Home was developed in early 70s. Home is on north side of Roberts just inside Alton Darby. Any idea on how complex the process would be to appeal the school district for a home that seems to have been overlooked in this process? Any referral to someone that can talk me through this would be most appreciated. Thanks!

  2. I'm going to assume that you're talking about 6080 Roberts Rd, which seems to tbe only property that fits the description.

    I don't know the history of that property, but my guess is that it was annexed into Columbus at the request of the prior owners in order to get access to Columbus water/sewer service, and it probably happened about 10 years ago. Perhaps the family living there at the time had no kids and didn't care as much about the school district (or future property value) as they did getting water. After having lived 20 years on a well, I can understand that motivation.

    I've never known of anyone making or winning the kind of appeal you're talking about. If that kind of thing were likely, the folks that own the first set of houses on Pinefield Drive would surely want to go that route.

    If you're thinking of speculating on this property - that is to buy it on the cheap, get the school district changed, then sell it for a tidy profit - then I'd say it's a very high risk deal. Make sure you get it real cheap...