Saturday, March 24, 2007

Columbus Dispatch series on School Funding

Hilliard Neighbors:

I hope you have had the chance to read the series on school funding published by The Columbus Dispatch this past week. If not, a copy of the stories are available on along with my response to the reporter who wrote the Hilliard story. In a nutshell, I think he missed the primary story.

Here are some critical factors which nearly everyone around here who talks about school funding leaves out, including the officials of Hilliard City Schools. Here’s the reason: Dale McVey and the rest of the school officials aren’t trying to help us pay less tax, they are lobbying the State to convert to a school funding system in which we have much less control of the amount of tax collected and how it gets distributed. They in fact want us to pay more tax and have it go up automatically with our income.

There are four kinds of school districts in Ohio:
  • Urban districts – Predominately African-American with high levels of poverty and low land values. High value real estate (e.g. downtown buildings) have often been tax-abated and contribute little to the operation of the school system. Requires substantial subsidy from the State.
  • Agricultural districts – By policy, farmland is appraised at low values for the benefit of farmers. Requires substantial subsidy from the State.
  • Appalachian districts – With the collapse of heavy industry in our region of the country, the jobs related to the extraction of natural resources and manufacturing have evaporated. Unemployment levels are high, as is poverty. Property values are low. Requires substantial subsidy from the State.
  • Suburban districts – Communities like Hilliard, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Bexley, New Albany and the rest of the I-270 suburbs. Income levels, employment and property values are above average. Can afford to not only pay for the cost of their own school system, but are THE PRIMARY SOURCE FOR THE MONEY REQUIRED TO SUBSIDIZE EVERYONE ELSE!!

Because the suburban districts are the primary source for all school funding, there is little chance the State will send more money our way, when the truth is that they actually want more of our money to help fund the urban, agricultural and Appalachian districts. This is why it is a big deal that Gov. Strickland announced that, in his budget, no school district would receive fewer dollars in 2008-2009 than they did in 2007. He’s saying he won’t take any more money from us, at least not now. Of course, in the case of a growing district like Hilliard, when the dollars from the State remain constant, the per-student funding goes down.

While we in Hilliard and the other suburban districts continue to shell out tens of millions of dollars to build new school buildings, the State is spending billions of dollars constructing school buildings in urban, agricultural and Appalachian districts. If those districts cannot afford to build their own schools, who is paying for it? Right, us again. Just cross the Big Darby Creek into Madison County and take a look at the new Jonathan Alder High School which has been built on Route 42 south of Plain City. I have been in many rural areas of the state and have seen many of the new buildings constructed under this State program. They’re pretty nice. By the way, one of Gov. Strickland’s first acts was to bring back the requirement that contractors building schools with State money pay union wages and benefits to workers.

The cost of running a school district falls into two major categories: compensation and facilities. We have lots of teachers, administrators and staff personnel. The teachers are paid well, including generous medical and retirement benefits – far better than most of us receive in the private sector. And their contract expires on December 31, 2007. We have great facilities, and are currently building a new elementary school and a new high school. When those building are finished, the payroll costs in our district will increase in excess of $4 million per year. That’s the cost of growth.

We should all be alarmed that our school district is on a spending trajectory which by 2011 will require nearly $40 million more per year, knowing that because of the factors above, it will all need to come entirely from the taxpayers of our community. These aren’t my numbers by the way, they were produced by Brian Wilson, the district Treasurer. Now that the Governor has announced his budget, the School Board has all the information they need to determine the size of the next levy (I think it might average $1,000 additional per household per year). Yet, they won’t do the math, or tell us their intentions other than to say a new levy will have to be on the ballot no later than May 2008. The way levies work, the longer they wait, the larger it will have to be. So why not put it on the Nov 2007 ballot?

Could it be because in Nov 2007, we will also be electing the Mayor of Hilliard (Schonhardt is the only candidate of record), three members of the Hilliard City Council, and two members of the Board of Education, and none of the incumbents want this kind of news in front of the voters prior to the election?

Please help in demanding that the Board of Education start talking to the community now. There’s a lot of work to be done if we want to prevent a meltdown of our schools, and it can’t be put off until after the November election.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Strickland to Hilliard: You're On Your Own

Since the inception of the SaveHilliardSchools website and blog, I have been saying that our community cannot expect the State of Ohio to increase its financial support of our school district. Many school districts in Ohio are in much worse shape financially than Hilliard, and it is naive to think the Governor and Legislature would send more money our way when we are viewed as one of the more wealthy districts, and there is not enough money to go around as it is.

In his proposed 2008-2009 budget, Governor Strickland has indicated that Hilliard City Schools won't get a dime more than we do now: $36,764,276.

So we still need to answer this fundamental question: How are we going to deal with the looming $100+ million operating deficit projected by the district Treasurer?

And why isn't the School Board and the School Administration talking about it right now? It's not like they haven't been asked! Could it be that the folks running for office this November want this pending disaster dealt with only after the election?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wrong Side of the Tracks, Part II

This post is a continuation of an earlier discussion about the potential for cultural imbalance in our school system.

The work of the Redistricting Team is all but completed, and the various options are now being presented to the public for their examination and input. The school district has created a mechanism through its website for community members to voice comments and suggestions, and as of March 12, there have been 271 entries posted.

There is an interesting tone to several of the comments from residents of Heritage Lakes, the upscale golf course community. These folks are saying that they want their opinions heeded because they pay what they believe are some of the highest taxes in Hilliard (I think that distinction may actually go to some of the homeowners in Norwich and Brown township).

  • "It is also a fact that we pay some of the very highest in property/school tax of any other single subdivision in Hilliard. This is just a fact. I would like to think that when we pay well above what other homeowners pay for our children to go to a Hilliard city school that our input is taken seriously. It is our very high school taxes that usually cover not just our children but other children as well. "
  • "Based on the structure of our neighborhood and taxes we pay, we are asking to stay at Alton Darby"
  • "We moved from ... to Heritage Lakes 1 year ago to get my son into a better school. Now with the chances of having him moved into another school, we are faced with the possibility of having to move again. If we get redistriced to Horizon or some of the other low‑income-family schools, we will move out of Hilliard all together. It is completely unfair that we could be redistricted to a school where 80% of the families there only pay $1000 worth of taxes a year because they either live in condos or low income housing. We moved to one of the higher end neighborhoods and pay around $5000 taxes so that we would be in the a better school acedemically (sic), socially and economically. If I am going to pay that much in taxes and get assigned to a poor school, than I might as well pay my taxes to Upper Arlington, Grandview or Dublin and be in a good school for my money."
  • "Please also consider the taxes Heritage Lakes pays, we are asking to stay at Alton Darby."

Other are coming right out and saying that they know certain schools have a larger proportion of minority students, and they don't want their kids to go there:

  • "Currently, it seems that the entire Willowbend apartments are made up on non-english speaking Somolians. The Somolians then make up, what seems like at least half of the classrooms. As I and other parents have experienced, the teachers are forced to spend the majority of their time explaining to the non-english speaking Somolian parents how to do simple things like fill out paperwork. For example, on back to school night, that's all the teachers were able to do. They did not get the time to talk to any other parents. As well, my daughter had informed me that all of her teachers were forced to spend all extra classroom time w/ those students. She therefore received very little help in math (an area she struggled with) and now in 6th grade, we have been forced to pay for an outside tutor. I know that Hilliard has no control of those developments, which are Columbus but Hillard schools. all that I am asking is that the Hilliard City School District bus at least half of those students to other schools. They need to split them up more and make it more fair to not only the Horizon students but the teachers there as well! I know many parents from other Hilliard elementary schools and they do not have this problem. It's just not fair any way you look at it that it be so heavily loaded onto one school. We find it frustrating at times that we pay $5,000 a year in taxes so that our kids could go to a good school but yet, they are not really benefitting from it due to this issue"
  • "There is just absolutely no way that the following options are fair: C, E, F & G. The reason I say that is because you are then sending both of the most heavily weighted section eight apartment complexes together. ..that being Willow Bend Townhomes and Bayside Commons. In no way shape or form will that be fair to the kids and parents who pay $4,000+ yearly taxes. If that happens, both Davidson and Darby will be promiently white and the New HS and Memorial will be extremely heavily loaded with the Somolian population in which most don't speak English. As it is now (my kids have attended school w/ Willow Bend for some time)...teachers are spending 90% of their time with those students!! And then you are going to add yet another Section Eight apartment complex!!?? That will also mean that the new HS will then be where 99% of the crime will be of the three high schools...kind of like Darby vs. Davidson today."

As much as we would like to think of our community as either a homogenous population, or one of harmonious diversity, it is neither. The imagery is less that of a melting pot than it is a bucket of marbles -- together in the same place, but not really blending.

Our community leaders cannot allow this kind of socioeconomic stratification to occur in our schools. We must be willing to transport kids as necessary to keep a similar socioeconomic profile across all of our buildings. The land area of our school district is small enough that the worst-case busing scenarios are still pretty reasonable. In fact, most of the time spent on bus routes is in the winding through developments, not the transit time on major arteries. In our case, we drove our kids to and from Darby High School every day because the drive was about 10 minutes while the bus ride through all the developments was nearly an hour!

The good thing is that this conversation is out in the open now.

To see additional comments made to the school board, click here