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.

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