Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Taxes to the Left of me, Taxes to the Right

The officials of the Hilliard City Schools are sending a team of solicitors into our community with the mission of collecting at least 15,000 of the 402,000 signatures required statewide to put a proposed School Funding Amendment on the November ballot. They will tell you that this amendment will simultaneously lower your property taxes and generate more money for the schools. That statement is true, but not the whole truth.

I am confident that this amendment will cost the residents of the Hilliard City School District more money in taxes, and will return less as our money is reallocated to other school districts across the state. To keep our school systems funded at current levels, I believe that we will need to continue to pass local levies, and with this amendment, these will be of a kind that automatically increases our tax bills with our property values.

Local school property taxes will be not eliminated with this amendment. The minimum rate required by the State of Ohio will be lowered slightly from 23 mills to 20 mills. However, the amendment would simultaneously remove the protections that prevent your property tax bill from increasing with the value of your home. District Treasurer Brian Wilson estimates that this change will cause our collective annual local property taxes to INCREASE by $7.2 million, and your property taxes could go up every time your home is reassessed by the County Auditor – automatically.

Supporters of this amendment will tell you that it shifts the burden of funding schools from property taxes to the State of Ohio. What a strange thing to say. Where does the State of Ohio get its money after all? Does a dollar of one kind of tax cost us less than a dollar of another?

Ask the person soliciting your signature how much your total tax burden will change with this amendment. They won’t know. The official website for the amendment, www.rightforohio.org, has a graph comparing the current funding model to the one proposed. It not only shows the new funding requirements being larger than today, it leaves it ambiguous how much larger it will be.

In the current funding system, we get to decide how much we are willing to tax ourselves to support our schools. Every so often, our School Board is required to come before all of us and explain why more money is needed. We debate and argue, and eventually reach a decision. But it is our decision.

In the proposed system, funding is determined by the State Board of Education. There’s a good chance that the amount they allocate to us from their pot of money will leave us short of what we need to operate our schools in the manner our community is accustomed. After all, their objective is to get more money to the urban and rural districts, not suburban districts like ours. In fact, the amendment contains language allowing the State the cap the funding to if the new formula allocates an amount which would "exceed the amount necessary." [see paragraph (E)(1)]

The amendment anticipates this situation. Local school districts will retain the authority to pass property tax levies to fund their district to a level higher than the State provides. However, local property taxes would no longer be protected from increases due to reassessments. Nor would these additional local property taxes include the much-touted exemption for senior and disabled citizens.

In our district, 85% of the operating budget goes to pay for the salaries and benefits of the administrators, faculty and staff. This should not be surprising – a school system is a professional services organization. If we want to have great schools, we need to have great people on the team. And we need to understand that the cost of this team increases every year as the employees work their way up the pay scale. These increases are automatic, written into the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the unions representing most of the faculty and staff. Since salaries and benefits increase automatically every year, the educators want a funding system that automatically collects more taxes each year, without having to ask for our approval.

There is no right or wrong choice in this matter. The only bad thing you can do is make your decision without investing the time to understand how the amendment will work. You are invited to visit www.savehilliardschools.org as a starting point.

Paul Lambert
Brown Twp


  1. You've clearly done your homework on this. Thank you for your efforts.

    The amendment is complex, but simply stated: It will cost Ohioans more, the supporters don't know how much more, and they don't know who will pay more, only that it will be Ohioans.

    And the only clear evidence of what the additional funding will pay for is provided by the amount of time and money the unions are putting toward this campaign. (If 85% of the typical district budget is salary and benefits....Ohioans should be able to figure out the union's position pretty easily.)

    Unless we are to believe the unions are really doing this for "the children"?

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    As the old saying goes, "If you want to know the truth, follow the money..."