Friday, August 24, 2007

District Finance Committees: Citizen's Finance Committee

This is one part of a two part post about the committees created by the School District to deal with strategic financial matters.

There exists two citizen committees which were formed by the leaders of the school district to deal with financial issues of strategic significance. According to the District's website, the Citizen's Finance Committee has this assignment:

To serve in partnership with the Hilliard City School District (HCSD) in communicating to the school community matters involving HCSD finances and assist with conducting research and gathering community feedback regarding the fiscal management of the district.

Its goals are listed below, with my comments in italics:

  • Provide regular financial status reports or updates for the Hilliard City School District to the community.

  • Build a greater understanding of school finance and school operations as it relates to the Hilliard City School District among the residents of our district.

    These two goals overlap with the purpose statement of the District's ACT for Schools commmittee. Neither team has accomplished either task in my opinion.

  • Keep apprised of the residential, commercial and industrial development in the district and educate the public about the specific finance issues surrounding the development as it pertains to school funding.

    No visible results on this task.

  • Encourage and actively pursue community feedback concerning financial issues facing the Hilliard City School District.

    Occasionally surveys are taken in our community, but the district's conclusions don't always jive with the data, in my opinion. In the case of the survey taken in January 2007, the Superintendent concluded (see Hilliard Northwest News, March 21, 07) "that the community feels the district does a competent job of keeping the community informed." In fact, while 70% of the survey respondents said they somewhat/very closely follow the school district, only 30% knew that our state funding was frozen - a crucial fact. The district leadership doesn't tell the community crucial information, and the community doesn't know what it doesn't know. That's neither competent nor productive in my view.

    Only 15% of the respondents gave the district an "A" in listening.

  • Serve as the district’s sounding board for new ideas and initiatives concerning district finances.

    This is an internal conversation between the district officials and the committee.

In the May 2007 issue of Passing Notes, the hardcopy newsletter of the District, the entire front page was devoted to "District Finances," yet not one word was said about the most basic financial truths of our district: a) 87% of the total cost of operating our district is the salaries and benefits of the faculty, staff and administration; and, b) because residential development has far outpaced commercial development, and because the State of Ohio is sending no incremental funding our way, the burden of funding our schools is steadily shifting to the existing homeowners and businesses of the District.

I am also disappointed that the Treasurer's Five Year Forecast was referenced without disclosing any of the numbers. It said:

"The five-year financial forecast for Hilliard City Schools presented to the Board of Education and the Finance Committee showed the district with a positive balance through 2008, just breaking even in 2009, expenditures exceeding revenues in 2010 and beyond... Treasurer Wilson reported a need to place an operating levy on the ballot in the spring of 2008"

How would the community have reacted had the actual numbers been disclosed, and the article read this way?

"The five-year financial forecast ... showed the district with a positive balance of $7 million through 2008, expenditures exceeding revenues in 2009 by $16 million, in 2010 by $29 million, and by $38 million in 2011, creating an accumulated deficit of $75 million, which is what we'll be asking you to cover, including an annual burn rate approaching $4o million going forward... Treasurer Wilson reported a need to place an operating levy of approximately 16 mills on the ballot in the spring of 2008"

The Board should have put this levy on the ballot this November so our community can think about these numbers at the same time they are voting for members of the School Board and the Hilliard City Council. Unfortunately, the Mayor of Hilliard is running unopposed.

You can rest assured we'll be talking about this during this election.

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