Friday, September 14, 2007

Levy Estimates – Making the Problem Worse

In this week's edition of the Hilliard Northwest News, an article was published titled "School Board takes a close look at finances," which reported on Treasurer Brian Wilson's presentation of his proposed Fiscal Year 2008 Budget to the Board of Education.

Finally school officials are saying out loud what I've been reporting for months – that personnel costs represent nearly 90% of the operating costs of the district, and are the primary cause of the increase in expenditures from year to year. This is neither good nor bad. It's simply the truth. A school system is a professional services organization, and that means the bulk of its cost is going to be the salaries and benefits of its professional team.

Until now, the Treasurer has been reluctant to make estimates of how large the next levy would need to be, and School Board members have been seemingly uninterested in pressing the question, not even to the point of getting estimates. I have been writing to the Board, appearing before the Board, and even writing Letters to the Editor of our community newspapers for many months saying that the next operating levy will need to be substantial, and that Board needs to start talking to the community about this.

This time when the Board asked the Treasurer how large the levy will need to be, Wilson answered that it will be less than 10 mills. "There's no way we will deal with double digits," he said.

But he also warned that this levy would last no longer than 3 years. What does this mean?

Take a look at the My Taxes page on my SaveHilliardSchools website for a little explanation of the way levy funding works. The general idea is that the millage rate is set so that a surplus is generated in the first years and then the surplus is drawn down over time. So when Treasurer Wilson says that a less than 10 mill levy will last less than 3 years, he's means that whatever surplus might be generated in the first year would be gone in three years.

Then what? Another levy needs to be passed of course. The significance of this three year time span is that by then Bradley High School will be online and there will be a significant step up in expenditures, mostly due to salaries and benefits. Notice that the Treasurer didn't say that he's changed his Five Year Forecast. The money will still be needed. This talk of a sub-10 mill levy lasting for three years is just a way to put off the problem until another day.

It is also a hope that some miracle will happen and the State of Ohio will decide to substantially increase funding to our District. The Superintendent has been a vocal supporter of the Getting It Right For Ohio's Future amendment, thinking it might be that miracle I suppose. I disagree with his position on this.

There are a lot of moving parts in the school funding machine, but the basic mechanism is not that hard to understand. As professional educators, you would think the school officials could create a lesson plan to teach the people of our community how things work, and trust these smart people to react appropriately. I've made this recommendation to the Board, but they don't seem to like the idea.

Our funding situation will not get better by sweeping it under the rug. Please make me your representative on the School Board and we'll start working on this together.


  1. Well I'll certainly be voting for you. You're one of the few sane voices in this parade of shame.

    Back during the last levy, I was shocked by a report of the salary increases for teachers and administrators between 2002 & 2003.

    They gave themselves 5-6% raises across the board! Assistant Principal at Darby, for example, went from 60,700 to 64,300. Meanwhile, the rate of inflation was 1.2% and my own business had an across the board raise freeze. How out of touch can they possibly have been?

    I sent Denise Bobbitt an email and her reply was: "All administative salaries were frozen for the 2003/04 school year." I suspect purely in response to pressure from the impending levy and the timely scrutinity of their financials.

    Can you believe a Hilliard Athletic Director makes $80K a year? (as of 2003 - obviously a lot more by now). What makes an athletic director worth that kind of money?

    The 5-6% raises for everybody - not merit based obviously - and an AD making $80K in '03 completely undermines my confidence in the school district's ability to handle finances.

  2. One other thing that irritated me during the last levy was how the school district mailings were remarkably content-free. One receives no assurance that past disastrous decisions, financial and otherwise, have been acknowledged. I think the idea of treating taxpayers like children who need to just "pray and pay" before the clergy - i.e. the Superintendent & his administrative minions - is sort of passé these days. No doubt these sort of mailings were effective in the past but given the general distrust of institutions nowadays a little humility - in the form of admitting mistakes were made or even a little present transparency - would go a long way.

  3. Sorry for all the comments here but I just read this:

    ...they [the tax payers] are blaming all of you for being ineffective stewards of their money; thinking that the tax bills are going up because you spend wastefully.

    It's difficult for me, an outsider, to tell how much of the problem is waste and how much is over-development. Likely the latter, but I heard from the used bookstore owner on Main Street that the district bought "a million dollar storage shed" - i.e. way overspent. I don't know how much credence to put in what she says but I pass it along to say I'm not convinced of the fiscal probity of Hilliard SD.

  4. Joe: I appreciate all the comments.

    The strategy for getting levies passed has been the "Do you love your children" approach - preying on the emotional side of the issue.

    Well, yes I love my kids and I still think the fiscal end of things are being mismanaged.

    Why do we need an independent committee to campaign for levy passage? One reason is so they can take in outside money. But from who do they get it? I was never asked to contribute, were you?

    And what do they use the money for? Well, last time, one of the things was to perform a community survey. I know, because I was one of the people called by the polling firm.

    When I asked the School Board members for copies of the components of the survey that was made available to them (ie I acknowledge that parts of the survey paid for with campaign funds are the property of the campaign and not subject to the Sunshine Law), they kept deflecting the question. Finally Doug Maggied told me that the Board members saw NONE of the data from this survey.

    How likely do you think that is?

    Our school board and administration makes it a practice to discuss and decide things in secrecy and just expect the public to go along.

    We need to put an end to that. I appreciate your vote!

  5. I agree, transparency is crucial. I assume we'll be voting for multiple board members, is there anybody else you can recommend we vote for?

    It's disappointing that Hilliard residents put up with such secrecy. The current mayor has that tendency and from what I hear former mayor Roger Reynolds was terrible.

    I guess ultimately we get the government we deserve. Hilliard is in the governed mostly by developers, but we seem not to care.

  6. Joe:

    There are four candidates: the two incumbants, Doug Maggied and Dick Hammond, and the two newbies, Dave Lundregan and me. If you want change, seems like you need to go for fresh blood.