Thursday, October 11, 2007

Endorsement Interview – Hilliard Education Association

I, like the other three candidates for the Hilliard School Board, was invited by the Hilliard Education Association – the teachers' union – to participate in the process used by the HEA to decide whether to endorse any candidates in the upcoming election on November 6th. To learn more about the candidates, we were sent a list of questions in advance, and asked to come in for an interview on September 19th prepared with answers to the questions.

Because I was out of town for the entire month of September, I submitted my answers to the HEA in writing, and made myself available for an interview after returning, if they desired. They did, and on Oct 1, we met. I'm assuming the other candidates met with the HEA committee earlier.

I was notified this week that I did not receive the endorsement of the HEA; that they chose to endorse Doug Maggied and Dave Lundregan. I respect their choice and thank them for the opportunity they gave me to present my thinking to them.

I thought that you would be interested in the questions they asked, and how I responded. First, the written questions:


September 18, 2007

Hilliard Education Association
5491 Scioto Darby Rd, Suite 001
OH 43026

Dear Endorsement Committee Members:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions. I hope that my written responses will suffice until I return to Columbus approximately September 26, 2007. You can also find out a great deal about my views on many topics by reviewing my website,, which I began in February 2006.

State your reason for becoming a candidate

The reason is simple: There is much work to be done to address the fiscal challenges our district faces, and I have the training, experience and motivation to be able to contribute. It would be much easier for me to ignore the challenges of the school district now that my children are adults, but the school district is the most important organization in our community, and it is my civic duty to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. My efforts over years to convince the current board members that they must educate the community about school funding, and communicate more effectively in general, have failed. Rather than give up, I have decided to run for a seat on the board and drive for change from the inside.

I have no experience in matters of school system management, but have extensive background in the leadership of large organizations with substantial budgets (larger than that of our school district). However, I believe that the primary role of the school board is not to second guess the professional educators in our system, but rather to see that they have the resources to get the job done. The key resources for our school system should be obvious: a) well-trained, motivated and effective faculty and staff; and b) economic viability. My expertise is the latter.

What qualities and experience will I personally bring, and what three major issues will I advocate?

Qualities/Experience: I have served in leadership roles in both professional and volunteer organizations for most of my life. As a professional, I began my career in 1973 as one of the early employees of CompuServe, as a night-shift computer operator. By the late 1990s, I had become the Vice-President of Network Technology and Chief Technology Officer of our telecommunications division, leading an organization of over 700 people worldwide, and managing an operating budget in excess of $300 million per year and a capital expenditures budget over $100 million per year. After CompuServe was acquired by Worldcom in 1998, I was named the Vice-President and General Manager of the UUNET Web Hosting Service. I retired in 2000 at age 46.

I am currently an investor and executive in Rivet Digital, a high-tech startup firm headquartered in the Hilliard City School District.

As a volunteer, I serve as a leader in our local church, Mountview Baptist, and have been instrumental in the strategic planning for both our congregation and our state organization, American Baptist Churches of Ohio. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the National Black Programming Consortium ( headquartered in Harlem, New York, and currently serve as Secretary. I am the Treasurer of The Ohio State Chapter of Triangle Fraternity, the alumni organization of this national collegiate fraternity of engineers, architects and scientists.

I am a past member of the Board of Trustees of the Hilliard Education Foundation, including Chairperson for the Evening of Excellence in 2000, and continue to be a sponsor of HEF events such as the Spelling Bee and Casino Night. I participated in the financial committees now known as ACT and the Treasurer's Committee, and served on the most recent Redistricting Team. I am also a past member of the Board of Directors of Pinnacle Data Systems, a publicly-held corporation headquartered in Groveport OH.

I was a member of the committee which performed the most recent update of the Brown Township Comprehensive Plan, creating conservation style (lower density) land use policies for the western half of our school district.

I hold a BA in Management from Capital University.

My wife Terry and I have lived in the HCSD since 1979, and our two daughters attended school in the HCSD from K-12, both graduating from Darby High School. Our eldest is a teacher in northwestern Ohio, while our youngest is in her first year of medical school.

Major Issues:

Educating the Community about School Funding
- Improve Communications between the District and the Community
- Demand a Voice in Community Planning and Management
- Develop a Long-Range Strategy for Growth
- Campaign for Impact Fees

How would I address these issues? (the answers were taken directly from my website, so I will not reproduce them here)

HCSD is not meeting AYP requirements within some of our sub groups, how would I address this issue? What support and materials would I offer teachers?

I am not an educator, but rather a businessman. I would have to depend on the judgment and advice of the educators in our district to determine how to best address this issue. I view the role of the Board as being one of setting objectives, policies and standards; of monitoring performance of the leadership against those objectives, policies and standards; and to muster the resources – primarily fiscal – to get the job done.

With increasing diversity of our school population, how would I as a school board member represent and explain to the community "why" we remain in "Continuous Improvement?"

I would say that this is a flaw in the way these ratings are structured, one which needs to be fixed by the Ohio General Assembly. While it is appropriate to indicate that AYP is not being met for some subgroups, the overall performance of the district is not being communicated fairly.

After all, the purpose of these rankings is to tell current and potential residents of the school district how well our kids are being educated. In a very real way, it assures the taxpayers in the community that they are getting the performance they feel they are paying for.

Nonetheless, no one should ignore the fact that there are populations of immigrant kids in our school systems which continue to need extraordinary attention. We can argue that the standards are too aggressive, or that the federal government should contribute more to the extra costs the immigrant kids bring to our district. But still we need to report how those kids are doing compared to their American-born classmates.

In the meantime, the district leadership must clearly communicate to the community how the evaluation system works so that no one becomes unduly alarmed. As much as I criticize the district leadership about their lack of effective communications, they have attacked this issue aggressively and reasonable

The Ohio Legislature is making fiscal and educational policy with little direct input from school districts. What do I see as my role in working with the legislators in representing HCSD, students, and community?

If the legislators are not listening adequately to school districts, who are they listening to when they make fiscal and educational policy?

I suspect that they are listening to the lobbyists from the education community, such as the Ohio Education Association, just as they listen to the lobbyists from every other special interest group in the state, but just don't have enough money to satisfy the desires of all.

The Ohio Legislature and the Governor are in a tough situation. As entitlement programs such as Medicaid eat up more and more of the state budget, the portion available for everything else, including education, continues to shrink. The answer is not a new amendment that attempts to force the Governor and the Legislature into making education the first among all the priorities. Nor is it necessarily to raise tax rates at the state level. The health of our state in general is determined by our ability to bring new businesses and new jobs to Ohio. Higher tax rates force corporations to leave the state, lowering both corporate tax collections as well as individual income tax revenue.

It is far more efficient for Hilliard to fund our schools with local taxes than depend on the state to fund us. At the state level, affluent suburbs like ours are the cash cows that provide the funding to support all kinds of activities, especially school districts, in urban and rural areas. That's why the Governor froze the State Aid to the HCSD – he believes our district is affluent enough to solve our own funding problems.

I firmly believe that the more control of school funding we turn over to the state, the less Hilliard will get, and the more we will have to tax the people and businesses of our community to make up the shortfall.

If no operating levy is passed between now and the fall of 2009, what would my position be in regards to the opening of Bradley High School?

First of all, it is a tragedy that this question is even being asked. The school board and administration failed to adequately educate the community prior to the decision to build the third high school, and many will be surprised to learn that the levy they approved did not provide for operating the high school as well. How can that fundamental misunderstanding be allowed to exist?

Now we are headed for a funding crisis – one which could have been avoided. The only way out is to embark on an intense community communications program, and hope they will forgive the district leadership for putting us in this situation.

The direct answer to this question is that Bradley can be opened only if we can afford it. The school district cannot spend cash it doesn't have, and if no levy is passed, a drastic amount of spending cuts will need to be made. The current HCSD budget documents show a cash deficit of $20 million in 2010 if no new levy is passed. What that really means is that the district would have to cut $20 million in expenses if no levy is passed by 2009.

Some of these cuts might be to eliminate some or all optional programming and services. We might have to drop some or all extracurricular activities.

Eventually we must face the fact that nearly 90% of the cost of running our district is the salaries and benefits of the faculty, staff and administration. We would certainly eliminate all "nice-to-have" administrative roles. Some staff positions would have to go as well, probably leading to short-term neglect of the facilities and reduced services to students and faculty.

And there would need to be some cutbacks in faculty – where most of the money is spent. I would hope that there could be a meaningful and productive discussion with the HEA about how to work through this situation. All possibilities have to be on the table, including layoffs, salary/benefit rollbacks, and reassignments. There a doubtless many more options that could be explored if all sides work together in an atmosphere of trust and respect.

But I'll say it again – we can avoid all this if we begin immediately to educate our community about the situation. If we help them understand the problem, they'll help find the solution.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. If you wish to interview me in person, let me know and I will meet at your convenience.


Some Additional Question asked during the interview (paraphrased from memory):

The relationship between the Board, the Administration and the Teachers is friendly and cooperative. How do I see that working if I am elected?

I believe it is possible to be friendly without being friends. The Board represents the community in its relationship with the teachers and staff, and in that role, sits on the opposite site of the bargaining table from the union members.

note: the following comments extend beyond what I recall answering in the actual interview. However, I believe it is important for you to understand the whole of my thinking on this matter...

The relationship with the Administration is more complex. The administrators are part of the same benefit system as the teachers, so when union contracts are being negotiated, do the administrators play the part of 'management' with the Board, or are they 'labor' along with the union members? Aren't the administrators conflicted in either role?

It is the duty of the Board to hold the administrators accountable for their performance, and that of the school district. There may well be times when the Board and the Administration don't agree, and sometimes that disagreement might be quite vigorous. When that happens, the Board has final authority, and must be willing to exercise it – uncompromised by feelings of friendship.

I have served as a member of the Board of Directors of public companies (i.e. ones that have sold shares of stock to the public), and understand the tendency of Board members to become buddies with the management. I believe the excesses of Enron, Worldcom, et al, happened to a large extent because the Board members got too close to the management, forsaking their responsibility to the shareholders.

School board members must behave the same way. They represent the tens of thousands of people in the school community, acting as stewards of our most important community institution – the school system. Their loyalty has to be to the community first, and the employees of the district second.

Who is on my campaign committee? What endorsements have I already garnered?

No one. No endorsements.


So what was my feeling about the interview and this endorsement process?

I spent some time beforehand questioning whether I actually wanted to be endorsed by the teachers' union. What would an endorsement by them signal to the community? That I had somehow subordinated my agenda to theirs in return for the promise of the votes of their members and the potential votes of others in the community who pay attention to what the teachers' union thinks? That would not be a good thing – my first thought. If my intention is to bring radical change to the School Board, why would I want an endorsement of any of the current players?

In the end, I decided that an endorsement by the teachers' union would be a positive thing, and chose to participate in this process. I sincerely thank them for the time they spent with me, as it is valuable to learn the perspectives of all the stakeholders.

The union is a political entity which exists to create bargaining power on behalf of the individual teachers. The teachers want their union officials to represent them in negotiating their collective bargaining agreement. They also want the officials to skillfully analyze situations, like the selection of School Board members, to tell the membership the results of that analysis, and to recommend action (e.g. "vote for X and Y for School Board in the upcoming election").

But I've seen what happens when the union leadership gets off track and begins to exercise its power to the detriment of the employer. My hometown was a major manufacturing center until the 1970s, when labor costs drove employers to move operations to Texas and overseas. The kind of thing happened all over the Rust Belt.

As employers, the School Board is in a difficult position. The Board cannot threaten to move operations elsewhere (a fact taken advantage of by Mayor Schonhardt as well). Nor will the community easily tolerate a labor action which causes the operations of the school system to be significantly impacted. A full-blown strike by the teachers would create havoc. Therefore the tendency is to be pretty generous when negotiating a new contract.

I don't think the union leaders liked my answer about what would happen if the next levy doesn't pass, but I believe I told them the truth. If the next levy doesn't pass, the magnitude of cutbacks required in our school system will certainly result in teacher layoffs, and perhaps even the closing of buildings (or the indefinite delay in opening Bradley High School). Regardless of who gets elected to the Board, this is what must happen if the levy fails. This is the reason it is critical to radically step up the community education effort now.

The Board is already many months, in fact years, late in this effort.


  1. The non-endorsement of the teacher's union certainly gives your candidacy more credibility and legitmacy in the eyes of most voters since I think most people have an unfavorable view of teacher's unions.

    But whether that helps translate to a win for you remains questionable given the resources of the union & the SD. Politics at this extremely local level interests me since I'd like to try to figure out why Hilliard has been saddled with such poor leadership on the school board.

  2. Joe:

    I think people of two minds when they think about the teachers' union. On the one hand, parents tend to become very attached and supportive of the individual teachers who have their kids in class. I can certainly name several teachers who I know and think well of.

    Then there is teachers' union. It exists primarily to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the school board. When I look at the agreement, I see a complex, intertwined, confusing document that serves to camouflage some pretty generous benefits.

    For example, teachers can earn up to 15 sick days per year (1.25 sick days/yr for each year of service). Right off the bat, that sounds like a lot compared to most workers (I had 5/yr for example). But at the end of the year, the teacher can cash in unused sick days at the rate of $40 per day. It's an easy way to add around $500 to every teacher's annual pay without actually putting it in the pay scale. It will be interesting to see if this is a number that gets changed in the new contract. An increase here is just like a raise, but almost no one would pick that up from the press releases.

    The challenge in local politics is getting candidates to run, and voters to care. I'm in the race because it's my civil duty I have the ability to contribute, and I'm trying to lift voter interest by describing the magnitude of the fiscal crisis just around the corner.

  3. Paul - I believe that you are wrong about the $40 conversion of sick leave days. If you were to read the contract you would see that the $40 conversion is for personal leave. Teachers get 3 personal leave days per year. It appears to be very clear and precisely written(quote from contract):
    At the end of the school year, the bargaining unit member may present a voucher to the Treasurer's office requesting a cash benefit for any unused personal leave day(s).

    I hope the above quote isn't too "complex",or "intertwined," or "confusing"

  4. Anon:

    Thanks for the correction. You are right.

    And you're justified to object about my "complex, intertwined, and confusing" comment. My apologies. As contracts go, I've seen much worse.

    If you are a teacher, please understand that my beef is not with you or your collegues. I don't personally have any objection to what you get paid, or the generosity of the benefit package.

    My objection is to the lack of transparency on the part of the leadership, particularly as it pertains to fiscal matters.

    I would argue that my position best supports the teachers, because I know that if we don't start working hard, right now, to get our community on board with what happening with the funding of our school district, it's the teachers who are going to take the brunt of the fallout. When nearly 90% of the operating budget goes to pay salaries and benefits, the failure of a levy will certainly mean layoffs.

    That will injure our district and our community in ways we can't even contemplate yet, not the least of which is the damage to the relationship between the teachers and the community.

    Thanks for your comment.