Friday, November 30, 2007

Recommended Reading: Jacobs - Getting Around Brown

Anyone who really wants to understand how central Ohio evolved into this strange puzzle of municipalities and schools districts needs to read:

Jacobs, Gregory S: Getting Around Brown
Ohio State University Press, Columbus OH
ISBN 0-8142-0720-0

The book is out of print, but is available at the Columbus Metropolitan Library:
379.2630977157 or online at the website of the Ohio State University Press.

The book tells how - tragically - the Columbus Public Schools became poorer and Blacker as a result of the busing ordered by Federal Judge Robert Duncan in Penick v. Columbus Board of Education desegregation lawsuit in 1979.

For residents of the Hilliard City School District, it also tells how the powerful people of Columbus used this as an opportunity to create the suburban housing boom which ultimately - along with a myriad of developer friendly political decisions - devastated the economic underpinnings of our school system.

The people of our community would like there to be a simple answer to why the School Board keeps asking for more of our money to support the schools. There is not. It's not because we overspent on our buildings or pay teachers too much. Nor is it because of all the immigrant kids now coming to our schools.

We have a perfect storm brewing that has been decades in the making. Mr. Jacobs does an excellent job of showing us how we got here.

There is one simple truth I guess:

Apathy is expensive.

Levy/Teacher Salary Survey

On Nov 11th, I posted an online survey to see what folks on my newsletter mailing list as well as the general public thought about two questions. The first was about operating levies. The School Board has affirmed that this next levy won't be the last, and that they will be asking us to approve another levy in 2-3 years. So the first question was whether you wanted to take a bigger hit now, and a lesser one later, or visa versa.

The first thing to say is that this survey falls well short of the standard of statistical significance. There are over 40,000 registered voters in our school district, and this survey was seen by fewer than 100 and responded to by 46. So don't try to read too much into these results:

The #1 response to the question about levies, with 39% of the votes, was "No new taxes are needed, the School District spends too much already." Next at 30% was "let's do 10 mills now and see where we are in two years." Interestingly, that's about what the Board decided.

The second question was about teacher salary increases. Should they 8% annual increases as provided in their current (expiring) contract, or should their salaries be frozen. How about split it down the middle at 4% per year?

The raw answer is that nearly half (45%) said 4% is the right number. The rest of the votes were an equal split between "give 'em nuthin'" and 8%. Nearly all the "8%" answers came in via a burst over a day or so, which makes me think that some HEA members made a push to get their responses recorded.

Some of the comments were pretty interesting, even though the service I use allows for only 150 characters:

To the question about levies:
  • 90% of the school's costs SHOULD be on teachers. Isn't that what schools do? TEACH? - I agree
  • This spending cannot ALL be attributed to teacher salaries. We need to be taking cost OUT of the business too to minimize expenses! - Only 56% of the total employee population are teachers. The next largest group is the support staff (secretaries, aides, custodians, bus drivers, etc) at 28%. Can anyone tell me what the "Other Professional" and "Planning/Curriculum" positions are?
  • I would like to see a more detailed breakdown on expenses and funding. Part of the shortfall is due to state cuts in funding. - Indeed

And on teacher raises:

  • Never in the past 30 years has a contract included an 8% salary increase!The pension from STRS is paid by teacher and board contributions.It's notfree - Actually, HEA members got 7.95% salary increases each of the last three years. As for the pensions, I did not claim the teachers got it for free. The fact that they get one at all is unusual. Note that teachers do not pay into or receive Social Security, but does anyone seriously think Social Security is better than the STRS package?
  • The idea of teachers being uderpaid was true in the past but I do not believe it is true today. At least not in Hilliard. - It's hard to figure out what teacher pay should be. Should it be based on scarcity of qualified applicants, or on length of service, or some kind of pay-for-performance?
  • I have never been garanteed increase in salary of 7.95%. These increases should be tied to performance and average increases in the private sector. - A number of comments mentioned pay-for-performance notions.

I expect that the levy campaign team will run their own survey, and we'll get more meaningful answers to questions like these.

Thanks to the folks who responded.

I’ve read this before somewhere

In its November 28, 2007 edition, the Hilliard Northwest News published a letter to the editor which it titled "Salary negotiations key to district's financial health." The letter was submitted by an Aaron Kramer. I was eager to read the letter because I was happy others in the district were taking interest this these matters.

When I reached the second paragraph, I realized that Mr. Kramer's letter is a compilation of articles I had published on this blog over the past year, along with an occasional phrase or sentence of his own. I have to admit being disturbed by this.

It feels like plagiarism. Mr. Kramer does end his letter with an encouragement to visit, the companion website to this blog, and that’s appreciated. But it still feels like he had stolen my work.

Then I had to remember the mission: to inform the public about how school funding works, and motivate them to take a more active role in guiding the future of our school district. Mr. Kramer’s letter is an indication that we’re making progress, and having it published in the Hilliard Northwest News will help increase the exposure to this information.

Mr. Kramer: I appreciate your interest and participation, and for the pointer to my website. But I would also ask that rather than patching together pieces of my work, put your thoughts in your own words. These excerpts that you’ve cut and pasted together say what I mean better when they are in the context of their source article, and I’m concerned that away from that context, they can seem to mean something different than what I intended. Besides, the public would benefit from hearing both your perspective and mine, and not just mine in stereo.

Reference my stuff all you want – the more the better as far as I’m concerned. Appropriate citations would be polite too.

But the message is more important than the messenger, and so for your interest and participation in the process, thank you.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Being Thankful

I spent the month of September riding my motorcycle cross-country with some friends. We went from the Canadian border in Montana down the Pacific Coast from Oregon, and across the Mexican border in Arizona. Our last point before turning north was New Orleans.

I was somewhat surprised to find a city with lots of people (and terrible traffic jams) and very little damage. Admittedly we didn't make it to the Lower 9th Ward, where most of the flooding took place - a residential area which is substantially gone.

We had dinner with friends who were lifelong residents of St Bernard Parish, another hard hit area. They lost their house, but had excellent insurance, and are now settled north of New Orleans, in Hammond LA. I asked if they intended to move back to New Orleans. They said no, that the city was still unsafe because only a third of the police and fire forces have returned.

These safety forces aren't the only public employees who are missing. I came across this blog by a school official, Dr. Roslyn Smith, who is talking about what it like to restart the school system down there.

As I sit at my desk and watch Bradley High School rise out of the cornfield across Roberts Rd, it strikes me that we have it pretty good here in Hilliard. Our buildings have utilitarian beauty, the faculty and staff is excellent, and our kids perform well both within and outside the classroom.

We've let the economic underpinnings get away from us. Residential development has been out of control, the growth of our commercial tax base has been slow, and the State of Ohio, rather than helping us with new tools such as Impact Fees, is bailing out on us.

Still, we can fix these things. We can insist that the politicians protect our community instead of the developers. We can bring the City of Hilliard and Hilliard City Schools into closer partnership in attracting new businesses. And when we send a new State Representative and State Senator to the General Assembly, we can be sure they are folks who will fight to protect our school district.

And recognize that compared to the people of New Orleans and many other parts of the country, we have it very very good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

9.5 Mills It Is

The following is a statement I read to the Board of Education at their regular meeting on November 26, 2007:

As was stated a during your Nov 14th meeting, going to the voters with a 9.5 mill levy will require the district to reduce spending by about $3.3 million per year over the next three years – if there is no plan to restore the 10% operating reserve which is your current policy.

To restore the 10% operating reserve by the end of 2011, approximately $9 million per year would need to be removed from the budget – an amount which would certainly cause uncomfortable if not downright painful reductions of programs and services.

However, if that $9 million/yr were to be removed from the budget, which is $54 million over six years, it would still mean that the levy amount in 2011 would need to be about 11.5 mills, if all of Mr. Wilson's forecast assumptions bear out.

You have three big financial knobs you can turn:

  • The 2008 Levy amount
  • The amount of annual spending cutbacks to be implemented
  • The 2011 levy amount

These are intimately related, and should never be considered independently.

My request to you is that you communicate all three of these numbers when you announce the March levy amount, with a statement that sounds like:

"The School Board announces that, in conjunction with $9 million per year of spending reductions, the community will be asked to approve a 9.5 mill operating levy in 2008, and forecasts the need for another 11.5 mill operating levy in 2011."

It is critical to solidify community trust during this campaign, and that starts with open and frequent communications.

Thanks to Board member Lisa Whiting for acknowledging that there is some merit in this viewpoint.

Earlier in the meeting, Gwen McCartt, chair of the Treasurer's Finance Committee presented the recommendation of their committee, which was to put a 9.5 mill levy on the ballot. They explained that they believe more is needed, but that they do not believe a larger levy could be passed.

The Board voted unanimously to put a 9.5mill levy on the ballot in March. Doug Maggied indicated that it's possible that the Board will seek the next levy in two years rather than three. That would be a good thing as the millage required for the second levy could be much less – on the order of 8.5 mills by my calculations.

Now the hard work begins – selling the levy to the community. It would have been easier (but not easy) had the school leadership been building community trust over the past couple of years as I have long recommended. Now all that messaging will have to be done over the roar of the holidays and the Presidential Primary.

And because this Presidential Primary can be expected to draw out extraordinary numbers of voters, the Board cannot count on winning the election with the support of around 11% of the voters (more than half the 20% that typically shows up for Spring elections). If the levy doesn't pass in March, the Board will have little choice but to go back to the voters in November 2008. More importantly, they will have to start the 2008-2009 school year without a clear picture of funding. With cash reserves depleted, severe cutbacks will be necessary to survive should the November 2008 levy request also fail.

The shame is that none of this drama was necessary.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wrong Again: Teacher Salaries Revisited

Once again the Hilliard Northwest News has bobbled a crucial fact in the dialog about teacher compensation and school funding, two powder keg issues before our community right now.
In the November 20, 2007 story titled "Teachers, others show unity at school board meeting," stated that 'the current contract gives teachers annual raises of 3.6%.' This is at best only part of the story.
Near the end of the teachers' current contract is a set of tables labeled Appendix A1, Appendix A2, and Appendix A3. They are the pay tables for years 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The difference between these tables is simply this: the Index Computational Base is increased by 3.65% each year. Appendix A is the table by which this base is multiplied to calculate the exact salary.
For example, for a teacher with 10 years' service and a Masters degree, the factor is 1.6820. If you multiply the 2005 base of $32,678 by this factor, you get $54,964, the same number shown in Appendix A1 for a 10 year teacher with a Masters degree.
The pay for a 10 year teacher in 2006 is calculated by taking the same factor from Appendix A (1.6820) and multiplying by the base of $33,871 in Appendix A2. This is $56,971. Using the same procedure for 2007, you multiply the Appendix A factor by the base in Appendix A3, and get $59,050. It all looks like 3.65% annual increases.
The shortcoming of this analysis is that all three calculations were made using 10 years of service. A teacher with a Masters and 10 years of service in 2005 would have 11 years of service in 2006 and 12 years in 2007. The increase associated with additional years of service is called a 'step increase' by school folk, and is 4.15% under the current contract (Article 29, paragraph B).
Applying both the 3.65% increase to the base, and then the 4.15% step increase, the pay for a teacher with a Masters degree and 10 years service would be $56,971 in 2005, $59,335 in 2006, and $64,053 in 2007. This works out to 7.95% annual increases. You can find these exact numbers on the pay tables in Appendices A1, A2 and A3.
The step increases apply only to teachers with 15 or fewer years of service. After that, there is no step increase until the 20th year of service, again at the 23rd year, and then no step increases at all after that. Under the current contract, the more senior teachers would mostly receive 3.65% increases.
If it the Board's current negotiating position is that they want the teachers to be paid for three more years according to the 2007 pay grid (Appendix A3), what would that mean?
Well, if a teacher has 0-15, 20 or 23 years of service, they still get a 4.15% raise because of the step increases. Other teachers would get no increase at all. But note that the lowest annual salary of most teachers affected by this would be $72,363 – that of a teacher with 15 years of service and a Masters degree (to maintain one's license in Ohio, a teacher must gain a Masters degree within 10 years of starting their career).
If the objective of the Board is to give all teachers a 4% increase, which I think would be reasonable, then one way to get there is to suspend the step increase component for the duration of this contract. But I think we would find that the step increase mechanism is sacred to the teachers' union, and that this approach would never be accepted by them.
Another approach is simply to halve the two factors. Make the step factor be 2% and increase the Index Computation Base 2% each year. Or make the step factor higher and the ICB lower. Just remember that the step factor benefits mainly the younger teachers, while an ICB increase would apply to everyone. There are lots of answers, but you have to understand the question first.
According to the last community survey, the people of our community depend on the Hilliard Northwest News and This Week Hilliard as their primary sources for information about our schools. When the subject is teacher salary negotiations and tax levies, they must get the details right and put them in the correct context, or people will draw the wrong conclusions - leading to unnecessary conflict and undesirable consequences.
Meanwhile, I will do my best to read these news sources and give you further analysis or rebuttal when I think it is warranted. If you don't receive my electronic newsletter, and would like to, you are invited to go to and submit your email address on the sign-up box at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is the Board up to the Challenge?

The first School Board meeting following the election was held November 14, 2007 at the Administrative Annex Building. I attended to hear Treasurer Brian Wilson's presentation of the levy scenarios to the Board.

I had heard the scuttlebutt that some members of the teachers' union (HEA) were going to show up wearing black. I knew I had underestimated how many that would be when I got near the Admin building and saw traffic backed up well down Cemetery Rd trying to get into the parking lot. When I finally got parked, there was a sea of people outside the building, and I could see through the windows that the meeting room was stuffed as well. It was indeed a very large contingent of teachers, dressed in black, accompanied by both TV and print reporters. The teachers stayed through the Pledge of Allegiance, and then silently left. I'm not sure what they were trying to say, other than they're not happy with the way the negotiations on their new contract is going.

Mr. Wilson's presentation was short and anticlimactic. While he prepared scenarios for lesser amounts, it was clear that only the scenario with the largest levy amount, 9.5 mills, was worth discussing.

I do take issue with one sentence in the story about this meeting published in the Hilliard Northwest News. Doug Maggied had asked the question: "Would we be in this situation had we not built the two new schools?" The story recorded Brian Wilson's response as:"The addition of the district's two new academic buildings, Washington Elementary School and Bradley High School, do not impact the need for a new levy, said Wilson." While this statement is factually correct – a levy was going to be needed anyway – the paraphrase reads as though the opening of these new schools has no effect on spending. The size of the levy is most definitely impacted by the opening of these schools. The salary and benefits alone for the staff of Bradley can be expected to be on the order of $8 million of new spending. That by itself requires about 3.5 mills of new taxes.

I fear that this Board's lack of financial acumen is about to amplify our crisis. Even though the 9.5 mill scenario indicated that it might be possible to squeak by to 2011 after about $10 million in spending cuts, it also projected a $22 million deficit for 2012. Here's the point: a 9.5 mill levy has a chance of being sufficient funding until 2011 because we are projected to start 2009 with $11 million in reserve. There's no way that the next levy, in 2011, could be only 9.5 mills when we would be starting out 2012 with a drained bank account. I'm not sure this Board understands this.

It is crucial that the Board look at this with at least a six year forecast horizon. Otherwise they'll be tempted to put an insufficient levy on the ballot this year, and doom the next levy to failure. By my calculations, if the 2008 levy is 9.5 mills, the 2011 levy will need to be 17 mills. These both would be permanent operating levies, meaning that the total increase from today would be 26.5 mills.

We can gripe about the State of Ohio not sending us enough money. The continued indication from the Governor's office is that we shouldn't expect any more, and might be asked to get by on even less.

We can complain that a great deal of money gets wasted in our school district. But 90% of our spending is on the salaries and benefits of the teachers, staff and administrators – nothing else is significant. Sure we could save money with this and that, but it is the salaries and benefits which represents almost all the growth in spending. This isn't a problem – it's a fact of life for an organization that provides professional services (i.e. teaching). Still, we should get answers as to why the number of employees has grown 1.8 times faster than the student population.

The cause of our looming funding crisis is simple – thousands of houses, condos and apartments have been built in our school district over the last decade, bringing with them thousands of kids. The amount of property taxes paid by a homeowner is not enough to pay the cost to house and educate the kids who live there. Don't take my word for it - see what the Buckeye Association of School Administrators has to say.

This has been a freight train roaring down on us for years, but we've never bothered to look over our shoulder. Now it is upon us and there's no one to help.

With the current collapse of the housing market, we might have a chance to stay ahead of the train and maybe put a little distance on it. But only if we buck up and deal with it now.

So how large should this levy really be?

Take a look at this spreadsheet to see what I believe we need to put on the ballot. The top half shows how large the levy should be if we want to pass one levy now and have it last for six years with a reasonable reserve at the end. I think that number is about 19 mills.

The bottom half shows what we need if we plan to start one levy in 2008 and a second in 2011. In that case the 2008 levy would be 14 mills and the 2011 levy about 10.5 mills more. There's no free lunch here, to have a lower rate than 19 mills for the first three years, we need to accept a high rate, 24.5 mills, for the last three.

This decision may be the most important and gut-wrenching decision this Board will have to make. I don't believe they have the skills to analyze this effectively on their own, nor do I believe the Superintendent nor the Treasurer are helpful in pointing out how serious a situation this is. We have a Citizen's Finance Committee, but it doesn't seem to be a part of this discussion (or of anything else for that matter). At a very minimum, this Board needs to bring Member-elect Dave Lundregan into this deliberation, and take advantage of his financial savvy.

As always, I'm ready to help if asked, and told the Board so at the meeting.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Levy Survey

Before mid-December, the School Board needs to decide how large the levy will be on the March 2008 ballot. I'm taking a survey of what people think about this levy, and intend to present the survey results to the School Board as soon as there are a meaningful number of responses.


...note that some important comments remain attached to this message.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Post-Game Analysis

Detailed precinct-by-precinct vote totals are now available at the website of the Franklin County Board of Elections. I spent a little time with the numbers to see what would pop out. Here's some basic statistics:

  • There are 71 precincts in the Hilliard School District.
  • A total of 15,915 votes were cast, with each voter allowed to vote for two candidates. It is a fact that some chose to vote for only one candidate, so the total number of voters was something more than 15,915/2, or 7,958. There are approximately 43,000 registered voters in the school district.
  • While collecting the most votes (4,533), Doug Maggied came in second to Dave Lundregan in the number of precincts won, 28 to 29.
  • Although I came in last place in terms of votes (3,276) and precincts won (8), I beat Dick Hammond in 27 precincts, Doug Maggied in 17, and Dave Lundregan in 14. I was one of the top two vote getters in 20 precincts.
  • The precincts I did best in are in the southern half of the district, but span the whole width of the district. They included Columbus, Brown Twp, and Hilliard precincts, and a range of home values.
  • The flyers seem to have been the best method for telling people about my agenda, although well-place signs seemed to have helped as well – meaning at an intersection and close enough to the road that people who are stopped could read the website address. Too bad a number of these vanished in the last days of the campaign (Norwich Twp officials: was it really necessary to mow 4 days before the election?).

I think the chances are very good that had I distributed an addition 2,000 flyers (I passed out 1,000), I would have won a seat. That's the hard lesson I learned in this election, and the consequence of not seeking any advice from those who have run for office at this level. A friend who sat on the Board of Education for Worthington City Schools says it takes about $3,000 to win a Board seat in these parts. It turns out that my spending would have been about that had I printed the extra 2,000 flyers.

It should be noted that the candidates who won, Doug Maggied and Dave Lundregan, were also the candidates endorsed by the teachers' union, the Hilliard Education Association. The HEA endorsement brings with it two important things: a) the votes of a large fraction of the 1,000 or so members of the union, as well as spouses and maybe other relatives; and, b) financial support in the production of campaign material and the feet on the street to distribute it. One cannot underestimate the weight the HEA brings to the election. I don't know exactly why they chose not to endorse me, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I said if we don't get a levy passed before 2009, we're going to need to lay off a lot of teachers.

It's troubling that the teachers' union can have so much influence on the outcome of a school board election. While most of the time, the Board, the administrators, the teachers, the staff, and the citizens of the district are all focused on delivering a great educational experience to our kids, there are definitely times, like now, when the Board the and the union are on the opposite sides of the table. While lots of ancillary matters are negotiated into the union's collective bargaining agreement, the main topic is compensation and benefits. When the financial situation is challenging, as it is now, it seems like it's very important for the Board members to have undiluted allegiance to the people who elected them.

I think that we'll find out, when the final campaign spending reports are filed in December, that money isn't everything however. I suspect that Dick Hammond spent the most of the four of us. Not only did he mail a full-color, two-sided flyer to the homes of voters, he robo-called many as well. His money came from well recognized politicians, including Mayor Don Schonhardt, State Rep Larry Wolpert, Judge Charles Schneider, and Hilliard City Councilman Brett Sciotto.

Many lessons learned.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thank you!

To the 3,000+ folks who voted for me yesterday: THANK YOU!

It is a humbling experience to put one's name on the ballot and have this many people indicate that they not only agree with what you have to say, but would like you to represent them in carrying it out.

While I came in last place, the spread was not that great:

Doug Maggied*: 4,533 (28%)
Dave Lundregan: 4,452 (28%)
Dick Hammond*: 3,654 (23%)
Paul Lambert: 3,276 (21%)

The defeat is in having only 8,000 out of 43,000 registered voters show up. Apathy was indeed the winner.

I suspect that the votes for me contributed to unseating Dick Hammond and helped Dave Lundregan. The outcome might have been different had I not run, and you folks not voted for me. That's a victory.

Congratulations to Dave Lundregan for winning a seat on the Board - he was who got my second vote. I know Dave from our time serving together on the Board of Trustees of the Hilliard Education Foundation, and am confident that he will bring a good deal of energy, commitment, and financial expertise to the Board. I've offered him my help in any effort to educate the community about school funding - a criticial step toward getting our next levy passed.

Meanwhile, the current Board will continue to serve to the end of 2007. In the next couple of weeks, they will need to decide how large that levy will be when it appears on the May ballot. I fear they will choose to slide by on a relatively small levy, and avoid talking about the magnitude of the funding problem 5-6 years out.

People - you cannot sit on the sidelines now if you want to have a voice in this matter. Call the school board members and tell them want you want. Send them letters and emails. Better yet, show up at the next few school board meetings and let your voice be heard!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Campaign Spending

The October 31, 2007 issue of Hilliard Northwest News included a story on campaign spending. It correctly pointed out that I did not submit a pre-election campaign report. The story also correctly noted that a pre-election campaign report is not required if the candidate neither raises nor spends $1,000 or more.

My campaign spending was this: $225.78 for yard signs and $497.36 for 1,000 campaign flyers. And although I started publishing and this blog well before deciding to run for the School Board, it is probably appropriate to include the $4.16 per month I pay for my hosting accounts for the two months since I filed as a candidate. All in, my spending has been $731.46.

It was interesting to see who contributed to the other candidates. Mr. Hammond is clearly the candidate of the Hilliard political community, with his largest contributors including Mayor Schonhardt ($500), State Rep. Larry Wolpert, City of Hilliard Service Director Butch Seidel, Judge Charles Schneider, and Hilliard Councilman Brett Scioto.

Mr. Lundregan's contributions included many well-known community volunteers with whom he and I have both served on the Hilliard Education Foundation.

The bulk of Mr. Maggied's funding was in the form of a loan.

I solicited no donations, and paid for the signs and flyers out of my own pocket.

I have to admit being a little envious when, while passing out flyers in one neighborhood, I saw a guy who was distributing flyers for both Mr Maggied and Mr Lundregan simultaneously. Since these two are the candidates endorsed by the teachers' union - the Hilliard Education Association - I expect this guy was a union member, or a someone hired by the union.

From my days in a marketing role, I remember this adage vividly: Half of all advertising dollars are wasted - the challenge is figuring out which half.

It's easy to spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign. With a projected 25% voter turnout, few people who saw any of the signs, flyers, etc will follow through at the polls. Spending more money will not change that materially.

My hope is that there are enough people in the community who know me; whom you have spoken to about me; who have read the website, blog and flyers; who understand that my intention is to be anything but yet another standard issue Board member; and who will get out and vote in sufficient numbers to entrust me with a seat on the Board of our community's most important institution.

Next Tuesday, please cast your vote for PAUL LAMBERT.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Big Decisions

Over the next couple of weeks, the Board of Education has two critical and interconnected decisions to make. These two decisions will affect our community for years to come. I think it's a crock that these decisions are being timed so as to fall after the election, so that neither Doug Maggied nor Dick Hammond can be held accountable. The decision will also be made before the new Board is seated in January 08, meaning that one or two of the members might cast their votes as lame ducks.

The first decision is to reach agreement on a new contact with the Hilliard Education Association, the labor union representing our teachers and other staff members. Salaries and Benefits represent 90% of the total operating expenses of the district, projected by the Treasurer to increase from $121 million in 2007 to $172 million in 2012. This $52 million increase represents 96% of the total increase in spending by the end of 2012, and calculates out to a compound annual growth rate of 9.3%.

I attended the Board meeting this week (11/29, at Hoffman Trails Elementary), and was the only member of the public who rose to address the Board during the time for public comments. My request was simply this: Before the Board takes the vote to ratify the HEA contract, please publish the contract on the district website so as to give the public a chance to review, analyze and comment. I asked the Board to seek community input prior to their decision. There was no response from the Board, and my guess is that they will ignore my request.

The Ohio Sunshine Laws allows the Board to use Executive Sessions when "preparing for, conducting, or reviewing negotiations or bargaining sessions with employees." However, they must vote on the contract in a meeting open to the public. It is appropriate, in my opinion, for the Board members to comment on their reasons for believing the contract is a good deal for the community.

The second decision is a derivative of the first: How large will the next operating levy have to be - the one that will be on the ballot in the Spring?

More than six months ago, I wrote that based on my analysis of the 2006 Treasurer's Five Year Forecast, that this levy would need to be on the order of 16 mills. However, the Board has in mind that it will be less. The Treasurer has even stated that "It will be less than 10 mills."

At this week's Board meeting, the Treasurer presented his new Five Year Forecast. As of the time of this posting, this new forecast is not available online, but Mr. Wilson was good enough to give me a hardcopy.

The news isn't getting better. Revenue and spending continue to diverge, so the numbers for 2012 look worse than 2011. The accumulated funding shortfall by the end of 2012 is now projected to be on the order of $111 million, with a burn rate of $45 million/yr.

I've built a spreadsheet*, using the Treasurer's numbers, to estimate the number of mills required to raise this much money. A key factor is one I got from the Franklin County Auditor's office: 1 mill of taxation raises $2.4 million based on the April 2007 tax base. Here's what the analysis suggests:

One option is to ask the community to take on a single levy that will provide enough funding for six years (assuming the State of Ohio doesn't further cut our funding). To ensure that our General Fund Balance remains at least 10% of our operating expenses, which is current Board policy, the levy would need to be 17.7 mills.

Another option is to pass one levy this Spring, knowing that another levy will need to go on the ballot in May 2011. Let's assume that both levies are for the same millage. Again, to ensure that the General Fund Balance stays at least 10% of operating expenses, both levies would need to be 11.9 mills. One can mistakenly believe this sounds better, but what it means is that we would be paying 11.9 additional mills for the first three years, then 23.8 mills for the last three years.

But here's what I believe the Board is thinking: Let's get as small a levy on the ballot as we can in 2008, and we'll put off the bad news not only until after this election, but after the upcoming levy vote as well. Their fear is that if the levy request is too large, it won't pass, and they would rather be underfunded a couple of years out than in a crisis next year.

So what if a 9.5 mill levy were put on the ballot on May 08?

The first consequence will be that our General Fund will be exhausted by the end of 2011. Another crisis will be looming. To restore the General Fund Balance to 10% of operating expenses, we would need to pass another levy in 2011 for 16.4 mills. As a consequence, from 2011 forward, we will be paying nearly 26 mills more than now.

That 26 mills represents a 61.5% increase in our current property taxes.

Does that wake you up?

The Board of Education is elected to serve the people of the community, acting as our agents in the management of the school system. Unfortunately, our Board of Education has developed a mindset over the years that their mission is to manage the community and manipulate us into passing levies by appealing to our emotions (Do you love your kids? Then vote for the levy).

By failing to educate our community about school funding, and by not being open and clear on financial matters, our School Board will find that the community will be suprised and shocked when the truth of our funding mess comes to light. It will take years to recover from the resulting loss of trust...

... if something doesn't change - right now.

I'd like to drive that change from a seat on the School Board. If you agree, please tell all your Hilliard friends to make the effort to get to the polls next Tuesday (11/6), and cast a vote for PAUL LAMBERT.

* If you would like a copy of this spreadsheet, email me at

Charter Schools: Good or Bad?

The Oct 31 issue of Hilliard Northwest News ran a story titled: "Charters Cost Hilliard Schools over $1 Million"

Let's take a look at some numbers:
  • According to the District website, the total spending per pupil is $9,860/yr
  • The above article says $1.2 million in state aid was "diverted" to charter schools to fund 175 students.

Doesn't $1.2 million divided by 175 students work out to about $6,860 per student?

Why is it that the charter school can get a kid educated for 70% of what it takes our school district?

Isn't it true that if a kid withdraws from Hilliard City Schools and transfers to a charter school, the district is relieved of $9,860 of cost, but loses only $6,860 of funding? Doesn't that mean the district is $3,000 better off?

Some will say that I don't understand the difference between fixed costs and variable costs, or that this needs to be analyzed on a marginal-cost basis. Actually I understand these concepts quite well, and will be the first to say that my comparison above is not alone sufficient to draw a conclusion. But the facts suggest that having kids go to charter schools and take a little funding with them does not cause harm to the school district.

Why are parents pulling their kids from our district schools to send them to charters anyway?

Dick Hammond, a incumbant Board member and candidate for re-election, was criticized by the teacher's union for sitting on the Board of a for-profit charter school. He defended his position at the 'Meet the Candidates' night, saying charter schools "could not exist if public schools were doing all they could be doing for all the kids in the district." I agree. "Hilliard," Mr Hammond went on to say, "has few students in charter schools, because needs are being met."

If out of a population of 15,000 students, 175 (1.2%) choose to attend charter schools, does that signal a failure of the school district?

Of course not, but it may mean that the school district is failing to serve particular kids. As a parent, I understand that my first priority is my kids, and the viability of the school district a distant second. I don't really care, many will say, if the school system is serving your kids well, but I will certainly fight for mine.

As long as it is only a small fraction of the kids who are transfering to charter schools, what harm is there to the district?

The fear is that these first charter schools are the tip of the iceberg. After all, if 500 elementary kids transfer to charter schools, the district could conceivably shut down an entire elementary school and lay off all the teachers, administrators and staff employed there. That makes it easy to understand why the teachers' union would be opposed to charter schools. Doug Maggied is often heard to say "It's all about the kids." Is it really?

I don't understand why any Board members would take a position in opposition to charter schools. Why not instead try to figure out why those 175 kids chose to leave our school system, and see if there is a common theme?

One of these days we'll break out of this mode of thinking where public schools with exclusive service territories is the only way to organize public education.