Monday, December 3, 2007

Wrong Yet Again: Magnitude of Cuts

This story in the November 28, 2007 issue of Hilliard Northwest News is an accurate reflection of the School Board meeting on November 26 - except for one very important set of numbers.

Treasurer Brian Wilson stated that, in a "worse case scenario" in which the upcoming 9.5 mill permanent operating levy does not pass, the spending cuts would need to be $3.9 million starting in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, $18.2 million starting in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and $3.1 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

So far so good. But the Northwest News added these numbers together and reported that a total of $25.2 million in spending cuts would be enacted.

The correct interpretation of Mr. Wilson's statement (confirmed to me by Mr. Wilson) is that $3.9m would be cut from 2008 to 2011 (3 years = $11.7m), $18.2m from 2009 to 2011 (2 years = $36.4m), and $3.1m in the last year, totaling $51.4 million.

Big difference. I doubt that the Board or Administration will take any steps to get a correction printed by Hilliard Northwest News.

So what does that mean?

Since 90% of the operating funds go for salaries, let's assume 90% of the cost reductions must come from staff reductions (layoff, no replacements, etc). Based on the cost and headcount numbers for 2006, the average salary and benefits for a HCSD employee is $71,000/yr. So:

  • To cut $3.9m starting in the first year means $3.5m (90%) in salaries & benefits, or 49 employees.
  • The next year is harder. To remove $18.2m total requires $16.4m in employee costs. That means 230 people.
  • In the last year, the salary and benefits cut would be 90% of $3.1 million, or $2.8 million. That would require another 39 to be removed from the payroll.

This numbers are gross approximations. The jobs eliminated might not be in the same proportion as the overall job distribution. Since there are about 1,600 employees of the district, and only 900 are in the classroom, one would hope most of the reductions would happen in the 700 other positions.

A little of that might be healthy. But we also have to recognize that a service that seems optional or even superfluous to one might be felt to be a necessity by others. Cutting over 300 people from the payroll would be noticed by virtually everyone.

If we don't want our community to melt down, these things need to happen:
  1. The leadership of the district - the School Board, the Administration, and the union leaders - have to give everyone a fundamental understanding of how school funding works, and how the money gets spent. There is too much ignorance and distrust in our community right now. I've been harping on this for years.

    This lack of information leads folks to blame the school leadership for all of our funding ills. It's really not their fault - our community has been screwed up by unmanaged development. It is the mayors and city councils, not school leadership, who controls this.
  2. All of us in the community must look past our selfish perspectives and really think about what is good for the community as a whole. Most of the 80,000 people who live in our district came here because of the schools. In doing so, we participated in the creation of the funding problem. We can start taking control of the future, but past damage is done, and now we're seeing the cost.

I'm a Ronald Reagan fan, but I have to agree with a comment a friend once made about Reagan's administration: "It was like he invited the whole country to big steak dinner, then left without picking up the check."

I think we can say the same about our local politicians. How do they keep getting re-elected?



  1. The salary info on superintendents in the latest Northwest News was interesting inasmuch as Hilliard was actually not overpaying ours given our district size. Of course I believe we're way overpaying with respect to the quality of job ours is doing, but...

    I tend to think that a good superintendent is worth his weight in gold, just as a good CEO is. But the problem is there are few of either, so the salaries in both cases get inflated. It's as if people keep hoping to get a "superstar" by overpaying some schlub, and it ends up benefitting all the other schlubs. I guess the problem with superintendents is that there are more jobs than qualified applicants.

    Actually all I ask is a little transparency. They don't need to be that great at their job, they just need to let us know what's going on. Sometimes I long for the days of the old one-room schoolhouse where you at least learned how to read and you didn't have the amazing amount of overhead in the form of administrators and infrastructure.

  2. In large community like ours, the superintendent must have a strong team of executives to whom he/she can delegate a substantial amount of the admin/ops stuff so the superintendent can focus on all the connections between the school district and the outside world.

    It's not just transparency, although that's a good start. The superintendent needs to assertively champion the cause of the school district with the state and local politicans who have the greatest influence on our burden and funding; and be able to rally the people of the community to the effort.

    The first step is to get the mayors and city councils on our side instead of the side of the developers and homebuilders. But we won't get there until the people go to the polls and demand a change.

    A great superintendent would take off on this mission whether or not the Board backs him up. But a strong Board that backs a good superintendent works too.

    I'm optimistic that with new members Dave Lundregan and Lisa Whiting, we may see a different Board come January.

  3. I have lower expectations in that I don't really expect anything other than transparency. Fifty percent of people are going to be mediocre or worse at their jobs, and we're stuck with one of them in that lower half - but a little transparency atones for many sins.

    I think a great Superintendent would tell us that the mayor & city council our at fault...i.e. wouldn't be afraid to ruffle a few feathers and tell us the truth rather than give us this "it's all about the children" neverending story.