Thursday, January 31, 2008

In Support of the Levy

The formal campaign in support of the 9.5 mill Permanent Operating Levy is now underway, with the website up and the official campaign brochure posted online.

While I'm happy that the theme of the campaign is not the typical "if you love your kids, vote for the levy" approach, the information given still lacks any real depth. It does not say, for example, that 90% of the operating costs of the district are the salaries and benefits of the teachers, staff and administration, or that it is the rate in which salaries and benefits increase which is driving the need for this additional levy. This is not a criticism of teacher salaries, but rather disappointment that such vital information is withheld.

There is one misrepresentation in the brochure that warrants mentioning: the gap between projected revenue and projected expenses is $4 million in 2008-09, $18.2 million in 2009-10, and $3 million in 2010-11, but the total impact is $51 million, not $25 million (go here for further discussion).

I will once more cringe at the characterization that "State law does not allow a public school district’s property tax revenues to rise with inflation or increased costs." What state law (HB920) does not allow is for your tax bill to increase just because your home is reappraised at a higher value. Most would believe that's a good thing, but not our school leadership.

I wish the campaign team would explain out why in the past 10 years, the number of employees in the district (including teachers, administrators and staff) has grown at 1.8 times the rate of student growth. Note that this disproportionate growth is in job categories other than regular classroom teachers, which has remained at a 20:1 student/teacher ratio for the last decade. It's not just the raise and benefits packages that are generating increased costs, it's the total number of employees on the payroll.

The campaign committee is asking community members to host in-home neighborhood meetings - inviting officials from the school district or the campaign committee to speak.

If you would like to hold a home meeting, I volunteer to be the speaker. I have developed a presentation that tells the Big Picture story in a way few hear in our community. Those who have heard it so far seem to agree.

Contact me at if you are interested.


  1. I wish the campaign team would explain out why in the past 10 years, the number of employees in the district (including teachers, administrators and staff) has grown at 1.8 times the rate of student growth.

    A school teacher family member seems to attribute this is due to a) No Child Left Behind and b) great influx of kids who can't speak English.

    (It would be interesting to compare that 1.8 ratio to other school districts facing the same issues.)

    I assume the factors mentioned would explain the increase in tutors, but as I recall there were a lot more than tutors hired.

    Regardless, based on the administrative salary hikes and other wage increases I've seen in the past, the insensitivity displayed to taxpayers is astonishing. I'll never understand why a Hilliard A.D. can command north of $80K as of 2001.

  2. TS: I don't know what the job duties are of an AD in our school district, but would observe that $80K is around what a teacher with a Masters + 15 and 23 years of experience would make. Seems like a teacher would hit 23 years of experience in their mid-40s. Is that about the age of the AD? Maybe $80K isn't out of whack comparatively, but again I don't know if the AD has a stressful 80 hour week kind of role, or it's a cakewalk.

    I grew up in a management environment where my budget numbers were thoroughly scrutinized, and numbers like this 1.8 headcount growth multiple would definitely attract attention. I could not imagine going to a budget review with my boss and not have a very good explanation.

    And therein lies the problem. The public is perceived as neither the owner nor the customer by the school leadership. They see the need to ask the community for more money as a damn nuisance when they should view it as an opportunity to deepen the partnership.

  3. Wow - 10 mills per year every 3 years for the foreseeable future. This is bad enough unto itself, but then figure in the property value change done by the county every 3 or 4 years, and this is a huge amount. I'm not sure I could afford this going forward. If this truly comes to pass, I might need to move my family out of the district to get out from under the burden of these increases. I think there are other districts around that also offer good education at a more reasonable price.

  4. Actually, the triennial reappraisals you're talking about don't cause your property taxes to go up. There was a law passed in 1972, commonly referred to as HB920, which prevents your property taxes from increasing just because your house is appraised to a higher value. It was championed by George Voinovich at a time when the redevelopment of downtown Cleveland was causing real estate values to skyrocket, and creating situations where people - especially seniors and low income folks - were being taxed out of their homes.

    So if your home has a market value of $200,000, this 9.5 mill levy will cost you $582 per year ($291 per $100,000 of market value). If at the next appraisal, the County Auditor sets the market value of your home to $250,000, this levy will still cost you $582 per year.

    However, if after being reappraised for $250,000, another 9.5 mill levy is passed, that levy will cost you $727.50 per year.

    By the way, Superintendent Dale McVey wants to make the protections of HB920 go away. It is his opinion that the school district should automatically get more money just because your house gets reappraised. He says the district needs to be able to 'keep up with inflation.'

    Well the thing that drives up school costs is the salaries and benefits of the teachers, administrators and staff, and this cost has been going up a rate much higher than inflation.

    The truth is that neither the change in home values nor the change in the salary/benefit package for the school employees are necessarily reflective of inflation. In fact, the County Auditor has indicated that in the next reappraisal, there may be little or no change in market valuations.

    So if the Superintendent wants to to work without a raise for the next three years, that's okay with me.