Saturday, February 23, 2008


The newest edition of the school district's newsletter, Passing Notes, was delivered to our mailbox today. Appropriately, the front page story is the levy we'll be voting on in just ten days as I write this. The wording is - again appropriately - the same language used in the communications from the levy campaign committee.

In doing so, it repeats some statements which I think can be misconstrued, as I've previously reported:
  • The cause of rising costs in the district is not inflation, but rather the steady increase of personnel costs - salaries and benefits. Some of this increase is due to raises for existing employees, some for increases in benefit costs, and some for increases in staffing. While I understand some of the staffing increases - for example you expect the number of teachers to rise proportionately with the number of students - some job categories have increased much faster than student growth. It would be good to know why.
  • If a levy is not passed in the next year, the effect will be $50 million in reduced spending, not the $25 million reported.
  • It is confusing to say the "Levy is expected to last 3 years" when it is actually a Permanent Operating Levy that will be attached to our property forever (at least until some significant funding reform takes place) at the rate of $291 per $100,000 of market value. What the Board means is that they don't expect to have to ask for more funding for three years. But that will depend on how the HEA negotiations turns out (which automatically adjusts the OAPSE contract as well).
  • "Stretching the Dollars" actually means going longer than expected without asking for an increase in funding. But all the levies in force continue generating revenue for the schools. This levy will collect about $20 million more per year from us, year in and year out, and that is not affected by how long it is until the next levy request.

Some will say this is just semantics. That's fine. I prefer to call it clarification. If I've confused you instead, please leave a comment and I'll give it another try.


  1. Good points all, including the borderline-dishonest "levy is expected to last 3 years" when it's actually permanent, but for me the key point is that the inflation referred to is actually inflation of students and overhead, not inflation as the commonly used economic term.

    That last point is the most important because we'll never try to solve the problem until we understand the problem.

    It's discouraging that the school district requires an "interpreter" such as yourself in order to get a handle on what's really happening. At some point this lack of transparency may cost the district.

  2. We bought our Hilliard house ten years ago and paid about $2300 in taxes. Plugging the $2300 into an inflation calculator based on the Consumer Price Index over the past ten years, I would've expected to pay about $3,011 today. If this levy passes I'll be paying north of $4,300 with no end in sight. That difference is the cost of a week's vacation to, say, Myrtle Beach.

    Mr. Lambert says, "If you extrapolate the Treasurer's forecast out further, we can expect to have a levy on the order of 10 mills on the ballot around every three years for the foreseeable future."

    This means at least an extra $600 in 2011 and 2014. Which means in 2014 we'll pay, roughly, a minimum of $5,500 in property taxes and conservatively $6000 with the normal inflation of non-school city services. That estimate works out to $500 a month, up from $191 a month.

    When I finally pay off my house I expected to have the thrill of "no house payment" except for a small stipend property tax. Instead, we'll be stuck to what amounts to a small house payment in the form of a permanent large property tax bill which - unlike the principle and interest on a loan - will increase forever.

    I realize schools are only part of the property tax bill, but this wasn't what I signed up for. We chose Hilliard over Dublin in part because of smaller property taxes combined with decent schools. I'm not sure of Dublin's taxes, but it turns out we likely would've gotten better schools at the same price.

    There are going to be a lot of hurting seniors not just now, but even more so in the future thanks to a school and city administrators who show no evidence of caring about the average taxpayer.

  3. I thought we employed all kinds of
    pr people in the district at pretty good salaries. This is the best they can do ?

  4. Anonymous: I think it's costing the school district right now. I'm sensing a ground-swell within the community and I fear it could be a painful few years as a result. And maybe it's best to have a "correction" in how things are done in Hilliard NOW rather than later. And the "pain" felt today may result in a better tomorrow.

    However, as Paul and others have said, I hope we don't use the current levy as our weapon of choice. Eventually, this levy will have to pass to reduce overcrowding and to maintain the level of education we all want for our children. So, perhaps failing the levy isn't the best approach.

    Remember, we have other voting options (BOE, city leaders, state leaders, federal leaders, etc) that can result in positive change. We also have our VOICE. Which those of us on this blog tend to want to leverage. However, it takes more than griping to each other on this limited site.

    We need a concerted effort and a clear message and vision with precise goals that we want to accomplish.

    Simply put... Bitching here won't due much good other than bring those of us who want to fix the problem together.

    I hope we pass the levy.... then organize and allow democracy and the conversations afforded to us under that democracy to leverage change with the BOE and leaders of our city, state, and nation.

    If we really want to do change this situation, let's all come together and CREATE change. If not, we are just going to keep griping every 3 or 4 years when our pocketbooks are hit.

    Unfortunately, we HAVE to pass Issue 26. To fail it, is irresponsible and ony hurts the kids. However, this COULD be the beginning of the end of Levy-Mania as we have come to know it. But ONLY if we have ACTION from the community.

    That's us!!!

  5. I fear that everyone has been pointing fingers, but no one has even mentioned the "mayor" of Hilliard in all of this. The way I see it, he has hurt this city the most. I keep seeing houses been built, small "strip centers" that won't bring in any taxes, and a huge strip center that isn't filled where Webb Junk's used to be. At what point is there going to be a ground swell AGAINST the very government that is allowing this growth? Sign me up when we start voting AGAINST the current mayor and city council whose actions have created the catalyst which has created "the perfect storm".
    Now that is a committee I'll join!

  6. No one?

    Long-time readers of this blog and the companion website know that I am no fan of Mayor Schonhardt, and that I very much hold him accountable for allowing the economic balance of our community to get so screwed up.

    My first communication to the Board on this topic was over seven years ago. No action.

    After being interviewd by a reporter for the Northwest News, I wrote a long briefing memo in Feb 2006. They didn't care.

    Here is a copy of a statement I read to the Board of Education at their regular meeting in April 2006 - nearly two years ago.

    I have also written many Letters to the Editor. One I wrote in 2006 elicited a strong response from City Services Director Butch Seidel defending the Mayor.

    I'm the one who stood up at the School Board meeting when the purchase of the Emmelhainz property was announced and asked how they were going to get water when Homewood Homes owned the entire stretch of between the terminus of the existing water lines and the Bradley High School site. Then (and current) President Denise Bobbitt said they didn't know. Well, I did. It turned out worse than I expected.

    And finally I made the decision to run for School Board last fall. This topic was the main theme of my campaign, and got decent coverage in the local papers. I came in last place.

    The truth is that few people cared about this stuff until this levy got put on the ballot.

    Thats okay - I understand. I didn't care either for the first 20 years I lived in the Hilliard community.

    I'm very encouraged by the interest which has developed in the last few weeks. I hope it lasts past the levy vote in ten days. That's the idea of the grass-roots movement KJ has suggested.

    Anyone interested in participating, just email me.


  7. Paul, Help! I'm confused as ever. I received the "Vote for Issue 26" pamphlet in today's mail. The new levy is 9.5 mills. The existing levy on the books (according to the Franklin County Auditor's website) is 9.5 mills. So, I'm guessing this new levy isn't a REPLACMENT levy but and ADDITIONAL levy of 9.5 for a total of 19 mills. Am I reading this correctly, or is this all more crazy school board chicanery? By the way, sometimes tightening of the budget belt allows for creativity. I'll 'probably' vote for the levy but my vote is on the fence.

  8. This is a new, permanent levy. It will be added to the property tax you already pay, and will never expire (ie your property tax will forever increase from what it is today by $291 per $100,000 market value).

    This was true of the last levy as well - whatever the increase was for you then - it will never go away.

    To my knowledge, all of the operating levies on the books are permanent.

    And we'll be asked to pass additional permanent operating levies of this magnitude about every three years unless we get the local funding picture straightened out. Here's a place to start if you want understand the truth about all this.

  9. Sorry for the bum email link above. Here's the correct one:


  10. does anyone find the calculation in the booklet a little misleading? market value x .35 x .0095 x .875 = annual cost. This calculation doesn't take into account the amount of money you already pay to the school system. This calculation just tells you how much MORE you have to pay a year. they also state the new levy will only cost 80 cents a this based on a 365 day year or the school year? doesn't it cost less to "run" a school system during the summer?

  11. Now you're beginning to understand what I've been harping about. The School Board has never said anything that was a lie, but it wasn't quite obvious what they were saying either.

    The 80 cents/day is just $291/yr (the amount per $100,000 in home market value your taxes will go up if the levy passes) divided by 365, and not supposed to literally mean that's how much is spent each day.


  12. I want to clarify a point I made a couple of comments back:

    your property tax will forever increase from what it is today by $291 per $100,000 market value

    Note that due to a law commonly called HB920, you property tax associated with this levy will never increase either. In other words, if this levy adds $500 to your tax bill, it will stay $500, and not increase in the event the County Auditor reappraises your home to a higher value.

    Our Superintendent thinks HB920 is a bad thing. That's because he wants a revenue system that automatically raises taxes without voter approval.

    He also supports the "Getting Right for Ohio's Future" (GIRFOF) amendment which would let the State Board of Education decide how much school tax we pay, and has convinced the School Board that GIRFOF is a good thing.

    I disagree.

  13. KJ, whom I mostly agree with, says, "I hope we don't use the current levy as our weapon of choice."

    But if not now, when? If not this weapon which?

    Is it really a "better" solution to fail the next levy three years from now? Or the one after that? Let's face it, it's going to be business as usual until a levy fails.

    Does either Paul or KJ have a best case scenerio for how things change in the district? Paul himself says that we're going to have 10 mil levies every 3 yrs as far as the eyes can see.

  14. Well, I do think there is a better choice. The better choice is to not have to fail ANY levies. By using the next 2 or 3 years to engage with the BOE and seek accountabliity, change, and communication. By working together the next few years we will hopefully cut costs but also provide a level of transparency that allows for better accountablility and a better informed community such that voting for levies is necessary less often. And when they are necessary, require little education of the public as they will have been a partner in the process all along and do not require education.

    My point is that for this levy (Whether it pass in March, November, or the following March) WILL need to pass to open Bradley. Not a lot can be done to change that. However, A LOT can be done between now and the next levy to ensure we are being fiscally responsible.

    That's what I meant by using this levy as a weapon. Failure of the current levy does little to fix the overall problem. And in large part it IS a necessary levy to operate our schools. Now, what can we do to ensure we don't have a levy every 3 years? That's up to US and what we do over the next 3 years to become partners with the BOE.

  15. Anon:

    Here is what I think should be done, as I described during my campaign for a seat on the School Board last November.

    We have to stop continued construction of residential housing without at least an equal amount of commercial development. Mayor Schonhardt in particular, and to some degree Mayor Coleman, have gotten off scot-free on this. The School Board thinks they're powerless in this matter, but they're absolutely wrong. All they had to do was educate and motivate the community.

    Meanwhile our Superintendent and the School Board are infatuated with the notion that the State of Ohio should take over school funding. While that would make the job of the Superintendent and the School Board easier, and create what is essentially a guaranteed employment package for educators, it is not in the best interest of our community.

    Impact fees are the single most powerful funding tool we could have, but state law currently does not include impact fees as a school funding choice. Our own State Rep Larry Wolpert sponsored HB299 three years ago, but got no support from our School Board. So HB299 was ground to dust by the homebuilding lobby - never making it to the floor for a vote.

    The bottom line is that we need to retake control of our school district if we want things to change. That won't happen unless the people of our community rise up and engage in the process.

  16. Thanks Paul, that makes sense.

    Would strategically it make sense to try to identify and fund and support a candidate to oppose our current mayor when he comes up for re-election?

  17. I agree with anon, it is really the only way to get the board, the HEA and the admin. attention.

    Bradley is the focus, but based
    on the fact that the board will not allow any questions or discussions on the current contract where money could be saved by adjustment of the premium package that the staff enjoys including the admin. folks, so
    how else do you send the message

    Paul sent out a great overview
    of the article in the NW News
    about who is paying to fund this campaign. Just like trying to get elected to office, a plain regular jane or joe cant pull it off because of the huge campaign contributions.

    We get overwhelmed by the pr campaign, with thousands of dollars spent by those who benefit from our tax dollars financially.

    I am still voting for the levy only because of Bradley, but the reactions of the board, admin, the HEA is not making it easy.

    I fear this levy is going down
    and not just because of local issues
    Gas is getting higer, Food prices it was just reported jumped over
    6% and is in line to go up another
    6% this year. Ohio has 9th largest foreclosure rates. There is also
    a MRDD levy on the ballot. We are looking at higher fees from the city, and possible increase in our income tax.

    I dont believe that many people have confidence that the schools are holding the line.
    The HEA response given the premium
    compensation increases, health care
    and then talking about working to the contract, graduation issues
    etc. does not sit well

    Perhaps we will get lucky, but I doubt that after it passes anything will change. Large raises will continue, more adm. more staff
    NOT related to Bradley opening.
    It is what it is.

    Great appreciation to Paul on this stuff.

  18. Absolutely. We also have to pay attention to the City Council elections. I still haven't figured out why Mike Cope would give up his Hilliard City Council seat to run (successfully) for Norwich Township Trustee - especially since townships have diminishing political power in Ohio. We need to keep our eye on this.

    Unfortunately over half the households in the Hilliard City School district lie outside the boundary of the City of Hilliard. So many folks, including me, cannot cast a vote for Hilliard Mayor or City Council member.

    But that doesn't mean we have no role in the campaign process!

  19. It has been said by a superintendent of Hiliard City Schools that Bradley WILL open as scheduled, regardless of whether this levy passes.

  20. Though I respect kj, I could not disagree more.

    I agree that communication, education, etc. between the BOE and community are critical. If that was the case, where has the board been since the last levy to foster this?

    If this levy passes, it will be business as usual until the BOE "needs" our support again and starts flooding my mailbox and the NWN with the importance of the issues. Why not work on those as vigorously between the levies as 6 months before? There seems to be lots of excuses why the levy is needed, but never any answers from the BOE or city why they never fix anything.

    IF this levy supported only Bradley, I probably would vote for it. But unfortunately, the board has lumped it together with the same $$ to fund excessive step/wage increases and outrageous health care subsidies COMPLETELY out of whack with both private industry and other districts (ever ask SWCS what their health premiums are..they are much more than Hilliard...I asked).

    Will the levy pass eventually, yes. But I DO NOT agree that our board is using the funding propoerly. I think our teachers and staff are paid too much with too generous of benefits. If times were good, fine. But times are not good, and I do not feel the school employees are "feeling the pain".

    I heartily disagree with the characterization that this levy has to pass "because of Bradley". As noted above, I probably would vote for a Bradley only levy (and as I recall, only less than 20% of this levy is needed for Bradley). This levy is about much more than one school. Bradley is an issue, but only one issue within a larger levy, the remainder of which I disagree with.