Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eight Minutes...

... that's how long the public portion of the School Board meeting was last night.

The Board then retired to Executive Session, as is their custom after every meeting.

There were maybe eight people in the audience who were not school employees or reporters.

To the 12,000 people who voted against the levy - if you want things to change, your involvement needs to be more than just casting a vote. Here's some things you can do:
  • Get educated on the basics of school economics. While you are certainly welcome to do the research on your own, I've spent a lot of time over the past few years pulling information together, and I'll be happy to spend time with any person or any gathering of people who want to know more.
  • Attend a School Board meeting. The schedule is posted on the District's website. I'm not suggesting that you attend every meeting, but go to a couple to observe the process our Board uses to make decisions. I recommend taking a moment to read this guide from the Ohio School Board Association first.
  • Ask questions of and give feedback to our Board members and senior Administrators.

It is not sufficient to just armchair-quarterback when it comes to our schools. Our leaders need to hear from vast silent majority, not just the small circle of folks who (thankfully) volunteer for everything.


  1. Paul,

    I've been following your blog and thought I would throw out a question to you. I am from a very large school district (Lakota Local Schools in SW Ohio). Now, this is from Wikipedia but I just read the following about their system:

    - 2004-05 Ohio School Report Card: Lakota met 22 of the 23 state indicators

    - Lakota is Ohio's largest "Excellent" district five years running.

    - Per-pupil spending: $8,026 ($992 less than the State average)

    - 2006-07 National Merit Semifinalists: 10

    - College attendance rate: 90%

    - Student attendance rate: 96.2%

    - Graduation rate: 96.1%

    - Square miles in district: 68

    - Enrollment: 17,422 (October 2005)

    I would have to say that the community is a lot like here. It consists of primarily residential and even a few remaining farms (there were a lot of farms when I lived there eons ago). I don't believe there is any industry and just the basic retail. I wonder how their "per student" spending is so much lower than Hilliard but their rating seems to remain high?

    Just a question. I realize you may not know the answer.

  2. You ask a great question. I don't know the answer, but I'll try to do a little digging.

    In the meantime, a blogger over in Bexley named Bonobo wrote a pretty interesting paper about year ago on the correlation between funding and performance. Bonobo is a statistician by profession, so his observations merit serious consideration.

    The graph on page 3 goes a little to your question. Notice that for the largest districts, the higher the PPS, the lower the Performance Index.

    Page 7 has another interesting graph - the performance of a district is directly related to the amount of money that comes from local sources. We have to be careful in ascribing causality however. It's not as simple as saying that the more schools are funded locally (i.e. with property taxes), the better the kids perform.

    The chain of causality is probably something more like the higher the local funding, the higher the wealth of the community, which means the higher the educational level of the parents, which means more emphasis is placed on the value of education and learning, which creates a population of kids who are likely to perform, on average, very well.

    In other words, you can't make a district better by cutting back its state funding and making it pay more of its own freight. However, for different reasons, this is exactly what's happening in Hilliard as the State continues to freeze its funding to us.

    Bonobo's conclusions are interesting:
    1. The more local funding, the higher the performance (I believe for the reasons I just stated)
    2. The more state and federal funding, the lower the performance (similarly, high levels of outside subsidy is an indicator of poverty, not that more money makes things worse)
    3. In a high-performing district, more funding leads to higher performance (this might be an extension of #1 - the more a district spends, the higher the average income of its residents generally)
    4. In a low-performing district, more funding leads to lower performance (I agree - money isn't always the problem)
    5. Local money is better than State/Federal subsidy (once again, performance ties to affluence, and less so to spending)

    I know this isn't your question. You asking why it is that HCSD spends a lot more money than Lakota yet turns has lower scores.

    One place to start is looking at the details of the respective report cards, in particular the demographics. Our school district was dinged primarily because there are minority subgroups who did not perform as well as the average. Does Lakota have to deal with a significant immigrant population (and if they do, are the minority groups performing better)?

    How about the household imcome in Lakota? As Bonobo showed (indirectly), affluence ties directly to performance.

    I'll also try to find some personnel breakdowns for Lakota. I think the State Board of Education standardizes job classifications, so that should make comparisons pretty easy.

    More later...

  3. Paul, if the public session lasts only 8 minutes, is there a particular reason to even attend? Not being a cynic here, just curious as to what was discussed in that 8 minutes.

  4. That's the point: nothing was discussed, so my presumption is that all meaningful dialog took place in Executive Session, which is a violation of State Law.

    Or, they rarely discuss anything meaningful at all, and simply rubber stamp everything that's put before them by the Superintendent and Treasurer.

    Whichever the case, the only way we're going to change this behavior is to show up at the meetings and tell them this is unacceptable.

    Here's an example of how the BOE of Olentangy Schools talks to their community.

    They passed their levy last week by the way.

  5. So the eight minutes last night included time for residents to talk (such as ask them not to do everything in executive sessions)?

    I guess it's a sort of catch-22; nothing very important is done at the board mtg so few show up and few show up because not much is done in board mtgs.

  6. Eight minutes for the whole thing from the Call to Order to Adjournment to Executive Session.

    I just discovered that Olentangy posts the audio recording of their meeting online as well as the formal minutes. They start out by saying that they will allocate up to 30 minutes for public comments - 5 minutes per speaker.

    Our Board doesn't give an overall time limit - and I've witnessed them giving the public a lot of time, such as during the meeting when the purchase of the Bradley site was voted on, or when the last redistricting decision was made. Individual speakers are limited to 3 minutes.

    I listened to a little of Olentangy's Jan 22 and Feb 26 minutes. The first meeting was 40 minutes, and the second one an hour. The first one had a 16 min Executive Session beforehand to talk about property purchase.

  7. I'm in. Although I fear my commitment to help will be construed as negative. I admit, I've been very vocal with some disppointment (privately with leadership)and I think that has put me at arms-length with them. I trust that over time I will be seen as a concerned parent and community member who recognizes the challenges we face and wants to be a part of the solution.

    My goal is to help get levies passed. They are necessary evils! We can, and have, argued the merits of the magnitude and frequency of these levies, but we can't get away from them entirely. And a 9-ish mil levy WILL be required soon. Even with $4M in cuts and everyone (HEA, Admin, etc) doing their part. I'm so worried that this groundswell by the community (as manifested in a 57-43 defeat of the levy last week)will result failure to pass the critical levy on November or in the elections that follow. I am really nervous that we are going to end up with a $14M to $18M shortfall in Year 09/10.

    I did send an email the campaign committee to sign up to help. I encourage others to do the same. One thing I learned last night was that we had fewer parents involved in the last campaign than in previous years. One may ask why (which is a lesson learned) and how we may attract more involvement. Why were there fewer parents this year than in the past? We need to understand that so we can get more involved.

    I'm putting action to my concerns and am joining in the solution. Will others join me? Or are we going to sit on the sidelines and complain about how the game is coached? We have to get in the game! Like it or not, levies need passed and things need fixed in our district (and many within the Ohio public school system). 5 people on a board can't do it. It will take all of us.

    This blog is a great place to commnicate and learn, but it does little good if it doesn't result in people contributing, a postive manner, to the cause.

  8. I fear now that the levy has been defeated that many will turn away and go about their business

    It was an interesting way to spend your gas money foolishly last night for an eight minute meeting
    but as Paul has said and I agree we
    need even more people to show up
    I am going to do my best.

    I was especially interested in the consent agenda item that approved
    new? contracts for a number of
    administrators. No figures , just length of contract.

    I believe that we need as many people as possible to let the
    board know we are watching.

    This whole negotiation thing is getting very interesting.
    I think both sides are not happy with one another. I am hopeful
    that the HEA leadership takes a chill and given the economy
    agrees to less increases than before and a reasonable negotiation
    to open up cost containment and contribution on the medical front

    Seems to be a lot of executive session.

    All of us need to stay on top of
    the happenings. I can understand the consternation of the board
    after the major league defeat of th e levy. But I remain hopeful
    that this will not become a punishement of the taxpayer and students, when signiicant changes
    to the compensation model, will
    do nothing to affect the "kids"

  9. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the link and I will look into it. I guess I'm really asking how a very similar district can have a much lower cost per student than Hilliard. Lakota Local is similar to what you described in Hilliard, it does include the city (I think they incorporated) of West Chester and then lots of rural areas called Liberty Township or Hamilton. I would guess that West Chester's annual income is probably higher than here but not the district as a whole but would that matter in the cost per student ratio? I'm not saying Hilliard should be Lakota but I am familiar with that district and really wonder why the costs are so much higher here.

    I'm not terribly good at reviewing the State report card but I think it breaks down Hilliard as:
    Average Student: 14217
    African American: 5.7
    American Indian: .2
    Asian: 5.2
    Hispanic: 3.5
    Multi-Racial: 3.6
    White: 81.8
    Economically Disadvantaged: 15.0
    Limited English: 5.4
    Students with Disabilities: 11.8

    Lakota's report reflected:
    Average Student: 16780
    African American: 8.5
    American Indian: .1
    Asian: 4.8
    Hispanic: 2.9
    Multi-Racial: 3.3
    White: 80.3
    Economically Disadvantaged: 9.2
    Limited English: 2.2
    Students with Disabilities: 8.6

    It seems the last three categories are lower for Lakota than Hilliard but wouldn't that be close enough for some kind of comparison?

    Thanks so much for helping us understand how "school economics" work.

  10. Here's some information from the ODE website that might be helpful.

    Click on http://fyf.oecn.k12.oh.us/fyforecast/
    to find information on the 5 year forecasts for each district. There are some interesting differences on sources of revenue.

    Lakota met 29/30 indicators on the Report Card and is rated 'Excellent', but is also 'At Risk' of losing that rating for missing AYP the last couple of years.

    Hilliard met 28/30 indicators on the Report Card, but has missed AYP several years and is rated 'Continuous Improvement'.

    You can get the report cards at
    http://www.ode.state.oh.us and going to the "Accountability" section.

  11. Regarding: Or are we going to sit on the sidelines and complain about how the game is coached?

    I thought we did coach by turning down the levy. I don't know why we have to hold the BOE's hand. We have full-time jobs; we do our jobs, why can't the Board and Administrators do theirs? Our vote of no confidence ought to result in them changing things. Voters communicate mainly with votes, and with phone calls or letters.

    Paul's vote totals in his recent run were impressive even if he did finish 4th. Doesn't that, in itself, communicate anything to the District?

  12. Cost per pupil is a meaningless statistic because of the way that teachers are compensated. The cost per pupil will rise or fall based on the relative seniority levels of the staff at any given point in time. A better way to compare would be to look at FTE's, class sizes and so forth and then compare the salary/benefit grids of the two districts. Also, cost per pupil can rise or fall depending on whether a district has funding in place for capital improvements, either through a bond or a Permanent Improvement levy. For example, if you want to buy computers and you don't have a PI or Bond, you have to use general fund money making your Cost Per Pupil seem higher than a district that does have those alternative funding sources in place.

  13. To Anonymous and Paul:
    I'm guessing a large portion of the answer will be discoverd in a comparison of the average teacher compensation between the two districts, at least in part.

    Any significant difference may be linked to a difference in average teacher experience/education level, or in significant one district simply paying somewhat more for the same teachers.

  14. Okay, here's some preliminary data on the comparison of Lakota to Hilliard (thanks for the link):

    Revenue side: Total Revenue is remarkably close between the two districts, but Hilliard gets about $10 million/yr less from the State as part of the general Grant-in-Aid. This is directly tied to the number of students, so Lakota gets more money from the State because they have more kids.

    Conversely, Hilliard receives $10 million/yr more in "Property Tax Allocation," which is additional money provided by the State to compensate for the 10% rollback for all residential real estate and 2.5% rollback for owner occupied homes. I think this suggests that a larger fraction of Hilliard tax revenues are from owner-occupied homes (vs rental property and commercial real estate). Note: this is exactly what I've been saying is our primary funding problem all along!

    On the expenditure side, again the two are remarkably close in Total Expenditures (but since Lakota has more students, it means their cost/student is less, which was the assertion that prompted this analysis - I'll dig deeper into this and report later)

    While Hilliard spending on salaries and benefits is about 85% of all expenses, for Lakota it is about 76%. So not only is the absolute dollar for personnel costs less, again since Lakota has more students, this lowers the cost-per-student even more significantly.

    There is somewhat of an offsetting penalty however. Lakota spends about twice as much (in dollars) as Hilliard for "Purchased Services." While this includes utilities, maintenance and repairs, the $10 million difference has to be more than that. One of the other things lumped into Purchased Services is funding transfered to charter schools. Could Lakota be sending a lot more kids to charter schools (which saves the schools money)? Could those be kids who would otherwise be pulling down the test scores?

    While it's not particularly significant, it's worth mentioning that Hilliard pays about $1 million more a year than Lakota for "Other Objects." This where we record the ransom we pay to Columbus City Schools as part of the Win-Win Agreement.

    A very significant difference between the two districts is the amount of cash on reserve. Some of the difference can be explained by levy timing (at the beginning of a levy cycle the cash balance goes up, then later in the cycle it goes back down). However, Lakota keeps between 3x and 4x as much cash in reserve as Hilliard.

    The benefit of having more cash on hand is that it buys time when something unexpected happens - like a levy not passing.

    Or said another way, from the numbers it would appear that the Lakota School Board doesn't run their bank account down to nothing before taking a new levy to their voters. If you do that, in the interest of "stretching the dollars" as our Board likes to say, the consequence is that if the levy doesn't pass first time around, cutbacks have to be made.

    More later when I have more time to dig into the details. Thanks again for posing the question.

  15. From the NorthWest News today:
    Contracts for some administrators in the Hilliard City School District were renewed at a brief meeting of the Hilliard Board of Education Monday, March 10.

    Raises varied from 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent, records supplied by the school district show.

    Contracts do not state specific amounts for annual increases that took effect Jan. 1, said Michelle Fessler, district spokeswoman.

  16. Anon March 11 10:40....

    Yes, the voters spoke in volume. No doubt. And that is "coaching". But my question was pointed at this point forward. Once the district makes cuts and hopefully the HEA makes their concessions, what then? Do we vote in favor of the levy then?

    That's my question. Once we cut the $4M and the desired cost controls are in place, are we collectively for a 9.5 mil (or in that neighborhood) levy? Because that is what it's going to be. The Levy need doesn't go away, although it may be slightly delayed in its necessity and, hopefully, slightly lower.

    My plea is that we all realize a levy is STILL coming. Voting down the levy and making cuts is NOT the end of the road. A significant levy will still be required to avoid making $14M in cuts in the following year. It's important that we realize that.

  17. Give me a break! Is anyone else as aphalled and slightly amused as I in checking out the "schools" page of today's local Hilliard newspaper? Not one but two articles on budget cuts due to the failure of the levy right next to an article which summarizes the 2.5 to 4 percent raises that the Board has authorized for various administrators and their new salaries. This paints a much clearer picture of the blatant selfishness and disregard of the members of the Board of Education and the Administration of our school system. And to think that they are trying to paint members of the HEA as the selfish bad guys. Puhlese!

  18. KJ,. Do we vote in favor of the levy then?

    If we really want change, we vote "No" to that one too. And the next one.

    This levy defeat didn't change the BOE's modus operandi one iota because 24 out of 25 times a levy fails the first time anyway. That's why we're getting the collective shrug.

    The BOE isn't going to change unless three consecutive levies get voted down. Of course, that's chaos for the school district, and likely wouldn't happen anyway.

    Will the BOE even care if 20 or 30 or even 80 voters come and speak at school board meetings? I think they care only about whether or not they can get 2000 votes (or whatever it takes to pass a levy). And the only time they find that out is when a levy is on the ballot. Which is the only time we have any power.

    But I may be wrong! :-)

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. I understand the issues that a number of anon's have put up regarding allready coaching and sending the message. But I also believe it is time for people to stand up and
    head to the meetings and ask any number of questions, including some that Paul has presented on the blogs

    So now we know why the adm. raises in the agenda only contained names and faces and not numbers. One could say unbelieveable but that
    is the attitude.

    So we have money for raises for adm
    including to 4%? Now mind you I dont have a problem with minimal raises, but 4% is a deal breaker

    It will be interesting to see what is cut in the 4m. obviously not
    compensation adjustments.

    So the 4m in cuts cant wash
    as we are in dire straits, the kids will get hurt, but we gave SOMEBODY
    a 4% increase. As I have said before that dog wont hunt !

    I dont get theNW News at home and stopped at the Library and there was no copy. Did it list by person who was getting what raise.
    I believe a freedom of info act
    begins to rise.

    So when the cuts happen and it
    hurts the kids, and the next levey comes up and says we will be in the hole again, A flyer goes to every
    household in the district, hung on
    parked cars at school events in the fall.... etc.

    No money for the kids
    4% raises for adm Priceless

    Fool me once shame on you , fool me twice shame on me

    I voted for the last levy.
    I will not vote for the next one
    until they get a clue

  21. We may have to vote down the next levy and the next to get the Board's attention. It appears that the Board, the Superintendent, the Levy Committee intend to stick to business as usual. I think within the next month, we will see a motion to put the same levy on the ballot in November. I can't vote for it. I have always voted for levies, believed it is "for the children". But I am on a fixed income now and any more increases will mean either giving up something in my budget, downsizing to a more modest home or moving out of the school district. Bitter choices. Paul is spot-on about the "champagne taste on a beer budget". Unfortunately, our school budget crisis seems to be mirroring the housing and credit crises, we have realized too late that we can't afford to support these luxury campuses and big increases for administrators. It only took 4 years to grow into the last 30% increase. We have to make the adjustments now. I am fully in support of a residential building moratorium, developer impact fees, and bringing all increases and hiring to a screeching halt, as well as delaying opening Bradley. Whatever it takes. Let's bite the bullet now.

    As an aside, can we request an outline of what is being discussed in executive session? Can we challenge use of executive session through the Sunshine Laws? The Dispatch loves sniffing out violations of Sunshine Laws, maybe we can set them on the topic. Also, what is the subject of the Board's 2-day retreat that is coming up?


  22. If you happened to read my earlier comment before I deleted it - my apologies: I had some bogus numbers in the analysis. They are corrected in this post, and will appear later in another post I'm working on right now.


    My recommendation that people get out and attend a Board meeting is not so that pressure gets put on the Board (although that might be a result), but rather to get people connected to the process, and engaged in the dialog.

    I am impressed that Olentangy makes an audio recording of their meetings available on their website. We could do that - I'd volunteer to do the tape-to-MP3 conversion (but we should get the Board an MP3 recorder). Or maybe we leapfrog the audio-only stage and record it audio+video and post it on YouTube. That could be in place by the next meeting if the Board would allow it.

    My message to folks is this: it's too late to avoid the need for another levy. The things creating the need for this levy have already happened.

    I think we need to concentrate on these things:

    - Getting residential development in the district halted until we figure out how to equitably fund the incremental burden that growth puts on our schools.

    - Campaign for Impact Fees
    as a powerful tool that solution.

    - Don't let the GIRFOF amendment
    get passed. Whatever the solution might be, it doesn't seem like a good idea to redefine the State Board of Education as a super-legislature that gets first dibs on the state treasury.

    - Let's re-examine this 'champagne taste and beer budget' situation we've put ourselves in. There should be a program-by-program, and employee-by-employee assessment of cost/benefit, and the lowest performing ones cut out. While my language sounds cold, I do not mean to advocate that this is purely a dollars and cents question. Indeed, there are undoubtedly some programs which consume lots of resources and benefit few kids (I'm thinking particularly of programs for kids with disabilities). That doesn't mean they should automatically be cut. Often the big dollar savings opportunities come from big dollar programs - such as athletics. Talk about a landmine...

    Yes, I have my opinions on what the solutions might be, but my one voice merits the weight of 0.0025% in our community - 1 vote out of 40,000 registered voters.

    The decision on this levy was made by 35% of the registered voters in our community (14,000 out of 40,000 in round numbers). The turnout for the Presidential election this fall, when the levy will almost certainly be on the ballot again, is likely to be in the 70-80% range, as it was for the 2004 Presidential Election.

    That means double the number of voters will participate. If the 14,000 who voted in this election vote exactly the same way in November, and the turnout is 75%, or 30,000 voters, it will require about 4,000 more YES votes for the levy to pass, while only 900 more NO votes to defeat it.

    In other words, it will take 82% of the additional voters to cast a YES vote for the levy to just squeek by. It's a daunting task.

    This levy vote is about trust, and the district leadership is a little short of that right now. The way to fix that is by using every opportunity possible to help the community get to know them, and watch them work. The School Board meetings are a great place to start.

    But you don't get there by holding an 8 minute meeting with no meaningful dialog about next steps, then retiring to Executive Session for a long period.


  23. It could be argued that Ms. Bobbitt should have chosen her words more carefully. However, I would caution those who are considering voting NO on the November levy to send a message to specific Board Members or even the BOE in general. The levy needs to be considered on its own merits (or if you so view it - the lack thereof). If you are concerned about sending a message to specific BOE members, then perhaps it makes more sense to vote for someone whom you consider as a better person for the job during the election process rather than using the levy vote to communicate that message.

    For the record, IMHO, this levy needs to pass in November. The overall well-being of a community is usually tied to its schools, especially in a community like ours. Not too many communities (Clintonville being a noted exception) can continue to do well with struggling schools - which is likely where ours will be if this levy doesn't pass.

    kj, Well put when you said...

    This blog is a great place to commnicate and learn, but it does little good if it doesn't result in people contributing, in a positive manner, to the cause.

  24. For "anon" who couldn't get the Northwest News. Full text articles can be viewed by searching 'SNP Hilliard Newspaper' on the internet.

  25. GS:

    The Board is supposed to tell us what they can about the purpose of the Executive Session before they enter the Executive Session. The idea is that Executive Session is used only occasionally and then only to discuss specific matters (not a class of matters) that the Sunshine Laws allows.

    This Board goes into Executive Session every Board meeting, and has exactly the same generic language on the agenda every time. They put it on the agenda "just in case" and say "there's always real estate stuff to talk about."

    I suspect that the truth is that they talk about whatever they want until they get tired and decide to go home. They rarely return from Executive Session and take any action. Instead they return to public session just long enough to adjourn the meeting.

    I am aware of a situation in Madison County in which several members of a school board were removed from office by order of a county Court of Common Pleas. There were a number of charges, but first among them was that the Board used Executive Session illegally.

    To initiate such a procedure, petitions must be submitted with a count of signatures equal to 15% of the votes cast in the district in the last Governor's election. Without looking it up, my guess is that about 20,000 votes were cast, meaning 3,000 signatures would be required. Once the petitions are certified, there is a court hearing and the judge decides what to do.

    That's the 'nuclear option,' and I hope it doesn't come to that. I've made my concern about abuse of Executive Session clear to the Board. I'm hoping that if they hear it from more people, they will respond appropriately.

    These annual retreats are something else I've written about. They go over to a luxury conference center in Lewis Center, when we have some perfectly usable facilities here in Hilliard, including our own buildings. If they want to get away from the schools, how about the Four Seasons on Trueman Drive? Or how about one of the nice hotels within the district? Isn't it a slap in the face to Hilliard businesses who pay property taxes that our School Board leaves the county to hold this meeting?

    Not to mention that they spend thousands of dollars housing and feeding people who could easily go home every night. I guess it's a 'bonding experience' for them. I understand - I've done the same thing with my own teams in business.

    But it was when times were good, and we could enjoy the fruits of our labor.

    In the tough years, we held the meetings in the corporate headquarters building right here in Columbus and ate delivery pizza for dinner.

    And from a practical matter, it's a two-day Executive Session because it's so inconvenient for community members to attend.

    Frankly, one of the main reasons I ran for School Board is to find out what goes on in these things, and put and end to them if they're being conducted in violation of the law.


  26. Anyone else see the administrative raises in the latest Northwest News? Wow. Lots of 4 and 4.5 percents. I saw only one 2.5 percent. Apparently our administrators are all heroes.

    At our company, 3.5 percent is considered stellar, and we had one year there was a total wage freeze. Maybe I'm envious of those who suck at the government teat, but I think it's sad that the teachers will likely bear the brunt of the cuts. Administrators presumably will take care of their own. And with some of the titles you just say, "what do they do?"

    In fairness, I see that they are paying 10% of their health care premiums now, but I suspect that's probably, what, $30 a month? A 4% raise dwarfs that, given what they're making.

  27. Sorry, I see that a previous commenter already pointed out the 4% raises so my comment was redundant...it just seems the administrator's are fiddler's while Rome burns.

  28. TS, 10% of premiums is roughly $130.

  29. KJ, good info. Then they are taking a significant bite then (about 2% of an $80,000 salary). I was too harsh.

    (I tend to alternate between disgust at the way the district throws money around and disgust at our politicians who have so poorly managed development.)

  30. No matter what the new commitment to medical, the 4% + raises plus contract are not line with the district speak of lack of funds. It is apparently how they choose to spend it.

    So we will likely see programs cut that affect the students, but we
    have seen a security net thrown around the admin, and I bet we wil see the HEA and school district settle at 3 to 4% regular raises
    EACH year, plus the step of 3 to 4%
    and with a initial 6 o 9% medical
    contrib. What a deal

    Levy in the Fall
    Deal or no deal

    No need to bother anymore with
    board meetings, gettting involved,
    the district has sent a clear message. You did not pass OUR levy!
    So there, we will cut your kids programs and offerings and we will show you by providing big raises
    to district adm and the staff.

    So a small group simply reminds
    voters in late Sept thru

    HEAdline; march after the levy
    remember all those cuts, and increased fees, but we gave ourselves a nice raise

    Wont happen. Its just disgusting !

  31. StrawPoll: I want to get the "pulse" of the community as represented here.

    If the district makes $4M in cuts (what each of you perceives to be the "right" cuts) AND the HEA settles their contract at a reasonable level (2% raise and 6/8% of their premiums in the first year)...

    Who will vote FOR and who will vote AGAINST the levy?

    If no, what would it take to convince you to vote FOR the levy to avoid $14M in cuts?

    While not statistically significant, I'd still like to know what the barriers are that may keep the levy from passing. Thanks!

  32. From GS - Straw Poll response:

    With $4M in cuts and a scaled back teacher contract alone, I would vote No. I would consider voting for a smaller levy if I saw significant progress in the following 4 areas:

    1. Improved communication by the Board. Skip the glossy mailings. Reduce time in executive session. Answer emails. The 2007 Community Attitudes Survey almost exactly predicted the outcome of the March ballot, yet they went ahead with a huge levy. I think they are either deaf or at least tone-deaf to the taxpayers.
    2. Work with the cities in the district toward increasing business tax base. It is wrong to ask the residential taxpayers to vote themselves 20-30% school tax increases every 3-4 years while businesses get super-sweet tax abatement deals.
    3. Work with the cities and developers to reduce residential growth. Institute impact fees.
    4. The $4M needs to be permanent cuts from non-teaching costs, and cutting out any dead wood.
    I'd like to see the $14M in cuts as well, even if it hurts.The budget needs to be scaled back permanently, rather than temporary cuts just to get a levy passed then back to business as usual.

    I've said this before, a school tax increase has to come from somewhere else in my fixed budget, which doesn't have a lot of slack for discretionary spending. I think it's totally unfair to taxpayers on fixed income ( and my income is completely from investments, so imagine how I'm feeling right about now) to reduce our standard of living to support a school district that spends every penny it's given. The first board meeting after a huge levy defeat and the board votes nice raises for administrators. They don't get the message. I am not hopeful they can change their ways, and I will vote No until they do.

    I'm really enjoying reading everyone's thoughts, I'm learning a lot about our community and its politics.

    -GS- (sorry to post anonymous, I didn't want to make another user ID to remember)

  33. I voted for the levy this time.
    I wont vote for the levy next time

    The timing of the raises for the adm, and extensions of contracts are

    1) The district doesn't know better
    and doesnt think its a big deal
    2) They tried to slip it by with an
    8 minute meeting, figuring no one
    would ask anything about it.

    The cuts will be coming, fees increased and that OK I get it if we have to cut 4m

    I dont see the HEA settling for less than the adm so I see
    raises of 3% each year plus
    4% step raises. Perhaps no change to medical or very light at 4%

    So we have money for raises
    and yet we have chastised the homeowner for being not in touch and not understanding

    VOTE NO ON THE LEVY at this point
    The district is totally out of touch, so why feed them more money

  34. Wouldn't the next round of cuts be $18M (rather than $14M)?

  35. Based on the Treasurer's report, there would be a $4M shortfall in 08, an additional shortfall of $14M the next year. But I've seen a lot of different numbers. I'm just going on the latest(I think it's the latest) school projection.

  36. Either way, $14M or $18M, in cuts, the District will be in MAJOR trouble with cuts of that magnitude. I don't think that the community - as a whole - will be able to escape this unscathed. Look for a decrease in property values. People who can get out, will do so - even if they have to sell their homes for decreased prices.

    I'd imagine that the ensuing chaos could have a negative effect on attracting more businesses and industry.

  37. The district would not be in major trouble if it reined in spending on
    big raises and extending contracts

    It will be interesting now to see what kind of raises the teachers get now that the administrators have gotten theirs. 4% ???

    Plus the teachers will get step raises. Why are we willing to pay for this. ?? I think unless the economy gets better the levy will fail again. I dont know if I can support this wasteful spending.
    Smaller raises should have been

  38. So what kind of impact do you think of voting NO on this levy (and on the upcoming levies) will have on the health of the overall community?

  39. Even if the district makes permanent cuts (not just rollbacks or reductions in wages, but REAL permanent cuts) over the next two years that total $14.5M, we are looking at a shortfall in year 3 of approximately $10M.

    I assumed a 6.5M reduction in Y1 and an 8.0M reduction in Year 2. Both are permanent reductions, not just a percentage cut of wages. Even with those drastic cuts, the district will experience a negative bottom line in Y3 to the tune of ~$10M.

    Projecting that out (assuming a steady rate of increase in everything else) we would have shortfalls of $10M in Y3, $23M in Y4, and $36M in Y5.

    * This of course is assuming no additional state funding. My math is based on all the assumptions used by the treasurer in his 5 year forecast.

    Is there "fat"? Probably. Should we expect it to be cut? Absolutely! Does that mean if the District makes these drastic ($14.5M total) and permanent cuts we will be able to avoid another large levy in a few years? NO!

    Why am I saying this? Not to suggest we should pass a levy without feeling comfortable with the district (although I will vote for each levy)... But the real reason is to show that we can't ask the district to do their part and not do ours. IF the district makes their cuts as the community has clearly stated it wants... then the community must do its part and vote FOR the levy within the next 2 years. Preferably by March of 09, but certainly before budget year 2010.

    At $14.5M in permanent cuts (and I have no idea if that's even possible, but it was an aggressive target used to demonstrate the long-term "benefit" to the taxpayer...whch isn't much) we buy ourselves 2 years at the most. Then we will have to pass another 9.5 mil levy (or higher).

    I'm all for fiscal responsibility.... and if cuts can be made, they should be. But as I've shown, the upside to taxpayers is limited. We may get a fully efficient district (or one limited in capability) with major cuts (~$14M) over the next 2 years, but we can't escape the upward trend of property taxes. That is yet another fight (State and developers) we have to wage. One that has real impact for the future.

    Y08 - Y13 (In Millions)

    Estimated Expenditures with No Cuts
    $146, $157, $169, $182, $197, $212

    Estimated Expenditures with $14.5 Cuts (2 years)
    $140, $142, $153, $166, $179, $193

    Budget Variance
    $2, $1, -$10, -$23, -$36, -$50

    I'd post my spreadsheet for viewing if I knew how. Maybe Paul could post for me if I send it to him.

    Anyway, before anyone starts blasting... I am NOT saying we should vote blindly without reasonable measures being taken by the district. I am just foreshadowing reality of the future.

  40. Note: My question did not mean YOU specifically, but the residents of HCSD as whole.

  41. To anon, on what effect on the community.

    Most people are not going anywhere especially in this economy. The housing market got over inflated
    price wise, lots of bad loans made,
    correction happening, those who liked
    to move around to bigger homes, based their ability to make money on current home and move up quickly.

    The effect on the community should be asked of the mayor and city council, and the school district.

    While increased funds are needed in a growing district, it is poor management on the part of the district to continually hand out
    raises the way they are . And they are not yet finished as the staff are at the table, and given what the administrators got, one can expect 3 to 4% raises each year plus step raises as before.

    I supported the last levy, but cannot support the next one
    because of the recent admin raises
    while at the same time the district is going to make cuts to things
    directly effecting the kids.

    I think that the district is expecting a blank check, and many
    cannot simply afford it and working in the private sector contribute heavily to our medical costs, and
    average 1 to 3% merit raises only
    not just automatic ones.

    The district needs to rein in their compensation spending very simply.
    If it means some short term cuts
    in programs eventually they will have to cut personnel. Perhaps they should understand that they could
    stretch dollars further with more reasonable raises.

  42. KJ: Email your spreadsheet to me and I'll be glad to make it available to readers.

    It's easy to get tripped up by the math here, as discussed in an earlier post.

  43. Anon March 15 9:04....

    I know your question was of the district. I was answering those who thought reining in spending was enough to fix the problem.

    Reining in spending is not as deep and lasting as permanent cuts. And Permanant cuts only fix the problem just so far.

    I just don't want "us" to lose sight that we WILL have to pony up at some point. Maybe it's a year (Which I prefer as it only required $4M in cuts) or in two years ($14-$18M in cuts). But after that the need will still exist for a large levy. The root cause is leveling in state funding and lack of corporate growth. Tightening the belt helps, please don't get me wrong. But it is NOT the fix.

  44. KJ,

    I'm the anon from March 15, 2008 8:20 PM and March 15, 2008 9:04 PM. I was actually trying to clarify my question to the previous anon, not you.

    I'm a concerned citizen and parent of 3 and (like you) FOR the levy. I think people need to really consider the long-term effects on the community as a whole, if this levy (and each of the upcoming levies) keep getting voted down. What will the community as a whole look like?

  45. I certainly agree. Especially if we can't pass a levy by March 09. That's the one that is going to hurt.

  46. Okay KJ - here's your spreadsheet.

    You're making the same point I've been saying for a while - that this thing has been getting away from us over the past decade, and our only reasonable choice for fixing things is to pass a levy now to buy us time to adjust things thoughtfully so as not to completely blow up the school system for kids attending right now.

    That adjustment must include a program-by-program and person-by-person assessment of what we can afford given what the community is willing to pay. To expect a 'white knight' to come along - such as new state-level school funding legislation is - is both naive and irresponsible.

    If we think redistricting was hard, we ain't seen nothing yet...

  47. KJ, IMHO, this needs to pass in November. I'm really concerned that if it doesn't pass in November, our community will be in chaos. I think March 09 may be too late.

    If it goes down in March 09, this community won't recover for years. Let me tell you, it won't be pretty. Pardon the cliche, but redistricting will be 'a walk in the park' compared to what will happen then.

  48. If we get to March 09, it will be a very anxious time. If it doesn't pass by then, I totally agree that it will take YEARS to recover.

    I'd prefer November 08 for passing the levy, but from what I gather the economy and the perception that the district (all included) hasn't done enough to control costs. My concern is, was, and will be... that the public continues to vote no even after the first round of cuts are made. If they (the district) move toward the center, we (the taxpayers) should move toward the center with them.

    Everyone needs to know that a levy is needed. Period. Of course it's best if costs are managed well but in the end, I hope the community isn't under the impression that no levy would be needed if the "school district gets its act together" (not my quote). Cost cuts alone will not get it done. Please remember that the next time we have a levy to condider.

  49. Thanks for posting my spreadsheet Paul. I tried to "simplify" the summary for ease of discussion. I have all the "hard numbers" if anyone cares. If anyone has quetions, email me at kjenkins@columbus.rr.com ... no sense sticking with the initials now. My name has been plastered all over the paper. I assume my identity is known :-)

  50. Actually (and correct me if I'm wrong) because of the way property taxes are collected, November is our last shot at passing it before we see the $14 mil cuts. If it fails in November, there will be cuts made because the district won't be able to collect until 2010. -LG

  51. I think it should be said first off that the community has supported the school system up until this point.
    Only one levy failed here. What did the district do in response

    1. Chastised the voting down of the levey
    2. Poor communication
    3. Saying that they need to make cuts when they just handed out
    more money to admin. Don't you think now they will give the same to the HEA > So with some possible contributions you have this staring at the everyday homeowner

    Admin raises with 4% + and a guarenteed contract length
    What about all in the private sector
    School staff. Given the
    raises the admin got we will probably see
    More 3% raises, not based on merit like in the private sector Plus
    4% step type raises. Maybe some
    medical contribution.

    Dont forget, these types of raises are not new, and have been going on for the past 6 years plus

    So bottom line to the everyday taxpayer who does value their schools. The economy is tough,
    and medical costs are going through the roof. Many are not getting
    the pay increases that the district employees are getting. Some have lost jobs. Some on fixed income
    So on average, where do they come up with the extra money. ?
    We are acting like we will end up
    in poverty with a district like
    Columbus. Dont think so

    So why is the taxpayer being held accountable and has to understand about the district health and community health. Where is the question to the admin and the board
    Where is the question to the Mayor
    These are all well connected intertwined groups that associate socially. They support each other
    with campaign funds. Who supports the homeowner in all of this.

    I agree at some point a levy increase will be necessary. But if
    the district does not care what we
    think, and they have big money contributors behind them, the only
    balance a homeowner can give is by voting no.

    I can support a new levy, but when
    are we going to say enough is enough. It would appear to me
    and many others I know that the district has this blank check, can
    give out big raises to themselves
    and staff, and the homeowner has no
    voice. Going to a board meeting
    They will smile and say thank you
    and keep doing what they want

  52. Anon March 16, 2008 6:11 PM...

    I'm not sure to be honest. But if they make $4M in cuts, the district would have enough in the "rainy day" pot to cover the shortfall in 09 if necessary. As if the district can buget for money "on the come", I do not know. But just like this year, we are showing a shortfall for 08, but the levy money (not collected until 09) would have helped offset that shortfall. I assume the same could be said for the following year (listed as 09 in the 5-year forecast) even though taxes wouldn't be collected until 2010 (assuming we have to wait to pass the levy until March 2009).

    Anon March 16, 2008 7:18 PM...

    Can't argue that something needs to be done. It can't all be on the taxpayer. I don't think anyone on here is saying that at all. We just need to be aware that additional levies will be needed... as well as fiscal responsibility and, more importantly, a fundamantal change in how schools are funded. Especially the "affluent" ones.

  53. Anon March 16, 2008 7:18 PM...

    Another thing.. I went to my first Board meeting. There were neither smiles NOR "Thank you's". lol.

    It was a very short meeting devoid of personality, substance, or appreciation of participation in the process.

    I can see why most people don't waste their time by attending. But, I'm going to the next several just to see if what I experienced was an anomaly or the norm.

    The more the merrier I say.

  54. 1. Don't forget that whatever deal the HEA gets, the OAPSE members get it too.

    2. LG: There are a couple of moving parts in the timing. There is a point during the year (in the Spring I think), when the District must submit a budget to the State BOE and have it approved. That budget can assume future revenue if a levy passes, even if the revenue is not collected until later.

    So had this levy passed, the District would have been able to build the FY2008-2009 budget on the assumption that the extra $20M would have started showing up in the middle of the fiscal year.

    With the defeat of the levy, the FY08-09 budget must be built presuming no incremental income from a new levy.

    So the budget in question is for FY09-10. The passage of a levy in either Nov 08 or Mar 09 would allow the budget for FY09-10 to be built with the new levy revenue included.

    The question will be the levy amount they'll put on the ballot. It's kind of like calculating a loan in that there are four variables - you set three and that determines the fourth. They are the principal amount, the length (term), the interest rate, and the payment. You can start with amount, term, and rate, and figure out payment. Or you can start with term, rate and payment and figure out amount.

    Kinda the same thing with levies, except the variables are annual revenue, levy rate, and how long before another levy needs to be added. It seems like all we're picking is the levy rate, but by doing so, the annual revenue is determined as well as the time until another levy.

    So the Board now has to think about the interplay of those variables. How much more money do they want each year? Will they try to restore the programs/people cut from the FY08-09 budget as a result of this levy defeat, or treat those cuts as permanent? Do they want to stay off the ballot for 2 years, 3 years, 4 years? The longer the interval, the higher the levy rate will need to be. Or - said the other way - if they chicken out on the levy millage, it just means they'll be back on the ballot that much sooner.

    Of course, the key number - whether you're talking a loan or levy - is the principal amount. The default position of the Board is that everything now in the budget needs to stay there forever.

    Clearly, that needs to be questioned as well. Back to the 'champagne taste and beer budget' comment.


  55. KJ:

    on going to more meetings

    Me too.

    If the past is an indicator of the future, the first 30-45 minutes of the meeting will be taken up with a presentation by the kids, followed by the Board members handing out pins to all the participants (I wonder if the teachers will do this program given the HEA situation? If not, the meeting may be once again moved to the Admin complex - be sure to check the website)

    Then public comments, if any. Then 10 minutes maybe of public votes with little discussion, and off they'll go to Executive Session for an hour or two.

    The public record will show that the Board was in public session for maybe an hour, but most of it will be the kids' program.

  56. -From GS-

    IMHO, if we pass a levy before the Board changes from business as usual, they will breathe a sigh of relief, take it as a sign of support for business as usual and continue to do as they please.

    We have to scale back our champagne taste. We have built a luxury infrastructure that we cannot afford. We have played at being an "affluent" school district, but we can't keep this up on the backs of residential taxpayers. Until changes are in progress, I will vote no on any future levy.

    Also, kj, thanks for speaking at the meeting, even though I disagree with you, you have a good grasp of the problems and good ideas. That you got a less than warm response from the Board shows how disfunctional they are. They can't welcome a new voice even one who's "singin' with the choir".


  57. KJ:

    We just need to be aware that additional levies will be needed... as well as fiscal responsibility and, more importantly, a fundamantal change in how schools are funded. Especially the "affluent" ones

    I think the most likely state-level solution will be a funding mechanism that takes more from us (because we are seen as affluent) and returns less. Any new funding system the state comes up with that derives its revenues primarily from citizens is going to have that effect (e.g. sales tax, income tax, estate tax).

    The other possibility is that new school funding money will be sucked out of the businesses in the state. The result of that is predictable as well - businesses move out and jobs are lost. Meanwhile the schools keep spending more and more primarily because of the labor agreements.

    And then the problem is that there are fewer employers and employees left to pay the taxes required to fund everything.

    It's a death spiral.

    The only solutions are to cut back spending and increase community support. The former will have to come before the latter.


  58. Paul, that's what I fear too. But that isn't a solution, it's what the current situation dictates. If our concern is an ever-increasing tax liability, then we have no solution (based on your astute commentary).

    You are right, the state will continue the socialistic trends that all government is doing... taking from the "affluent" and providing to the "non-affluent". It's not entirely wrong, but it is a bad practice in that the "affluent" can only carry so much.

    Spending cuts, additional support from taxpayers, and "Mystery Solution X" is what I'd like to see. I just don't know what that mystery solution is. It seems we will pay for it either way. Whether I pay directly or indirectly, I'm going to pay!

    After all the cuts that can be made are instituted and all the money that can be sucked out of the taxpayer has been sucked..... what then? I know you will say vouchers or charter schools. And while I'm not a big fan, that may be the answer. Aside from those options, what can be done to reverse the ever-increasing liability of the taxpayer?

    I fear I'm not going to like your answer. So be gentle.

  59. KJ:

    I like charter schools because they do two things: a) they make schools perform (as defined by the true consumer - the parents) or die; b) it gets rid of our 21st century brand of discrimination - wealth. There's nothing wrong with wealth by the way, we just can't have a healthy society if access to public institutions is restricted according to wealth.

    So what is that, a liberal or a conservative position?

    That's a different problem than were the funds come from. An economy is most healthy when it's bringing in money from outside its zone. That happens when you export goods and services. In other words, Hilliard benefits when someone like BMW Financial moves in and generates payroll and property taxes paid for by all the folks around the country who lease their Beemers.

    But note that the largest employer in the school district is now the school district itself. Their pay comes out of our own pockets - some of directly via property taxes; some takes a trip to the state treasury first, coming back to us as "State Aid" after a little has been skimmed off and sent to other districts, such as Columbus Public Schools here in Franklin County and hundreds of subsidized districts around the state.

    In a macro sense, our economy is entering a time when middle-class wealth is tranferring from private sector workers (who are seeing real dollar pay and benefits decreasing) to goverment workers, who work under labor contracts in which pay and benefits are increasing.

    I don't see any way that will change without a very messy and emotional struggle. I see one of those in our future here in Hilliard unfortunately.


  60. Paul,

    I do not believe charter schools are the solution. With few exceptions, charter school students typically achieve lower scores on standardized tests, which is unfortunately the primary measure of school success these days. But just out of curiosity, since you are obviously very knowledgeable about education and you are pro-charter schools, I'm wondering why you are spending so much time and energy trying to work within what you believe to be a flawed current public school system, rather than starting your own charter school(s) here in Hilliard and the surrounding areas? You certainly seem more than capable of such a venture. Or could it be that it is easier to criticize the current system than to actually design and run a successful school yourself? I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it strikes me as ironic that you keep trying to fix a system you believe is inherently not the best one.

  61. It goes to the serenity prayer thing: a) change the things I can; b) accept the things I can't change; and, c) have the wisdom to know the difference.

    By the way, I should have been clearer that I'm not talking about this abomination we call charter schools in Ohio, but rather a 100% voucher system as envisioned by Milton Friedman. You give each and every kid a voucher for say $10 grand, and that kid is free to use it in any accredited school.

    A school is accredited by these factors: a) it adheres to curriculum, faculty and facility standards set by the State Dept of Education; b) its students can pass standardized tests which assure parents and the government that the kids are getting an appropriate education as defined by the State DOE; and, c) it accepts the voucher as 100% of a kid's tuition.

    There would certainly be some significant details to work out, such as transportation (the kids aren't really free to choose if they can't get to the school of their choosing), and the special needs of kids with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

    Here is another post I wrote about vouchers ... hope it provokes further dialog.

    Meanwhile, we've got to fix what we have.

  62. I am not a supporter of charter schools only because they have the ability to pick and choose whom they want to enroll. No special needs kids, just kick out the trouble makers, no extra curriculars.
    They do not have to measure up to the same standards on the testing, because the public system at this writing must take everyone. Also
    ESL and other disciplines are absent from the charters for the most part
    They have not shown to be much more responsible than the public system
    and they have taken money that has disappeared.

    It is interesting that the gov. called out the State Super. recently
    Education only dept not to offer any type of cuts ?

    Future levies will be necessary but
    here is what I see in increased
    wages, benefits for thenext 3 years

    Dist administratiors, guarenteed contract of 3 years many 4% raises
    so one each year 12% compounded
    So big deal they will contribute the 10% number. All of us in the private sector have dealt with tha
    =t forever

    School staff, and as Paul noted
    the OAPSE folks can get a better deal and probably will when the
    teachers settle
    Again, 3% each year perhaps a little more, plus the 4% step raises, and starting medical at

    So why would a regular person ante up for money that goes into raises !
    that none are getting consistently
    including a huge variable not discussed called job security which
    few have.

    So I will gladly vote for monies to maintain and build, but if
    we continue to hand out 7% raises
    and cry poor, ........
    Makes no sense.

    I saw on the website about this
    ACT group. What have they done ?
    I hear it is available but it sounds like they dont do a whole lot, probably all tied into the district as social acquaintences along with the city leaders.

    Unless someone new can afford to run which is tough to raise money against the ruling machine,
    the voter has only one option

    By the way, all that money that was spent on the levy campaign by all those high rollers. So why are
    the taxpayers the bad guys.

    The board wont change, so why feed
    them Perhaps some tough times will happen. Perhaps then they will provide a reasonable increase inwages, instead of giving away the store

  63. I'm having some trouble trying to pick out your points. Could I ask you a favor - to spend a couple extra minutes reviewing what you write before hitting the PUBLISH button - just to be sure you're getting across what you want to say?

    The charter school thing has come up a couple of times recently, so I think I'll write another post to describe what I envision (which is based heavily on the thinking of economist Milton Friedman). It's nothing like the Ohio abomination - the result of much political dealmaking - not sound educational or economic policy.

    I was a founding member of the ACT committee - it was where I first got insight into how school funding really works. The Superintendent wanted the ACT committee to focus on lobbying the General Assy for a new funding system, but I said I thought the most important thing was community education. So I was de-invited from the ACT group and asked to join the Treasurer's Finance Committee when it was formed. They wanted to whine about state funding too, so I said why don't we try to educate the community first. They still haven't accomplished that goal (I left the committee a couple of years ago).

    There were two new candidates on the ballot last Nov - Dave Lundregan and me. I underestimated the weight the HEA endorsement brings to the race: it brings votes (of the teachers and their families if they live in the district), it brings money to produce campaign materials, and it brings feet on the street to pass out the materials. Dave got their endorsement and won a seat, as did Doug Maggied, the other candidate endorsed by the HEA.

    I won't be looking for the HEA endorsement if I run next time (nor do I think I would get it), but I'll understand the challenge. Money isn't the issue - it's the feets on the streets. Hopefully some of the readers of this blog will be interested in helping.