Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hilliard Schools for Hilliard People

We regularly hear comments that go something like: "Make Hilliard Schools for Hilliard residents only." Such comments are usually made in response to the revelation that fewer than 50% of the kids who attend Hilliard City Schools live within the boundaries of the City of Hilliard. The thinking is that this the best way to fix the seemingly neverending problem of overcrowding and growth.

I think a little history is in order.

The first thing to realize is that while every square inch of Ohio is within the boundaries of some school district, not every square inch is within the city limits of a municipality. In fact, the most common political geography in Ohio is that municipalities are islands surrounded by a sea of unincorporated land. So - looking at the whole of the state - it is not that common that a municipality shares a border with another municipality.

Franklin County used to look like this. The City of Hilliard was an island surrounded by Norwich Township. But what about the Hilliard City Schools - was it an island too?

Nope. All school district boundaries are shared with another school district. There are no square inches in Ohio that are not within some school district. The boundaries of our school district touch those of Columbus Public Schools, Dublin City Schools, Southwestern City Schools and the Madison County line. And they have for more than a century. Our district boundaries have not grown. In fact they have shrunk, but that's another story.

So what has changed?

Well - the name for one thing. When my wife and I moved to this area in 1979, the school system was called "Scioto Darby Local Schools." In 1982, the School Board renamed the district "Hilliard City Schools," beginning the confusion that remains to this day, and prompted this article. Some people think the school district is somehow 'owned' by the City of Hilliard simply because of this name.

More concerning is that people think that the priviledge of attending Hilliard City Schools should be restricted to the residents of the City of Hilliard, much like the Hilliard municipal pool memberships.

As I said, our family has lived in this community for nearly 30 years. In fact, we have never owned a home anywhere else. Our two kids attended Hilliard City Schools from kindergarten to graduation. I've served on the Hilliard Education Foundation Board of Trustees. We've paid over $100,000 in school taxes.

But we have never lived within the boundaries of the City of Hilliard.

Our first home was in Golfview Woods - one of the very first houses built in that subdivision. That tract of land was always within the boundaries of Hilliard City Schools, and we bought into that neighborhood because of the reputation of the school district. But to build a subdivision like Golfview Woods, the developer needs to secure water and sewer services, and under the rules established by the City of Columbus - who has absolute control over our regional water/sewer system - the land that became Golfview Woods had to be annexed into the City of Columbus.

Not a problem as far as we were concerned. We would have a Columbus mailing address, be protected by the Columbus Police and Fire departments, and have access to Hilliard schools.

Then the folks at Columbus Public Schools began to raise the argument that the Columbus Public School system was going to crumble if the 'White Flight' wasn't brought under control - a situation created by the busing program ordered by the Federal court to correct segregation in the Columbus Public Schools. The threat was that neighborhoods like Golfview Woods would be shifted to Columbus Public Schools and that school boundaries would henceforth shift with annexation so that school district and municipal boundaries stayed together.

You can imagine the alarm this caused. Folks who lived in such developments, even those without kids like us at the time, would see their property values crumble as current residents tried to get out with no one really wanting to get in. More importantly, the developers knew it would end their incredible windfall as a direct result of the White Flight. The arguments from the public were passionate, but the political power of the developers ultimately drove the resolution.

That resolution is called the "Win-Win Agreement." It was first signed by various school districts of Franklin County in 1986, and has been renewed periodically since then. This agreement essentially says that the suburban school districts can keep their territory even after annexation into the City of Columbus provided that the suburban school district continue to pay what amounts to a ransom to Columbus City Schools. Our current ransom payment is $1 million per year.

Some of our school leadership believe the Win-Win is a financial positive for Hilliard City Schools. That is a mistaken belief. There are over 2,000 kids living in the Win-Win areas, generating $20 million in annual operating cost, but only $10 million in property tax revenue. The school district would be better off - financially - if those areas were shifted to Columbus Public Schools. This is especially true in the case of the high-density, multi-family housing that was built along the Rome-Hilliard corridor.

But that kind of revenue-to-cost relationship is true for every development in our school district - not just the ones in the City of Columbus. Indeed, new residential developments in the City of Hilliard generate much more cost for the schools than they pay in property taxes.

The problem is the imbalance of residential and commercial development. We need them to proceed at the same pace. Our current funding problem is caused by allowing houses and apartments to be built by the thousands with little expansion of our commercial tax base.

And to tell the truth, there has been a good deal of commercial development in the part of the district which is in the City of Columbus. For example, the owners of the buildings that make up the western part of Westpoint Plaza (where the Wal-Mart sits), pay over $300,000 in school tax each year. The Wal-Mart pays $250,000 per year on top of that.

I agree - it should be "Hilliard Schools for Hilliard people."

But "Hilliard people" is a lot more than just the residents of the City of Hilliard.


  1. Funny, I was just talking about this with someone the other day. I appreciate the facts on this.

    One question: In addition to the imbalance (in this case, apartments built in Columbus that send kids to Hilliard schools), isn't win-win also a net loss for the district due to increase "special services" for children? NOTE: I am making one MAJOR assumption here which may or may not be true, but please recognizie this is a hypothetical question...... That assumption is that a large portion of our non-english speaking students come from the Columbus win-win (not the townships mind you, but Columbus)

    One of the largest increases in operating costs to the Hilliard School District in the last 10 years has been in the hiring of "special" teachers, namely ELL teachers and intervention teachers. In addition to a potential net-negative impact due to imbalance of property and commercial taxes from Columbus, is it fair to say that our costs have been further impacted by the increase in such teachers necessitated by the increasing number of ELL students being pumped into our district by the Columbus annex portion of the HSD?

    Again, it's a theory at this point as I have no data for my argument. But it is a question I am asking, as Paul routinely asks why we have had a 1.8 increase of non-classroom teaching positions as a ratio of student growth over the last 10 years. This is one potential explanation.

    If this is correct, then isn't the win-win even more of a net negative?

    Anyone have any data or knowledge that could shed light on my theory?

  2. KJ:

    I did a little back-of-the-envelope analysis of this last fall, and came to the conclusion that the problem is not so much that the kids use English as a second language as it is that there are just a lot of them.

    In other words, the incremental cost of the ELL tutors is substantially paid for with specific state and federal funding for that purpose.

    Of course, one could argue that only the immigrant families occupy multi-family housing to that kind of density. By far, the more typical resident of an apartment complex is young folks without kids.

    And that argument has some merit. But there is some prediction that while the housing and credit markets are screwed up, more non-immigrant families become likely to rent. Renting an apartment is a cheap buy-in to a great school system, and I think there should be a reasonable amount of affordable housing in the school district.

    Anyway, all I'm doing is encouraging people to not overreact. These things have a way of going in cycles. In particular, many of these ELL kids will be English fluent in short order. We feel the stress because of the relatively sudden upswing in ELL kids. That might be a phenomenon not repeated for a while.