Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Evidence that We're On Our Own

At the ACT Committee presentation on school funding last night, the committee members once again put the blame for our funding woes on the state government. Readers of this blog know that I disagree with that assessment.

But let's say that it's true. The next question we have to ask is how likely it is that the state is going to ride to our rescue any time soon. We already know that our state funding has been frozen for three years while at the same time state funding to other districts has increased dramatically. There's a connection: the money we would have / should have received from the state is being diverted to other school districts.

I'm an avid motorcyclist, and have spent many days traveling all over Ohio alone and with friends. One thing I notice is how many communities seem to have shiny new school buildings. Just cross the Big Darby to US42 and check out the new Jonathan Alder High School that was built there a couple of years ago. Recently, a few of us rode up to New Bremen, a pretty little town in Auglaize County near the Indiana border. Looks like they have a new high school as well.

Where are all these districts getting the money for the new schools?

Answer: From the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission. Here's an excerpt from their website:

Established in 1997, the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program is the oldest state-funded OSFC program. From a fiscal standpoint, CFAP is the second largest of the Commission’s building programs, encompassing $5.4 billion in projects in 154 active or completed school district projects. Over $4.39 billion in state funding has been committed to this program alone.

Unlike previous building programs, CFAP funding and the priority for inclusion in the program is based directly on the property wealth of the district. CFAP also addresses the entire facility needs of a district from Kindergarten through 12th grade in contrast to previous programs, which were on a building-by-building basis.

Okay, so it's a building program (lobbied for by the construction industry no doubt) to help the districts in the poor areas of the state right? That's seems like a good thing. Still, $4.4 billion is a lot of money. It would build 68 Bradley High Schools, or 440 Washington Elementary Schools.

We don't seem to qualify.

So why does Southwestern City Schools qualify?

That's right. Southwestern City Schools - our immediate neighbor to the south and the school district in central Ohio most like us - is lining up to get $200 million in building funds granted from the from the Building Commission. They are number 324 on the priority list, which is ranked by average property value per student in the district. I guess that's high enough. They're even higher than Columbus City Schools (#428). The highest priority district in Franklin County is Hamilton Local at #156, and they are participating in the program. So is Reynoldsburg (#266) and Canal Winchester (#355). We're at #485, right in the middle of Franklin County districts.

But the money is not without strings - the Building Commission provides 47% of the funding and the school district must come up with the rest - another $200+ million.

Southwestern has old buildings. Hilliard had old buildings. Southwestern let their old ones get worse, while building new ones (e.g. Central Crossing High School). We updated and replaced ours so that none of them are in bad shape.

This is not so much a complaint as is it is an example. We are not perceived as a school district that needs any increase in financial help from the State. To the contrary, we appear to be seen by the State officials as a district that can take even more responsibility for funding ourselves so that more State money can go to other districts.

Maybe we can change that. But not any time soon. The financial issues we're facing in the next few years will have to be solved by us. It will take a combination of painful belt-tightening by the school leadership and employees, and a generous opening of the wallets on the part of the residents of the community. There's really no choice.

And we need the General Assembly to give us Impact Fees as a funding tool for when the housing market takes off again.

Of course the other alternative is to let the school go to ruin. That's another way to stop growth.


  1. Paul, so what kind of questions were asked by the regular group. Did impact fees get mentioned at all?
    Did the must pass the levy enter into the discussion ?

    Any tough questions. ?


  2. RMT:

    The presenters started out with the position that they didn't understand school funding either, but that they wanted to pass on a few facts.

    They talked about how state funding was frozen, how HB920 kept tax revenue from increasing with 'inflation' (groan), and all the unfunded mandates.

    They said we should not be afraid to call our representatives in the General Assy and tell them what we think.

    That was about it.

    I made the following comments: a) our funding problems are due to residential development outpacing commercial development; b) our rising operating costs aren't due to inflation but rather due to rising personnel costs; c) the State isn't going give us more funding; and, d) best thing we can ask our representatives for is impact fees.

    As always, there was one person in the audience who said we could fix the problem by sending the Columbus people back to Columbus...


  3. As my dad always says, No good deed goes unpunished.

    By being responsible and paying our own way, we've been "punished" by the state. Typical story really. Those that help themselves end up paying for themselves and MORE. Those that don't, just keep getting more entitlement.

    Of course, I'm an elitist. But socialism is not my cup of tea. I realize that's a far reach to use socialism in this case, but in a sense it's just another case of those who pay their bills get to pay others as well.

    I'm from southern Ohio originally. One of the most impoverished areas in the state. They all have new schools. Beautiful schools. And they paid 25 cents on the dollar for them. Guess who paid the other 75 cents!

    I'm not against southern Ohio having new schools. And I'm willing to lend a hand (those who have much, much is asked.. I get that). However, they seem to find the money to put artificial turf on the football field, build new sports complexes, etc. But books and buildings are voted down promptly until the state (read: US) step in to foot 75% of the cost. It's a good deal!

    However, you have to be willing to let things run down and your school has to be in bad shape. I'm glad we in Hilliard have paid to maintain our buildings. I'm not against it at all. But there needs to be some equity here.

    This one isn't the districts fault, the HEA's fault, or the tax payer's fault. It's just the socialistic pattern that we are seeing in this country. It's not a good thing.

  4. Paul - I know you've spoken about impact fees before, but can you remind me? They are currently NOT allowed in the state of Ohio, right? What would need to happen to get them? Does it HAVE to go through a state rep? Can it be a peoples referendum? Just wondering.

  5. Impact Fees are available to municipalities - in fact, the City of Hilliard levies (moderate) Impact Fees on new home construction.

    However, school district are not currently allowed to implement impact fees. Our own State Rep. Larry Wolpert introduced HB299 - a Bill that would have authorized school districts to use impact fees - in the Ohio House in 2006, but it died without a whisper of support from our school leadership.

    I have to assume that they didn't support it because they don't really understand the funding problem, and just want to blame things on the State.

    In the absence of any public support of HB299, the lobbyists for the developers and homebuilders crushed it before it was even presented to the full House.

    And yes, Ohio law does allow for issues like this to be put on the ballot for direct public vote. The challenge is that you need over 400,000 signatures on the petition to place it on the ballot. The Getting It Right For Ohio's Future campaign failed to achieve this with the full support of the teachers' unions statewide.