Monday, June 30, 2008


We were in Washington DC this past weekend attending the wedding of the son of old friends. I spent a couple of years in the late 1990s commuting to Northern Virginia for business, and so have some familiarity with the area. That was during the dot-com boom years, and it seemed like buildings were popping up all over in the DC suburbs, including the massive complex my employer, Worldcom (who had purchased CompuServe), built adjacent to Dulles Airport. That kind of commercial construction now seems to have slowed outside the Beltway, not surprising in today's economy.

It's a different story in the District itself. There were construction cranes all around, and many buildings being raised. Looking at that particular 60 square miles of America, there is little evidence of a slowdown in the economy, a collapse of the housing market, or a declining stock market. In fact, things look pretty good. At the reception dinner that night, we sat at a table with folks who all lived in the ritzy suburb of Alexandria VA. Every one of them was a government employee of some sort. The guy seated next to me asked, "so how are things out in the heartland?" I told him not so good – continued loss of manufacturing jobs, a home foreclosure crisis and rising energy costs.

I don't think these folks have much of a grasp of the stress associated with what I was describing. After all, there is about a zero chance that their employer (the Government, with a big "G") is going to go out of business. There's not even much of a risk that they'll get laid off in a downsizing. They have great benefits, and can retire to a nice pension with continuing health care.

Continuing with the physics theme (see Ignore Friction), this exposure to our nation's capital caused me to think about gravity, one of the four fundamental forces in the universe. We can't quite explain what causes gravity yet, but the concept is pretty simple: objects attract, and the more massive the object, the more pull it generates.

State capital cities have a good deal of gravity, which in their case is the power of the government seated there to reach out into the state and pull in resources – money in particular. That's the reason state capital cities rarely experience a recession. Such is the case in regard to Columbus, where the largest employer is the State of Ohio. We like to say that our economy is pretty stable – no big booms, no big busts. This is largely true, but it's not because our private sector is so special – it's because in good times and bad, the state government still pulls money to Columbus. Much of that money turns into payroll for the state government workers and into the facilities that house them. That spills over into the general economy, to the benefit of our region. In other words, we in central Ohio live well at the expense of the taxpayers of the rest of Ohio.

The mother of all capital cities is of course Washington DC. The Federal Government pulls in billions of dollars per day from the all over the country, and a material fraction of that money turns into paychecks for federal workers. Nowhere is there a larger concentration of federal workers or federal buildings than in Washington DC. Talk about recession-proof…

So what does this have to do with school systems – the topic of this blog?

The answer is that a school district plays the same economic role in a community as does any other seat of government. It sucks in tax dollars from all across its territory, and spends most of it on payroll and facilities. While many of us feel the stress of uncertainty relative to ongoing jobs and our retirement funding, the employees of our school district have enjoyed a steady increase in compensation and can look forward to enjoying the benefits of a generous retirement program.

Of course, there is a big difference between federal, state and local governments and a school district in regard to funding. In the first cases, we elect representatives who in turn pass laws that specify who pays how much in the way of taxes to run the government. But with a school system, the elected representatives (ie the School Board) recommend to the community how much we should tax ourselves, then we get to vote directly whether or not to actually enact that tax levy. In other words, we have an anti-gravity shield! Veto power, if you prefer. Wouldn't it be interesting if the Federal budget worked that way? I like the idea, but we all know it would be chaos.

Some folks want school funding in Ohio to go the way of other government funding – turning over full control to elected state representatives. I think this is a bad idea, but we are heading to our own time of chaos under the current system. The district leaders seem to be stubbornly going down the path of putting another levy on the ballot without changing much of anything, and expecting a different result in November than we saw in March. Meanwhile, the opposition to the levy – any levy – seems to be rising. On May 12, the levy campaign committee formally asked the School Board to detail what would be cut from spending if the levy doesn't pass. That was 50 days ago. In their recent ten-hour retreat, the Board spent zero time on this topic.

What is the Board waiting on? The campaign committee needs time to gain an understanding of the Board's thinking, and to in turn communicate it to the community. Only 51 days remain before the deadline for filing levy issues for the November ballot.

It is only 91 days until absentee/early voting commences.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ignore Friction

I have always enjoyed science, and after a rough start back in the 8th grade, came to enjoy math as well. As an engineering major at Ohio State, I had the chance to marry the two in the study of physics.

In the first physics course, the focus was on motion. The basis for the study was Newton's Three Laws of Motion:

  • A body at rest will stay at rest, or continue to move in a straight line at a constant velocity unless an external force is applied.
  • The rate of change of momentum is influenced by the quantity of force applied and the direction in which the force is applied
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
The basic rules are really that simple. Yet we used them to figure out how to land people on the Moon.
Of course, when trying to apply them in the real world, other factors come into play. In the case of motion, one of the primary factors is friction. But to help students understand the basics before getting things complicated with the details, those first homework problems at the end of the chapter would always contain the instruction: "Ignore friction." Only after we had mastered the basic concepts and calculations was friction introduced to the mix. In the many math, physics, and later economics and finance classes I took, that's the way we were taught. Simple basics first, add the details later.

I don't know why we don't use this method in trying to teach the public about school funding. Instead, you always hear people say "school funding is complicated, I don't understand it." Often that phrase comes from the very people assigned the task to teach us, such as the ACT Committee.
By the way, I've never understood why our school leadership - leaders of an organization whose mission and expertise is teaching - turns over the crucial task of educating the community about school funding to a citizen's committee who are neither financial experts nor educators. There's probably a reason that JFK didn't put the IRS in charge of the space program.

So here's my Principles of School Funding in Ohio:

  • The amount of property tax generated by a residence is not enough to pay for the cost of educating the kids who live there. It's surprising how few people know that.
  • The money to run our schools comes from three sources: residential/agricultural landowners, commercial landowners, and the State of Ohio. The less of one you get, the more you need of the others. In our district, the funding load is increasingly shifting to the residential homeowners.
  • That money goes to pay for two primary things: the compensation and benefits of the district employees, and the construction and maintenance of the buildings.
I really think that's it. Everything else is like friction in a physics problem. Important details, but not the core concepts. Once these are understood and internalized by the whole of the community, we can move on to the more advanced stuff.

The Governor is Listening

The following was broadcasted via District's e-News mailing list

Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, The League of Education Voters, and ACT for Hilliard Schools will be hosting a Public Education Listening Forum on Wednesday, June 25th, from 7-8:30m at Scioto High School in Dublin. Legislators, policy makers, representatives from the Governor's Office, and members of the State Board of Education have been invited to hear your ideas and concerns regarding public education finance and education reform in Ohio. This is perfect timing for this event, as Governor Strickland is currently developing a proposal for education and school funding reform.

You are invited to attend this community discussion on what you want for the future of Ohio's schools. This event will give you the unique opportunity to have your voice heard by those creating the policies. A short video regarding the changing climate of Ohio schools will be shown followed by an open discussion of the public's ideas on education and school funding reform. The discussion will be structured and facilitated by Ohio Fair Schools staff. This event will serve to raise awareness of the needs in our public schools, and build support for a school funding system that provides educational opportunities to all Ohio children.

… and so I decided to attend. There wasn't much of a turnout – 30 to 35 people. The evening was opened with a viewing of the widely-distribution presentation called "Shift Happens." It's interesting viewing, if a little over-the-top on some of the points. For example, it talked about the volume of information being generated and how quickly knowledge goes out of date. One assertion is that half of all the information learned by a college freshman is obsolete by their junior year. That's meaningless hyperbole. I can't think of many things I learned (in class) my freshman year which are obsolete – and that was 30 years ago.

The moderator then asked the group a couple of questions, and recorded the responses on a flip chart pages. The first question was: "given the trends portrayed in the Shift Happens video, what do our kids need?" My answer was that they need a 'BS filter' so they could tell which of the gazillion things posted on the Internet are true and which are just drivel. Then she asked 'Five years from now, what will we say we got right in 2008?" I said that we will have eliminated local school districts and gone to a statewide public school system in which any kid is free to attend any school. There was one "yeah" from the audience on that one, but most I'm sure thought it was one of the most stupid things they heard that night.

Then we collected into small groups to make recommendations for improving Ohio schools. The group that included Superintendent Dale McVey had a predictable position: school funding needs to be a (they mean 'the') priority of state government, and HB920 needs to be repealed. I was happy to hear one of the Dublin administrators say that the State needs to figure out a way to protect the suburban districts, who seem to be getting the short end of all the various funding proposals.

Don Eckhart, a candidate for the US House of Representatives, 15th District (the seat currently held by Deborah Pryce), made the comment that "schools don't have a funding mechanism that grows with inflation – we need to repeal HB920." Groan… Mr. Eckhart is making the same mistake as our Superintendent and many other folks in thinking that home values and school expenses are somehow related to one another. If there had actually been much in the way of inflation over the past couple of decades that might be true. But then explain why home values have gone down (ans: weak housing market), and school expenses have gone up (ans: generous labor contracts).

I liked a comment made by Jodi Ransom from our ACT Committee: remember that it doesn't matter whether we're talking about property taxes, income taxes, or sales taxes – in all cases the people paying the taxes is us. Amen.

The moderator then asked us what we wanted to tell the Governor. I said to tell him that we need jobs in Ohio. If we don't find ways to bring more money into the state, then education will just be one more government program competing for a bigger share of a shrinking tax revenue pie. We can't tax ourselves to prosperity.

Who knows what will come from these meetings, especially since so few members of the general public show up. I have a feeling the Governor already has an idea what he wants to do. But at least he asked.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Entitlement Mentality

I found Kathie Bracy's blog sometime recently while doing some research. Ms. Bracy is a retired elementary teacher who served in the Columbus Public Schools for 30 years. She is now working in the private sector in addition to collecting STRS retirement benefits. The main focus of her blog is issues of interest to retired teachers, and she says in her profile: "I am working through CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators) to help bring about badly needed reform in our teachers retirement system."

I'm not sure what those reforms are, but perhaps her comments about the Social Security system, in which she now participates, are an indicator:

"Every penny of what I currently earn is taxed by Social Security...that's not to say the same applies to ALL Americans who derive income from non-governmental jobs who ALSO pay into Social Security. THEY DON'T pay tax on every penny they make...were you aware of that? Many Americans stop paying into Social Security after their annual wages exceed $102,000"

Ms. Bracy is forgetting the other half of this deal - Social Security benefits are calculated based on what a worker pays into the system over a lifetime. Therefore people whose premiums have been limited will also have limits applied to their payout.

I had the good fortune during latter part of my career to have often hit and exceeded the Social Security limit. Yes, it felt good to get a few paychecks without the Social Security deduction. By the way, Ms. Bracy failed to mention that there is no limit on the income exposed to Medicare taxes.

According to my last annual statement from the Social Security Administration (SSA), here's what I'm going to get:
  • If I stop working at age 62 and start drawing benefits, I'll get $1,512 per month - $18,144 per year.

  • If I wait until age 66 (what SSA now calls my 'full retirement age') I get $2,004 per month, or $24,048/yr.

  • If I wait until age 70, it would be $2,646/mo, or $31,752/yr.
Any other money I need to live on after retirement comes from my own savings, which in some years was fractionally matched by my employer. It's not guaranteed: if I blow it - it's gone. That happened to a lot of people about eight years ago when the Enron/Worldcom/et al debacle wiped out billions of dollars in the 401(k) and IRA accounts of folks who were hoping to retire soon. Many will never to get to retire at all now.
Over my lifetime, I and my employers have paid in total $177,152 into Social Security - about $88,500 each. Using a lifetime investment earnings rate of 4%/yr, I'll never get back the money paid in plus reasonable earnings. By my calculations, regardless of whether I start taking Social Security checks at 62, 66, or 70, I will leave over $300,000 on the table if I die at age 90 (spreadsheet available on request). That money will be used to make payments to others who never earned enough to pay for the benefits they will receive.
That's okay. I don't mind contributing to the cost of a safety net that prevents our senior citizens from suffering in poverty. Just please Ms. Bracy, don't accuse me of not paying my fair share into Social Security - I've paid that and more.
Did you and your school district pay enough into the STRS to fully fund your comparatively generous retirement benefits? If not, who is supposed to make up the funding shortfall?
Me again - along with millions of other Ohio taxpayers. That's what HB315 is all about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I've just spent an evening and a day observing the annual Hilliard City School District Board of Education retreat, which was held this year at the Central Office Annex. The only other observer was reporter Cathy Wogan from This Week Hilliard, who was also there for the whole session.

The various department heads gave presentations on the achievements and plans for their area of responsibility, and the Board members asked questions and sometimes commented on what they heard. But there was not much in the way of discussion among Board members or direction from the Board to the Administration. In reality it was just a two-day briefing session for the Board members. That's not to say it wasn't valuable. At the end of the retreat, Lisa Whiting commented that as a new Board member, it was very effective as a way for her to get a picture of the whole district. Regardless of what it is called, this kind of review is something we would expect the Board to demand on at least an annual basis.

Terry Timlin from the Transportation Dept spoke first, giving a report about fuel usage, fuel costs, and what they were doing to save money. Our bus fleet drives 8,257 miles/day, which works out to 1,486,260 miles/year. During that period, the buses consumed 226,606 gallons of diesel fuel, meaning the fleet averages 6.6 mpg. The district spent $731,057 to buy fuel for the 2007-08 school year, making the cost $3.23/gal. As I mentioned in the earlier post titled "Triage," we can't ignore the ever-increasing price of diesel fuel, but we also need to remember that for each $1/gal the fuel price goes up, the impact to the district is about a quarter-million dollars, which represents less than 0.2% of the operating budget. It merits our attention, but not our focus.

Mr. Timlin's report elicited a number of responses from the Board members. It's just one of those things where everyone thinks they have an idea worth implementing, even if it saves only pennies. Asst Superintendent Tim Hamilton reminded the Board that the "District is not run by Operations," meaning bus routes are determined by safety considerations and school schedules, not cost optimization, even though some building schedules have been adjusted when possible.

The next presentation was on the uses of the Permanent Improvement funds, which are used to keep our buildings in good shape (unlike South Western City Schools for example). After a few minutes of discussion about the district's smoking policy, the Board adjourned to Executive Session, ending the public part of the meeting for the evening.

Wednesday morning kicked off with a discussion of the Superintendent's recommendation that participation fees be raised for the 2008-2009 school year. Andy Teater spoke of concern that fees might be becoming high enough to prevent some kids from participating in extra-curricular activities. While our fees are among the lowest in central Ohio, our District does not impose individual or family limits for cases when one or more kids in a family participate in multiple activities. The Superintendent recommended that the activity fees be raised a little every year instead of occasionally asking for a large increase. Denise Bobbitt asked the appropriate question – what are the District's actual costs per kid for participation in these activities? This becomes one of those fixed/variable cost questions. Seems to me that participation fees – if they must exist – should attempt to cover only variable costs. By definition the fix costs are going to exist anyway.

Then the meeting moved to the true purpose of a school district – the education of the kids. Dr. Andy Riggle and his team spoke about curriculum, State Report Cards, Improvement Programs and the English Language Learner (ELL) programming. Did you know that we now have over 900 ELL kids in the district? The Instructional Department also presented an overview of High School 2020, a comprehensive plan for updating the district's curriculum for the environment our graduates are expected to encounter in the next decade. Not being an educator, I didn't understand the theory behind much of what the various members of the HS2020 team reported, but their professionalism and enthusiasm was quite evident.

Hilliard City Schools has built a partnership with ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit two-year technical college with a campus in Mill Run, which allows Hilliard students to attend classes at ITT at no charge to the district or to the student, as long as the student continues his/her education at ITT following graduation.

Representatives of the Planning Departments of Franklin County and the City of Columbus gave a briefing on the status of the Big Darby Accord. There has apparently been much concerned expressed in the Hilliard community about the impact of the high-density Town Center planned in the Accord territory. While the planner answered that there are 5,000 housing units planned for the Town Center, Tim Hamilton pointed out that only a fraction of the Town Center will be in the Hilliard school district (the remainder will be in South Western City Schools).

The Superintendent reminded the participants and observers that for planning purposes, a ratio of 0.8 new students per new dwelling has held up for a number of years. I'll accept that as historical fact, but there have been some noticeable demographic trend shifts in our district in the past few years, notably the high concentration of immigrant kids in apartment complexes, a type of dwelling which normally houses very few kids. The profile of the Town Center will depend on the kind of high-density housing which is constructed there. I suspect the hope is to build something like Crocker Park, near Cleveland. If so, there could be a fair number of kids living there.

While a stated objective of the Big Darby Accord is "development that pays its own way," it was noted that there is no mechanism in the Accord to ensure that the schools are appropriately funded. That's because there is no representation by the two school boards on the governing committees, observed Doug Maggied, and he's right (and that's because developers are in control of development! – pl). The municipal officials say they don't want to interfere with school levies (that's a crock - they just don't want to share the new revenue stream! – pl).

Technology Director Gary Orr and his team gave an impressive presentation of their plans for the many IT demands in the district. This being my field of expertise, I was impressed to hear them talking about plans to put well-proven commercial platforms into place, such as a VMWARE-based central server pool replacing discrete servers scattered all over the district.

The day and the retreat closed with the heads of supply and maintenance talking a little about cost trends in their areas. As one can imagine, two of the primary consumables are trash can liners and toilet paper. By taking advantage of the storage space at the Support Service Facility, the district has been able to buy both items in very large quantities at a price well below current market rates.

I came away from this meeting with same high regard for the professionals in the Instructional and Operations departments of our District that I've always had. That's not to say they're perfect, or always make decisions I would agree with, but they are a high-quality team who truly care about the quality of service delivered to our kids.

But I was disappointed that there was no time committed to a discussion of the significant financial issues facing the District. I recommend reading through the new Five Year Forecast, published by District Treasurer Brian Wilson this May. On page 2, he states that to avoid a deficit (running out of money), a total of $57 million would need to be cut from the 2009-2011 budgets.

The financial discussion can be wrapped around two core elements:

  • Ohio's school funding system proscribes three funding sources: a) local residential/agricultural property taxes; b) local business property taxes; and, c) the State of Ohio. The balance of these three has changed radically in the past decade, transferring more and more of the incremental funding burden to the homeowners of the District.
  • More than 90% of the spending growth each year is attributable to the compensation of our teachers, staff and Administration. In the past three years, our compensation costs have increased 6% per year, from $125 million in 2005 to $138 million in 2007.

It is clear that a levy will need to be placed on the ballot in November of this year, and paperwork must be filed with the Franklin County Board of Elections in just 63 days. I don't understand why this wasn't a significant topic of discussion.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One-Third May Vote Absentee

Reported in the June 16, 2008 edition of the Columbus Dispatch, "Ohio prepares for long ballots, long lines"

Officials statewide are pushing absentee voting as a way to ease crowds on Election Day, and Damschroder expects as many as one-third of Franklin County voters will cast ballots early this fall.

Absentee voting begins in 106 days.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who's Working for Whom?

An editorial from my hometown newspaper, the Charleston Daily Mail:

Who is working for whom here?

The tension between private sector and public sector is widening.

The State of West Virginia just went through another agonizing attempt to corral its pension problems. The multibillion-dollar problem in the old Teachers Retirement Fund is still so large that it blights the state's attempts to raise teacher pay. Big holes are difficult to fill, and the Manchin administration and the Legislature have thrown in money hand over fist in an attempt to do that.

Such public pension problems are widespread, affecting municipalities and states across the land. And the gulf between what private-sector workers collect in benefits - and what they as taxpayers provide for public employees - is increasingly a matter of contention. Lewis M. Andrews, writing in Human Events earlier this year, referred to a couple of statistics that increasingly will lodge in the public mind:

"August 2006 data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that the average federal civilian worker earns $106,579 a year in total compensation, or twice the $53,289 in wages and benefits for the typical private employee," he wrote. "Since 2000, federal pay has risen 38 percent, or double the pay increases for workers in manufacturing, retail, finance, private health care, and construction."

At the state level, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that government workers have been collecting nearly 50 percent more in total compensation than the average private-sector employee, "with taxpayers subsidizing 128 percent more than private employers to fund health care benefits, and 162 percent more on retirement benefits."

Private-sector taxpayers will in the coming years increasingly ask why. Who is working for whom here?

The Government Accounting Standards Board, the national association of public finance officers, has set in motion requirements that will increase the pressure, telling states and municipalities to set aside money for workers' benefits after retirement.

The public from whom those funds will be extracted will find those numbers Interesting. In 2007, the Pew Center on the States estimated state and local governments have underfunded benefits by about $731 billion.

People whose household budgets are stressed by $4-a-gallon gasoline surely will want to talk about why they should part with more of their income to fund benefits for people who have more.

Unlike Ohio, where the State Teachers Retirement System is ostensibly an agency independent of the state government, in West Virginia the Teachers Retirement Fund is an agency OF the state government. More on that in a minute.

In the 'everyone's making money in the stock market' days of the 1990s, people in defined benefit pension plans began to wonder if they were leaving money on the table by being trapped in these plans when their friends with 401(k) plans were seeing the value of their retirement accounts soar - many becoming paper millionaires.

That happened with the teachers in WV, so they were given the option to jump from their conservative but guaranteed defined benefits plan to a defined contribution plan, much like a private company's 401(k) plan with employer contributions.

Then we had the big bust in the stock market. Many of us in the private sector saw the value of our 401(k) plans get cut in half. Thousands of my coworkers at Worldcom who chose to invest 100% of their 401(k) accounts in Worldcom stock - once the darling of Wall Street - saw their money completely evaporate. Most Americans learned some important lessons, including that the stock market is not something in which to invest your life savings unless you understand how it works, and few did. They just got caught up in the gold rush, and many were wiped out.

The WV teachers who had jumped into their defined contribution plan took the same kind of hit. But instead of licking their wounds, and maybe even teaching their students about their mistakes, they're now crying that they were duped into buying into the defined contribution option, and want now to be restored to the defined benefits system as though nothing had happened.

Except something did happen - those teachers took the balance of their defined benefit account, moved it to their defined contribution account, then lost most of it in the stock market. It was real money that had been building up to fund their defined benefit pension when they retired, and it's gone. Where is the money going to come from to fund their pensions now?

The taxpayers of the State of West Virginia. While there are some bright spots in West Virginia (especially in places where Senator Robert C. Byrd muscled in huge federal government operations), most of the state is, and has always been, one of the poorest in the nation. Its population is also getting older and older, as young West Virginians - especially college graduates - tend to leave for greener pastures. In other words, there is a constantly diminishing population of people who are working and paying taxes, and a constantly increasing number who are retired and being paid benefits.

Now there is an idea floating around the WV statehouse that proposes dumping the underfunded pension liability on the school district from which a teacher retired. In other words, school districts (which are all county-wide in WV) would have to pass additional - and sizable - local property tax levies in order to collect enough money to fund the pension liability. Clearly this is a move to shift the burden/blame from the state-level politicians to the county-level school boards. Of the many levels of unfairness in this approach, one is that the county school boards had no voice in the negotiation of these pension benefits - so why should they have to fund a mess they had no part in creating?

I'm going on and on about the WV situation because we are seeing a glimpse of the same kind of thinking in the HB315 legislation, which is meant to increase the public's contribution to retired teachers' health benefits fund to prevent it from going bust.

The retirement deal teachers get is not negotiated school board by school board - it's set by the General Assembly, and is a big part of the payoff the state teachers' union (the Ohio Education Association) gets for throwing its substantial support behind friendly candidates. And the General Assembly can pass laws which forces school districts to pay higher premiums when the investment performance of the STRS fund is not sufficient to cover projected retirement payouts. Those increased payment requirements are enforced by reducing the amount of our tax money the State of Ohio sends back to us in State Aid.

The defined benefit retirements plans are definitely the Golden Eggs for public employees, and the rest of us are, well - the Goose. And I think our backsides are getting a little sore.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Comparing Tax Burdens - We Pay More

Thanks to Jim Fedako for telling us about this report, published by the State of Ohio (up until 2006 at least). There's a wealth of good information in this report, useful for comparing the funding profile of our school district to the rest of the county and state, as well as for learning some basics about the way school funding works in Ohio.

The first chart that interested me is Table Seven on page 18. It shows overall statistics about how much annual revenue is raised per pupil by one mill of property tax. The average is about $130/yr statewide, but the range is huge - from $575 in some districts to $37 in the lowest. Our school district collects $146.84/mill/pupil.

This chart also makes the point I've been saying for years - a balance of residential and commercial development is crucial to creating an affordable school funding program. Those districts which raise $500/mill/pupil collected over half their local funding in 2004 from commercial sources. The average school district received only 30% from commercial sources, and the lowest only 2%.

We in Hilliard collect 66% of our school taxes from residential and agricultural property taxes, and 22% from commercial property. Both numbers are right on the state average. We collect another 3% from properties owned by the public utilities and 9% from business tangible personal property taxes, again right on the state averages. By the way, that 9% we get from business tangible personal property tax is being phased out by the State, so we'll have to cover that locally as well.

We shouldn't be surprised that among Franklin County school districts, Columbus has the highest fraction of their local tax income coming from commercial sources - 38%. Nor should we be surprised that Upper Arlington and Bexley have the lowest, at 9% and 5% respectively.

But here's a telling comparison. In Hilliard, we collect $32.75/mill/pupil from commercial sources. Dublin collects $54.60/mill/pupil, or 67% more.

At first glance, one might think this says Dublin sticks it to the businesses in their community. But the correct analysis is that Dublin collects more per pupil from business because there are more businesses in Dublin! Because of this, they can raise the same amount of money with 3 mills that takes us 4 mills. To raise $20 million addition per year to operate the schools, we need a 9.5 mill levy - Dublin needs only 7 mills. So if you are a business, you would rather locate in Dublin than in Hilliard because there are more other businesses in Dublin with which to share the tax burden.

Table Ten on page 21 is another interesting chart. It shows what local residents contribute to school funding as a percentage of income, which in this case is defined as the Adjusted Gross Income on the Federal tax return. The statewide average is 2.00%, with a range from 3.82% (Patrick Henry Local School District, 25 miles SW of Toledo) to 0.81% (Indiana Hill, near Cincinnati). For this statistic, it is generally true that the lower the percentage, the higher the wealth of the community, because a small fraction of a big number can be the same as a large fraction of a small number.

But it isn't quite that simple. I've often mentioned Dawson-Bryant schools in Lawrence County as being one of poorest systems in the state, receiving all but $100/student of its funding from the State of Ohio. However, Dawson-Bryant residents pay well below the average portion of their AGI in school taxes - only 1.32%. Why is that?

It has to do with the concept of disposable income. When your income is very low, as is the case for the folks in the Dawson-Bryant district, virtually all of your income is consumed just paying for the essentials, such as food and housing. But as personal income goes up, the fraction of your income needed for essentials goes down and more money is available for discretionary spending.

This is the reason our income tax tables are graduated - or "progressive." The theory is that the greater your income, the more of it you should be able and expected to pay to run the government institutions.

When talking about school taxes, there are a couple of things going on. One is the condition I've just mentioned - that the people of the poorer districts pay a below average fraction of their AGI in school taxes because the State of Ohio (ie the rest of us) carries much of their funding burden. And the people of the wealthy districts also pay a below average fraction of their AGI in school taxes because a smaller fraction still generates a lot of money when the income level is high.

So who is it that pays the above-average fraction of their income in school taxes?

That's right, the middle-class school districts in the bedroom communities with little commercial development. Districts like Hilliard. We pay 2.58% percent of our AGI to fund our schools, which is by the way is the third highest in Franklin County. Only Canal Winchester (3.05%) and Upper Arlington (2.63%) pay more.

THIS is the fundamental funding issue in Hilliard; that our local politicians (Mayors, City Councils) have permitted - perhaps assisted - the loading up of our community with houses full of school age kids without bringing in a commensurate amount of commercial development. Said another way, the municipal politicians could have restricted the issuance of residential building permits to pace commercial development, but chose not to.

The people who run Dublin are smarter than this, or maybe just more concerned with creating a viable and sustainable community.

Sadly, no White Knight is going to ride to our rescue, and there is no other short-term solution for us other than to lower expenses and raise local revenue. The degree of each is what we have to figure out, and we must do so pretty quickly as the paperwork has to be filed with the Board of Elections by August 21st, just 68 days, to get the levy issue on the November ballot.

Early/Absentee voting will begin in 108 days.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Think We've Got Problems... Part II

Back in March, I wrote about the predicament facing New Albany schools, who receives nearly half their funding from a single 20.7 mill operating levy that expires in December 2009.

Since then, their 36-member finance committee has been working to develop options for their Board of Education. This is what they came up with (as reported in today's The Columbus Dispatch):
  • A permanent, 25-mill operating levy. It would replace the current 20.7 mills expiring at the end of 2009 and add 4.3 mills. The levy would raise $22.4 million annually, up from the current $18.4 million.
  • A 1.75 percent income tax to replace the expiring 20.7 mills. The income tax would raise $22.2 million a year. It would be combined with a 2.5-mill bond issue that would raise money for a new fifth- and sixth-grade building and an addition to the kindergarten and first-grade building.
  • A permanent, 25-mill operating levy combined with a 2.5-mill bond issue to pay for the new fifth- and sixth-grade building and the addition to the kindergarten and first-grade building.
Can you imagine trying to get any of these options passed in today's economic climate?

The Village of New Albany, like many municipalities in central Ohio, already levies a 2% income tax on the earned income of its residents (ie they exempt investment earnings and retirement income) . The Dispatch article didn't mention whether the committee recommended an earned-income-only school tax as well.

Remember from my previous analysis that a conversion from a property tax to an income tax on earned income only would serve to benefit not only the proverbial "senior citizen on a fixed income" but also wealthy individuals who get a large chuck of their income from investments, like Mr. Wexner.

Notice that in the case of the property tax options, the committee recommended going for 25 mills and making its a permanent levy this time. Clearly, they don't want this exposure again.

This is going to be quite a challenge for New Albany. Even though 80% of this levy will do nothing more than keep taxes the same, how many folks - especially those without kids - will see it as a chance to knock a huge chuck off their property tax bill.

I tend to agree with this thinking: "Everett Gallagher, a finance committee member, proposed that the district go for a renewal of the 20.53-mill operating levy and make it permanent. He said the district could get by for 18 to 24 months after the vote without returning to the voters." I think it would be easier to sell a replacement levy now, and go for additional dollars later than bet the whole farm on one big levy right now.

This is going to be interesting to watch. Our levy committee should connect up with their counterparts in New Albany and see what their campaign strategy will be.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Getting Most Things Right

I wrote an earlier post which mentioned that Southwestern City Schools is considering the wisdom of taking on $250+ million in debt in order to capture another $200 million in funding from the State of Ohio for the purpose of refurbishing and replacing a number of their schools. It's going to be a daunting task to get voters to approve this, and here's why...

Southwestern has four high schools:

  • Franklin Heights, built in 1956, with additions in 1963, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1986 (Rec Center and ERC), 1992, and 1996
  • Grove City, built in 1970
  • Westland, built in 1970, additions in 1971, 1976.
  • Central Crossing, built 2002.

They are not the same. Here's what The Dispatch recently wrote:

Schools have been built in the district nearly every decade since the 1920s, each constructed in the design standard for its time.

Franklin Heights High School, built in 1955, is a 135,000-square-foot brick box with no air conditioning and inadequate wiring for technology. Even with six renovations and additions, the school barely handles its more than 1,200 students.

Hallways become packed when students change classes, and some students spend part of their lunch in the gym because there's no room in the cafeteria. Teachers use storage rooms and closets as office space to work individually with students.

By contrast, 6-year-old Central Crossing High School is a sprawling, 260,700-square-foot building that features security sensors at every exterior door, video projectors in some classrooms and a dozen computer labs.

Over the years, the leaders of Southwestern City Schools have allowed a great disparity to develop in the quality of their buildings. It happened at all levels, not just the high schools. There are below standard schools, like Franklin Heights, and schools which are palaces in comparison, like Central Crossing. And as I reported on the website last year, the demographics and the performance of the four high schools are strikingly different.

Grove City High School was designated Excellent by the State Board of Education, having met 12 of the 12 indicators, with an index of 101.3. Its student body is 93% white, with 14% of the kids classified as Economically Disadvantaged. 90% of the Grove City students take the ACT and receive an average score of 22. The graduation rate is 90%. Average family income is $60,000, and the average home value $138,000 (in 2000).

Franklin Heights High School is designated as in Continuous Improvement, and met only 5 of the 12 indicators. Its index rating is 86.9, and it did not meet Annual Yearly Improvement goals. The student body is 72% white with 45% of the kids classified as Economically Disadvantaged. While the average ACT score is 18.7, only 54% of the students take the test. The graduation rate is 80%. Average family income is $43,000 and the average home value is $85,000.

Central Crossing and Westland fall right in the middle.

So when it comes time to vote on a levy that would add $250 million to their community's indebtedness, it seems like you'll get one of two reactions:
  1. Levies are supported most by families with kids in school. In the Franklin Heights attendence area, 45% of those families are economically disadvantaged. Overall, that part of the community has more than 10% of its families living at or below the poverty level. I don't see a lot of votes to raise taxes coming from these neighborhoods, even though this is the area that needs new schools the most.
  2. The voters with kids in the other three high schools might decide that their school buildings are just fine and their kids are doing just fine as well. Why take on an increase in taxes when their kids aren't going to see much benefit?

As much as I have criticized the school leadership over the years, please note that it is not often about the decisions they make. As I have said many times, they are (and have been over the years) good, smart and wise people who make good decisions almost all the time. My beef is consistently about the lack of openness and the ineffective communications. The enemy is not school leadership, and certainly not the teachers and staff, but rather is those who put their selfish money motivations above the health of our schools and community. You decide who those might be...

One of the best policies our school board implemented over the past couple of decades is to build our facilities to standard plans, and to keep even our oldest schools updated and very functional. No other school district in central Ohio has three virtually identical and modern high schools. Not Dublin, not Westerville, not Pickerington, and centainly not Southwestern.

While the discussion surrounding our most recent redistricting effort was not our community's finest hour, in the end our high schools and middle schools will have similar demographics, and I'm sure will deliver similar results on the state report cards.

Southwestern City Schools has a real challenge before it. It has allowed the community to fragment, and it may be impossibly expensive to fix at this point. They need a new 6 mill operating levy just to stay solvent - and that's after laying off 100 teachers plus 150 other staff in 2006.

We should be very thankful our school board had the wisdom to avoid this bear trap.

New Albany Teachers' Union Contract

The Columbus Dispatch reported today that the New Albany school board and the teachers' union have agreed to a new two-year contract. According to the news story, the teachers agreed to a 2.75% base pay increase for the first year, and no increase for the second year.

However, the agreement does allow negotiations to be reopened for the second year if new revenue is obtained. The story did not say exactly what kind of new revenue would trigger that clause.

The story also failed, as is usually the case with the Dispatch, to point out that the New Albany pay grid includes the same type of step increase present in every other Ohio teacher's union contract I've examined.

While the Hilliard step increase is current a fixed 4.15% across all years and all education levels, the New Albany structure has different increase amounts depending on the years and education level. For example, a first year teacher with a BA/BS gets a 4% step increase for the second year, while a first year with a Master's gets 4.3%.

So the complete picture is that the New Albany teachers will get about 6.75% in the first year and 4% or so in the second year of this new contract - unless the district gets additional revenue, in which case they want more.

The starting salary for a New Albany teacher with a BA/BS will be $38,837 under their new agreement. In the new HEA agreement, the same teacher would be paid $36,160.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Who’s Taking the Risk?

In yesterday's post, Defining Retirement, I pointed out that House Bill 315 was working its way through the Ohio General Assembly. This is a bill that would require Ohio teachers and school districts to increase their contributions to the healthcare fund of the State Teacher's Retirement System (STRS). The problem this bill addresses is that STRS has projected that this fund will run out of money by 2021.
These big retirement systems are really insurance companies. They take in Contributions (premiums) from their members/customers, invest the money in various ways, then pay out benefits at some point in the future. To remain solvent, all they have to do is have more money coming in than going out. In other words, the amount they collect in premiums plus the amount they earn on investments has to be less than they pay out in benefits.
The challenge is that at any point in time, the money they have to pay out in benefits today must come from premiums collected and earnings generated in the past. When they were collecting those premiums and making those investment decisions in the past, how did they know how much they would be paying out today?
They didn't exactly. The art of predicting those future cash demands is called actuarial science, and it's a mixture of economics, accounting, finance and statistics that requires a pretty sharp mind. I have a good friend who is an actuary. He was his high school valedictorian, got a perfect 36 on his ACT, and graduated summa cum laude from Ohio State in four years with two BS degrees in four majors. A true brainiac.
My friend and actuaries like him have to take in account projected future life expectancies, inflation, earnings rates, cost of living to figure out how much to collect from teachers and school districts today so that there's enough money in the fund to pay pension and healthcare benefits to teachers who will retire 30 years from now.
As taxpayers we can, with a little work, see how much the district employees and the district itself is contributing to the STRS. It's a little harder to figure out how the STRS is investing that money – a good chunk of which originated as our property taxes. Here's a website that appears to have a pretty good summary of the STRS stock holdings. It reports that the STRS stock portfolio is nearly $26 billion, but the investment return has been only 0.50%.
However, in recent years it seems to have done pretty well: On February 16, 2007, Buck Consultants the STRS actuary, issued to the STRS Board an actuarial valuation of the STRS health care program. The report noted that the funding status of the health care fund has improved during the last year due in large part to an investment return exceeding 16%."
Here's a glimpse into the world of actuarial science: "If legislation to create a dedicated revenue stream for STRS health care is enacted (ed- HB315), the annual required contribution for health care is 4.18%. However, …one component of GASB 43 may cause some confusion in the coming months. If a retiree health care program is not fully funded, GASB 43 requires that a lower assumed investment return rate for the existing health care funds be used. STRS Ohio has been using an 8% rate (the same rate it assumes for its pension fund). Based on the current funding status of the health care fund, STRS Ohio must now lower that rate to 5.5%. This, in turn, lowers the funded status of the health care fund from 41% to 28% and raises the annual required contribution from 4.18% to 6.55% … If the legislation requiring an increase in the annual contribution passes, and if an annual contribution of 5% of payroll is ultimately contributed to the health care fund, GASB 43 allows the investment return rate to move back to 8%. In short, based on the January 2007 valuation of the health care fund, the proposed 5% contribution increase is still adequate to fund the health care program on a full-reserve basis."
In other words, if HB315 passes, the actuaries can assume that the healthcare fund will earn 8% annually and the contribution (paid half by teachers and half by the school district) can remain at about 5% of salaries. However if HB315 doesn't pass, the actuaries have to assume that investment return will be only 5.5% annually, meaning the contribution will have to increase to 6.55% to keep things solvent – in their estimation.
Hopefully all of this gives some sense as to how complex a retirement system is.
But that's not the point of this post. The question is risk. What happens if the investment return is less than projected and the benefit payout more? Clearly, contributions would have to increase and/or benefits decrease to keep things in balance.
And if HB315 is any indication, the first step would be to burden the taxpayers of Ohio with higher taxes to pay those increased contributions on behalf of the school employees.
Doesn't there also have to be some discussion about whether the benefits need to be adjusted?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Defining Retirement

When are you going to retire?
I grew up in Charleston WV, a region that was once to the chemical industry what Pittsburgh used to be to the steel industry. With few exceptions, the men in my neighborhood worked for DuPont, Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, FMC or Monsanto. Most of these operations had a union labor force, and for two generations, the management and workers alike enjoyed tremendous benefits, both while working and in retirement. My grandfather retired from DuPont in 1963 at age 63, after more than 30 years service. He and my grandmother lived well into their 90s, and ultimately he spent more years as a pensioner than as an employee. My Dad also retired from DuPont, but at a younger age due to medical reasons. Dad lived to age 83, all the while enjoying a pension and medical insurance that covered many hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
Not quite the kind of deal offered to most private sector workers of my generation, or the generations to follow. American industry came under all kinds of economic pressure, and one response was ending the practice of offering defined-benefit pension plans – where the size of the monthly pension check is known in advance and guaranteed by the trust fund that the company manages on the employees' behalf.
The next stage of evolution became the defined-contribution plan where the employer agrees to put a certain amount of money into the trust fund to be invested and grow, and is generally paid it out in a lump-sum at the employee's retirement. From there, it was up to the retiree to make it last.
Even defined-contribution plans seem to be disappearing in the private sector. While many employers offer 401(k) plans and may even match some percentage of the employee's contribution, to a great extent, today's worker are on their own to fund retirement. Not the least of the retiree's concern is how their health care costs will be covered.
In the public sector, defined-benefit pension plans are still the norm. Public school teachers in Ohio join the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). From the STRS website: "STRS Ohio operates under the guidelines of Chapter 3307 of the Ohio Revised Code as enacted by the Ohio General Assembly. It is legally separate from and fiscally independent of state and local governments."
It turns out that it's not really that independent. There is a bill, HB315, working its way through the General Assembly which, if passed, would increase by law teacher contributions to STRS by 2.5% of their salary, and likewise require the school districts to increase their contributions by 2.5%. This is because the STRS management has projected that their health care fund will run out of money by 2021.
The Ohio Education Association (the state teachers' union) endorses HB315, and is encouraging teachers to write letters in support to legislators (with a sample provided). The closing line of the model letter is "As an active teacher, I would rather pay a manageable amount towards my future health care benefits while I'm working than be saddled with the full cost of health care in retirement. Please support HB 315 to help provide access to affordable health care for Ohio's current and future retired teachers."
Interestingly, the Ohio School Boards Association opposes HB315, and has created an 'opposition toolkit' which can be downloaded. Their press release states: "STRS has $77 billion dollars in assets and wants more to fund healthcare for retired teachers. We want our teachers to receive a fair retirement. By law, STRS must provide a defined retirement benefit that is very generous. How many Ohioans have the opportunity to retire at age 50 with full benefits and get annual increases?"
For the 85% of the STRS members who are in their defined-benefit retirement plan, the retirement schedule is:
  1. At any age after 30 years of service and receive 66% of the average final salary for life;
  2. At any age after 35 years and receive 88%
  3. At any age after 40 years and receive 100%
  4. At age 55 after 25 years of service and receive 55%
  5. At age 60 after 5 years of service
  6. Early retirement is available as early as age 50 with full benefits
On top of that the defined-benefit plan provides for 3% annual 'cost-of-living' increases.
To put this in real numbers, a Hilliard teacher with a Masters degree + 15 additional hours and 30 years of service who retired in June 2008 would have a final average salary of $83,935 (one reason to get the new contract settled before the end of the school year). That would make the retirement benefit $73,863, increasing by $2,216 every year. Note that it is quite possible for a teacher to complete 30 years of service while still in his/her young 50s.
I won't argue that 30 years of teaching isn't hard work. But those of us in private sector work pretty hard too. And it looks like for many of us, there will be no retirement – not at 55, or 65, or even 75. You have a good deal –
– a very good deal.

What Goes Up…

The Sunday, June 08, 2008 edition of The Columbus Dispatch included a story titled "County tax bills to stay the same."

I thought that was a strange thing to say, given that Ohio law provides for this anyway. It turns out that there's much more to it – as is often the case with such political pronouncements. But first some history:

In the mid-1970s, George Voinovich drove for the adoption of what is today commonly called House Bill 920 (HB920), which was designed to protect Ohio homeowners – especially those in Voinovich's hometown of Cleveland – from being taxed out their homes as real estate value skyrocketed. The simple explanation of this legislation, which became section 319.301 of the Ohio Revised Code, is that your property taxes stay the same even if the county auditor's office increases their assessment of the market value of your property.

While Ohio property owners very much like this concept, in discussions about school funding one will often hear school leaders complain about HB920 and how it prevents property tax revenues from increasing with inflation. Here are a couple of quotes I found out on the web (there are many more if you want to look):

  • "HB920 is one of the fundamental problems with the school funding system in Ohio. Since it prevents operating levies from growing with inflation, it forces school districts to return to the ballot on a regular basis." - Milford Exempted Village Schools.
  • "In school funding it is inevitable that expenditures will exceed revenue; it's inevitable. Every school system in the state of Ohio faces this dilemma because revenue by HB920 does not grow; it's intended to be that way through legislation. So, when a levy is passed it never exceeds the amount the voters voted on. In business you are working on profit and hoping to increase your profit; in schools we know that our revenue is not going to increase by any means of any profits, so what taxpayers voted on is what HB920 assures will happen and that is the revenue remains at what was voted on." Pickerington Schools.

And here is the transcript from a panel discussion on Cleveland's WCPN-FM on September 12, 2000.

Our own Superintendent Dale McVey has been heard to say that "HB920 does not allow our revenue to increase with inflation."

Of course, in that statement, Mr. McVey is equating changes in home values with inflation. He is also saying that the operating costs of our schools increase with inflation as well. Neither is true.

Our operating costs increase because of the compensation structure of the union contracts with the teachers (HEA) and staff (OAPSE), as well the compensation program for administrators. These costs don't change with inflation – which has been very low over the past decade – they're the product of the collective bargaining process which is built on the belief that we, the taxpayers of the school district, will eventually cave in and pay whatever it takes to cover the deal that gets negotiated. That theory is currently being put to the test.

And it should be clear to everyone at this point that home values do not change with inflation either. Home values are a reflection of the demand for housing in a neighborhood and the supply of available homes. That demand for specific neighborhoods is driven by the level of desire parents have to get their kids into a particular school system (and sometimes even which school building within a school district). In general, the better the schools, the higher the home prices. That's why Bexley and Upper Arlington home prices have been high for decades: great schools and a limited supply of housing because neither city has room for residential expansion.

Suddenly, we have entered a time when the housing market has gone soft – very soft. One has only to drive around our community and observe the quantity of homes for sale, many for months and months. Even though many homes in Hilliard are being offered for what looks like bargain-basement prices, there is still a shortage of buyers, because most of those buyers have homes of their own that they must first sell. We have yet to see the bottom of the market I suspect.

If home values have gone down dramatically, that should at least mean our property taxes will go down too, right?

Nope. This is the flip side of HB920. While it prevents schools from getting any extra revenue (per property) when property values are going up, it also protect those schools from getting any less when property values go down. As said recently by Franklin County Auditor Joe Testa: "Frequently I am asked his question: 'If property values actually did decline, how much of a tax break will we see?' The surprising answer is, almost nothing. Why? It is because Ohio tax law protects schools, social service agencies etc. during down markets in the same way it protects homeowners during up markets through a tax rate adjuster called 'reduction factors."

There is however some criticism with the broad-brush declaration by state and county officials that, across the board, there will be no increase or decrease in assessed property values in the 2008 triennial reassessment. After all, isn't it obvious that the home values in the neighborhoods with tons of foreclosures have gone down much more than in more stable and affluent neighborhoods?

This general declaration of unchanged property values was necessary to keep from triggering an even more obscure element of the HB920 law, which provides that if the change in the value of your property is greater than the average change in value of all properties in your taxing district, then your property tax bill will be adjusted in relation to the rest of the taxing district. By declaring that all property has had no change in appraised value, by definition everyone's property tax bill stays the same.

The alternative to taking this position would be a political nightmare for our elected officials. For example, there are a number of new developments in our school district which were built precisely to market to individuals via the subprime loan mechanism. Those are the neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates and consequently the houses there have seen the largest decrease in value compared to other housing in the school district. If the County Auditor came in and reassessed only those properties to a lower value, then the change would be greater than the average change across the school district, and those property owners would indeed have their property taxes lowered while the rest of us would continue paying the same taxes as now. How well do you think that would have gone over?

By the way, the same thing would have been true in reverse if we were still in a booming real estate market and the County Auditor went into Ballantrae for example and said home values there had increased at a much higher rate than home values in the rest of the school district – the Ballantrae home owners would have had tax increases while the rest of us would have had none.

So this move by the County Auditor to keep appraised property values constant is a way to game the system to protect the schools and other property-tax funded governments and agencies from a significant decrease in revenue. It also shields them from the political morass of deciding which neighborhoods and tax districts get a break, and which get screwed.

That doesn't mean there is no exposure for the schools. Any property owner can make an appeal to the County for a reassessment of their particular property. Hundreds, of not thousands, of people filed such appeals in Franklin County recently, and those who won their appeal were rewarded with lower property taxes. How many more will do this in the near future?

Perfect Storm….

Friday, June 6, 2008

Executive Sessions, Part IV

Here is the sum total of the minutes for a special meeting of our School Board held on Saturday, May 17, 2008:


Minutes of the Special Meeting of the Board of Education of the Hilliard City School District held at Hilliard Memorial Middle School on May 17, 2008.

Mr. David Lundregan was appointed to serve as treasurer pro tem.

The meeting was called to order at 9:10 am by President Bobbitt.

Denise Bobbitt Present
David Lundregan Present
Doug Maggied Present
Andy Teater Present
Lisa Whiting Present

83-08 Denise Bobbitt moved and Lisa Whiting seconded that the Board of Education meeting is hereby adjourned. Time: 11:25 am.

While the Board gives us very little information in regard to the reasons for their declared Executive Sessions, I've never seen such blatant disregard on their part before. This was ostensibly a public, albeit special, meeting. There had to be a reason for the meeting and public has the right to know what that was. The minutes of the May 12, 2008 meeting gave no hint that there would be a special meeting on May 17. That wouldn't have helped anyway since the May 12 minutes were published sometime after June 3 - after I complained.

To call this a "Record of Proceedings" is an insult to the community. The only vote recorded for this meeting was on the motion to adjourn. And the meeting lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.

I've said it literally a hundred times and more - if the Board wants to get a big operating levy passed this year, they must err on the side of overcommunication with the voters.

Our Board seems to be going in the opposite direction.

116 days until absentee voting begins; 151 days to General Election