Friday, July 4, 2008

The Roots of the Revolution

A few months ago, I became pretty impressed with what I observed about the way the Olentangy School Board was run. They are prompt about publishing the minutes of their meetings on their website, and even include audio recordings. Unlike our Board, their meetings often last an hour or more, with a good deal of discussion.

But as time has gone by, I've become less impressed and more disgusted with these folks. Last November, Jennifer Smith was elected to the Board for her first term. Her official bio on their web site says "Ms. Smith has a bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in Organizational Communication from The Ohio State University. Prior to her election on the school board she served as a Finance Counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service. She and her husband, Matt, have five children." These sound like good credentials for a Board member.

I don't know Ms. Smith, but perceive that she intends to be a voice of change and accountability. There are no other first term Board members, so she appears to starting with a 4-1 disadvantage against the incumbents. At an earlier meeting (April 8, 2008, audio at the 1:00 mark), she dared to suggest that Board members should actually read administrative contracts prior to approving them. She was chastised by Superintendent Scott Davis for seeking to change long standing Board policy.

Superintendent Davis recently resigned for health reasons, so the Board is now engaged in a search for a new Superintendent. An executive session was called to invite a search firm to make a presentation. That use of executive session certainly seems to be a violation of the Sunshine Laws, and they were called on it by resident Jay Siefring, who went so far as to file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General's office. Board President Scott Galloway consulted with the district's attorney, who said this was a 'grey area' of the law. Appropriately, the Board decided to resolve this by repeating the executive session in a public meeting. Mr. Siefring seems to be a kindred spirit, and I hope to make contact with him. His comments at their April 11 meeting inspired a little déjà vu on my part (at the 2:50 mark).

In May, the Olentangy School Board enacted a new policy that would prohibit the possession – not just use – of recording devices in Executive Sessions, and part of the enforcement would be a requirement that Board members shall leave all electronic communication devices and all personal effects or accessories that could be used to conceal such devices, such as brief cases, purses, backpacks, book bags and overcoats, in the secure possession of the treasurer or designee before entering into executive session." Doesn't that sound a wee bit paranoid? (text provided at Jim Fedalo's blog, audio at 1:50:00)

The latest episode appears to deal with the fact that some of their own students have been declared ineligible for sports next year because those students asked to be allowed to remain at Liberty High School rather than shifting per the redistricting plan to Orange High School, which will open in the fall. The parents of these students have apparently been trying without much success to appeal the decision of the Administration, and so brought their case to the School Board at their June 24th meeting.

Ms. Smith tried to get a discussion of this situation on the Board's agenda for that night, and contacted President Scott Galloway on June 16th (eight days before this meeting) with that request. Mr. Galloway refused to amend the agenda, reportedly saying that Ms. Smith had no second for this agenda item. Doesn't this ignore the fact that the Board votes on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, giving the Board the chance to remove the requested item if there is really no support?

So when the time for public participation came in the meeting, Ms. Smith stepped down from the Board table and stood to address the Board as a member of the public. President Galloway then asserted that "being a Board Member precludes you from acting in Public Participation." Ms. Smith disagreed – she claimed that a Board member is also a member of the public and very much has a right to address the Board during the public participation time. Mr. Galloway asked for a recess to consult the Board's attorney (audio at 18:16). The Board's attorney agreed with Ms. Smith, and she was given her 5 minutes, just as would any member of the public.

Ms. Smith is trying to bring change to the Olentangy Board, but is finding it all but impossible because she is a minority of one against the other four long-serving members. Meanwhile, I'm cheering Ms. Smith's persistence and inventiveness. I hope she's getting support from the Olentangy community.

School Boards have a personality. It's one part a function of the people currently sitting on the Board and one part the sum of its traditions – practices that are carried forward without question because "it's always been done that way." Tradition vs. Progress: It's a point of conflict in many organizations: commercial, civic and even churches. The initial cries for change come from the minority, who are squelched by a majority which is invested in the status quo. There are only a few ways out of this situation: a) the minority capitulates to the majority, nothing changes, and the minority withdraws – maybe even leaving the organization; b) the majority truly listens to the minority and works with it to find a new way of doing things; or, c) the minority grows impatient and seizes power.

Right now the Hilliard School Board is of the first type (as is the Olentangy School Board). While there are radical changes going on all around them – changes which demand radical thinking – they are hanging on to tradition and past models. The Hilliard School Board is going to get another shot of reality in November, when the levy comes up for vote. They should have been using the months since the March levy defeat to become a majority of the second kind: listening and changing. Sadly, there is no evidence of this happening. The November levy vote could well be the opening battle of our own revolution. Early/absentee voting begins in 88 days.

In November 2009, three Board seats – a majority – are up for election. It will the only opportunity until 2013 to seat a new majority and declare our independence from the past.

Happy 4th!


  1. Paul, great information as usual

    We have the same issues here as in Olentangy , and to elect 3 good new people you are going to have to fight the campaign coffers of the HEA. the district and city officials.

    The number of days to get the levy info across is dwindling. I think the cuts to be detailed will be athletics
    music, arts, languages offering reduced. You will not see an offer of wage reduction which would save jobs, and programs.

  2. Paul:

    There are usually two sides to each story. Jennifer Smith came with an agenda. I'm not going to say whether the agenda had merit or not but from her campaign, she made it clear she was going to try and run things differently. The problem is, she couldn't or wouldn't follow the rules. Now some of the rules are local and some are state mandated and some are nothing more than Robert's Rules for a meeting. In any case, the outcry was because she didn't get her way at the expense of the rules on hand. Maybe the rules need changing but as a board member, she still is expected to follow the rules of the board and the laws of the state.

    As to the athletes, the current rule holding them up is an OHSAA rule about transfers. They have been given the ability to transfer to their old school from the new but under state rules, they need to set out a year of athletics. Smith and the parents are pushing to have the school change their status from transfer to assigned. However, that is not their assigned school so to do so would be ethically questionable. The state rule is, in my opinion, overly harsh but it is the rule.

    Finally, you didn't mention that Smith got elected running a campaign on false information. She questioned expenditures and budgets using wrong numbers and misleading conclusions.

    You reported one side of the story. There is another. I suspect both sides are a little right and both are a little wrong.

  3. I would hope Ms. Smith ran for the Board with an agenda, not just because she thinks it would be good for her resume, or because she needed the social connections. And if part of her agenda is to shake things up, then I applaud her.

    Why in this world did Superintendent Davis react so aggressively to Ms. Smith's request to review the administrative contracts before approving them? It seems to me that at the very least the Board President could have recommended a brief executive session during which Ms. Smith could have read through the contracts. Chances are that within 15 minutes, she would have been satisfied that she knew what was in the contracts and the approval process could have progressed.

    On the other hand, she might have found something in the contracts which troubled her, and which she wished to discuss further, perhaps postponing the vote for a couple of weeks. As a taxpayer in your district, I think I would appreciate that level of scrutiny.

    As happens all the time with the union contracts, any delays in the signing of the contracts could have neutralized by making the contract retroactive.

    Instead, my reaction to that dialog was that Superintendent Davis had something to hide and that his behavior was quite inappropriate.

    There are rules which facilitate action and rules which impede action. The latter type are made by the majority to restrict the ability of a minority to have any influence over an organization. Your Board seems to have made a lot of the latter kind of policies. I can't speak to the law in the matter, but I know that the Hilliard Board has few if any of these procedural policies that have been used by your Board to constrain Ms. Smith. From that, I have to assume that the Olentangy policies are of your own making.

    When the majority consistently squelches the minority - you eventually get revolution, just as happened in the English colonies in America 232 years ago.

    You can call this hyperbole, but I'll argue that school districts are exactly where we're going to see the next revolution in America - precisely because the elected officials (ie the School Board) do not also have the power to levy taxes. The voters have the final say in funding, and their approval is getting increasingly hard to come by.

    When a Board and the community are working in harmony, passage of a levy should be a foregone conclusion. The Board wouldn't put a levy on the ballot unless they knew it would pass, and they would know it would pass because its size and timing would have been developed in dialog with the voters over the many months before the election.

    When a levy is defeated, it's because the Board has failed to educate the community and failed to find out what they think.

    Blame it on the community if you want, but they've got the money and it's their choice.

    It's like saying General Motors would be in good shape if the public would just by GM cars. True, but GM isn't going to get people to buy their cars just by saying GM will go out of business if they don't.

  4. We just passed our levy with a greater than expected yes vote so our voters must not be too upset.

    But listen to those who opposed it and it wasn't satisfied voters but various nefarious and evil schemes that kept them ignorant.

    My point on Smith and her agenda is she ran on the concept that the school district was wasting money and she was going to ferret it out. Unfortunately, her interpretation of the data for her examples of waste were flat out wrong. Now she's backed into a corner and trying anything to find waste, fraud and malfeasance.

    As far as the rules, I don't know why Davis reacted like he did. Maybe he thought she should have read the contracts in advance instead of waiting until the meeting to ask for them. Maybe there was a rule, however wrong, that he was reacting to. I've listened to Smith in meetings and she really exhibits a lack of knowledge of rules on how public meetings are run.

  5. Just a question. Why is it wrong to ask questions ?

    Who is paying the bill?

    This is similar to the situation here where you could not ask questions as to why there were actions related to the contract going on in the classroom.

    Sounds like more, pay up and shut up to me.

    If the board member is found to be totally wrong and just divisive that is one thing. But to challenge the status quo and ask questions instead of rubber stamping things is something that is bad, then maybe I am wrong about
    charter schools and maybe I should change my attitude toward them.

    The executive sessions have gotten ridiculous. And if a board member wants to speak as a part of the public forum, why is that even an issue. Why is it that the school powers to be want to avoid any questions that call attention to concerns that the taxpayers have.?

  6. There is nothing wrong with asking questions but there is a time and a place to do so. If you've ever been in a large, structured group like this you are happy to have the rules followed. Otherwise you get hour after hour of unstructured discussion that rarely goes anywhere. It is much better to prepare before the meeting but that takes work and it is easier to just take uninformed pot-shots during the meeting or just go along and hide your inability to prepare in advance with yes votes.

    As to reading the contracts, I'm sorry but during a 1 hour or so meeting is the wrong place to do so. Very few people can read a contract in that context and have a knowledgeable discussion on it. If she was interested in the contracts she should have requested them as soon as the agenda came out and read them in advance.

    As far as a board member speaking as a public person, this issue was blown out of proportion by our anti-school (that's what they are) antagonists. It was questioned if a board member could easily claim to not be a board member and speak. They took a quick break to get a legal opinion based on state law and they allowed her to do so after getting an opinion that it would not be a problem.

    This is also common when you're running an organization that falls under state or federal jurisdiction. It is better to be safe when trying to follow sometimes conflicting laws on public officials and meetings.

  7. I have served in executive positions in large corporations, as a member of Boards of Directors of stockholder-owned companies, and in leadership roles in not-for-profit organizations. In no case have I seen a Board member treated the way you treat Ms. Smith.

    If she is tripping up on some rules of order, help her - not shun her. I've heard no cases of her committing procedural violations in the meetings I've listened to, by the way. Nor have I heard cases of her addressing the Board in a manner that I would characterize as "unstructured discussion." The opposite seems to be true - she often seems to be reading from remarks prepared in advance.

    Why should she have to ask for those contracts? I'll assume that your Superintendent prepares a package of materials and exhibits for your study in advance of the meeting - in fact your meeting agenda and minutes refer to such exhibits. Why were these contracts not included in the exhibit package?

    My sense is your administration is not really eager to have this information disclosed to the public, even though when negotiations are complete, the signed contract becomes a public document.

    The public is becoming aware that there are two parallel worlds in a school system. One puts the education of the kids first. Indeed, we should be thankful that there are dedicated and competent professionals who take up the calling to be teachers. We want the best for our kids, and we believe, rightly so, that the teachers want the best for our kids. Parents and teachers are strong allies in this realm.

    The other world puts the employment and benefits of the teachers, administrator and staff first. This world has been mostly hidden, but is becoming increasingly visible as struggles over money and funding come to the forefront. It's a tough sell to ask homeowners to sacrifice resources for their own families in order to fund compensation and benefit systems superior to their own. This is not a relationship of allies, but rather adversaries. The existance of the unions and the collective bargaining agreements formalize this.

    I said a number of months ago that when the "everyone is in it for the kids" facade began to fade, and the discussion turned to a tug-of-war between school employees and voters over tax dollars, it would get ugly.

    Your school board, our school board - all schools in Ohio are facing this. The education community has gotten used to the public being ignorant (about school funding & spending) and apathetic.

    We are beginning to see the emergence of a public which is no longer apathetic, but is still ignorant (about school funding & spending). Unless the school leadership steps up to the challenge of eradicating this ignorance (about school funding & spending), the adversarial intensity will only increase.

  8. I believe that uninformed potshots are relative to whom and what is being addressed.

    Would questioning 7% pay increases
    be an uninformed potshot?
    Would questioning of rehiring a retired administrator be a potshot
    Would questioning why union job actions in classrooms and in the building are taking place be a potshot.
    Would questioning land purchases tied into developers benefiting from uncontrolled growth that raised significantly the individual
    taxpayers bill be unsubstantiated questions ?

    I detect the usual you dont understand because "one hasnt sat on a governmental board" which reminds me that the individual taxpayer is too stupid to understand "the rules" The problem is the rule setters benefit from
    taxpayer dollars with top level compensation, and medical benefits.

    Perhaps if more people questioned our government run entities we would not have
    deficit spending in our govt. and
    tax increases that are never ending and are wasteful.

    For those of us hear, 7 % pay increases with nominal medical payments for the first time is
    a point of discussion as dollars
    could be saved with more reasonable
    compensation agreements.

    When we are allowed to ask questions perhaps I will be more sympathetic

  9. Questions on the teachers' contract...

    1) How does the new contract compare to the old? That is, how much (if any) will be saved under the new contract vs. the old contract (if it were still in place)?

    2) It doesn't sound as if step increases are unique to Hilliard CSD. Can someone confirm?

    3) Are the step increases in Hilliard 'yearly' across the board *or* does the time interval increase between steps as the number of years that the teacher has been working increases? In other words, if there are 10 steps, are the first 3 step increases given at 1-year increments, the next 3 steps at 2-year increments and the last 3 steps at 3-year increments? Just curious.

  10. Attempts to answer:

    1) I am awaiting an official copy of the new contract, and will make that comparison as soon as it arrives.

    2) Step increases are most definitely not unique to Hilliard. In fact, they are quite the norm. You can inspect the union contracts for all districts here. If you do, you'll find they look very similar as a result of years of influence by the Ohio Education Association, the state level teachers' union, who advises district level unions (which can be thought of as "locals") in their negotiations.

    3) In prior HEA contracts, step increases occurred in years 0-15, 20 and 23, and it is my understanding that the step schedule remains unchanged in the new contract. Step formats are very different from district to district. You might be interested in this earlier post on the subject.

  11. Paul,

    I just wanted to provide clarification for your readers:

    I did request the contracts prior to the respective board meetings and was denied them. I was not even provided draft copies of the contracts. Perhaps I was not provided the actual contracts because Scott Davis did not want the public to see that he had made the following additions to employees’ compensation:

    Board-paid Medicare Tax (1.45%)

    Increase in vacation days from 20 to 25

    Board-paid retirement (a second time) for retire/rehires

    Central Office Secretaries getting the employer and employee shares of their retirement contributions (24% of salary) paid for by the Board

    Executive Directors getting a 6.75%Board-paid tax-sheltered annuity in addition to the 24% Board-paid STRS retirement benefit.

    Jennifer Smith

  12. Jennifer:

    Thanks very much for your comments. Stick with your mission of bringing light and accountability to your school district, and trust that your efforts will result in a more involved public and a healthier community.


  13. 7/5 7:46:

    Smith is "backed into a corner"? How so?
    I don't remember Smith saying anything about mismanagement (though, since she's uncovered the scandalous, extreme budget variances--and has been stonewalled by everyone in the adminstration and board--it seems undeniable now, doesn't it?).

    I remember her having good, creative ideas during her campaign on cost cutting and promising to be fiscally responsible. Please substantiate your charge of her using false information during her campaign.

    And if it's "following the rules" that you're arguing about, then why was an exception to the rules given to the Sophomores to retain their athletic eligibility?

    Besides, from what I gathered her argument wasn't whether or not the students were treated fairly (and they clearly weren't treated as equals to the Sophomores). Her beef seemed to be with the Board applying different procedural standards to her and once again turning it's collective back on citizens. Whether they want to or not, the board owes anyone bringing a complaint and the community a "yes" or "no" vote with sound reasoning behind each decision--not just blank stares and silence to those for whom they wish to do nothing. The members of the school board need to be better informed, more engaged and try being good public servants for once.

    All Smith can be accused of is making the other board members look like unengaged, unprepared and unethical by comparison. She continually catches her colleagues and administration heads flat footed, week in and week out. Understandably, they're frustrated and angry that the charade is over, they look bad defending stupid and untenable positions, and they're lashing out at her.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. I got to know Tim Ward when he was the sitting Mayor and I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hilliard Education Foundation.

    The Hilliard Mayor is an ex officio member of the HEF Board, but while Roger Reynolds was the Mayor, he sent his assistant to represent him.

    Tim came himself, and openly answered questions and gave guidance about what was happening in the city government. I gained a lot of respect for Tim then, and wished I could vote for him (I live in Brown Twp).

    I agree that it was shameful how Tim was treated, especially by Don Schonhardt and his cronies. Wasn't it Don Schonhardt to tried to break into a private meeting between Tim and some developer, citing that Tim's meeting was a violation of Sunshine Laws? As I recall, that meeting ended with Tim calling the police to escort Schonhardt and the reporters he brought with him from Tim's office.

    I wonder how many private meetings Mayor Schonhardt has had with John Bain of Homewood Homes since then....


  16. Smith did claimed during the election that money could be saved but I don't remember ever seeing any concrete examples of how money could be saved.

    The actual claim is getting foggy and I cannot find any reference on line but she claimed Olentangy was spending significantly more in a supplies account or something of the like. Her claim was millions of dollars but it appears she forgot to back out the expenses for opening new schools that other districts don't have. It was extremely misleading.

    Finally, you are correct the sophomores were not treated the same as juniors but to say they were not treated fairly is incorrect. They were treated just like the students who opened our last high school and were treated the same under our redistricting rules. Juniors are not removed from the old high school for their senior year while all other students are reassigned to the new high school.

    These students want the district to change their existing rule to circumvent the OSHAA rules. I actually believe the district should but clearly the students and Smith were treated fairly.

  17. Paul,

    Great thread, great blog. I encourage you to keep up the good fight and continue to educate the public.

    Thanks for posting on OLSD and recognizing the current reality that we face. Clearly, we have similiar issues. Districts LOVE to reference other schools to their advantage. For example, Columbus Public was referenced at an OLSD board meeting during a discussion on change to public participation policy. The reference was something like "we don't want this to turn into a Columbus Public board meeting"... a negative reference to justify not changing the current policy.

    A recent meeting yielded one board member (Feasel) emphatically stating that recording and placing board meeting audio on the web is a service that few other districts provide to their communities. It was a pat on the back per se'. What wasn't stated but could be easily inferred was, "Since the district is going above and beyond, we shouldn't be held accountable for any intentional modifications made to such audio. We're not even obligated to provide it to you, so stop talking about the modified April 8th audio."

    Feasel spoke in response to Ms. Smith's questioning on why the April 8th board audio was modified twice before a full copy of the audio was placed on the website. It appeared to be a concerted effort by the district to withhold the board audio from ever hitting the district website in full.

    The dichotomy here is that in this instance, Columbus Public airs their Board Meetings on public TV (over and over again I might add), which is a service far above what OLSD provides. Where was the reference to Columbus Public in this instance? Oh... I get it. Columbus wasn't mentioned because it didn't support Feasel's position of superiority.

    References to other districts are always used as a way to justify, or baseline, the current districts agenda. For example, "Our district spends less per student than every other district in Central Ohio." What they really are saying is "We're not as inefficient as other districts so asking for more money is justified. Now PAY UP!" It is an interesting and sad way to negotiate with the public.

    There are a plethera of districts in Ohio, making it is easy to find a district with a statistic that suits an individuals need. To that end, I wish you best of luck at Hilliard so that your district cannot be used by other districts as justification for frivilous tax burden in theirs.


  18. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Hearing that it is accepted practice to modify the audio is troubling. I found no disclosure on the OLSD website to this effect. Who makes the editing decisions? Is it done with the approval of the whole Board?

    In some ways, it would be better to not post the audio at all than to post edited versions. To post edited recordings without disclosing that they are edited is deceitful.

    I found it interesting that the first item in your Board's Code of Covenants says:

    "Speak as one or not at all."

    In other words, it is a violation of Board policy for a Board member to even say what they think unless the Board Member is in lockstep with the rest of the Board. Sadly, I think this policy is not that uncommon.

    I bet that when running for re-election, Board members don't feel encumbered by this policy.

    Was Ms. Feasal following this policy when she wrote her public letter admonishing Ms. Smith? Was she speaking for the majority (which does not satisfy the standard set by this policy), or was she speaking on her own in violation of this policy? She certainly opened the door for Ms. Smith's public rebuttal.

    I like the idea of trying to reach concensus that results in unanimous votes. But there are times when it is appropriate - even necessarily - for a member of a governing body to stand on their own principles and not cave in to the majority - especially if those principles are a key reason why the individual was elected to office.

  19. Paul, you are dancing around the main question which is -

    What is the role of an elected school board?

    School districts themselves don't have the answer. Some boards vote on everything, others vote on nothing above what is required in the ORC. Some actively challenge the administration, some never challenge the superintendent on anything.

    A corollary to the question is - what kind of school board do we want in Hilliard? Do we want people who will constantly second guess the superintendent on every decision. Do we want people who will second guess the textbook selections, the lunch menus and so forth. Assuming we do, where do you draw the line.

    Obviously, Jennifer Smith wants to be a different kind of school board member than her colleagues and that is why they clash. It might seem obvious that someone wants to review contracts before approving them but that's not the norm in school board operations. Most school boards don't second guess the treasurer in forecasting a supply budget. Jennifer Smith thinks that is part of the job.

    The question in Hilliard is - do we want someone like Jennifer Smith or do we want the more traditional "sit down, shut up, vote yes" type.

  20. To Anonymous 12:12 am

    You claimed that Smith “got elected running a campaign on false information” but, when pressed to support your charge you now say you “(I) don’t remember ever seeing any concrete examples of how money could be saved”. Which is it?

    You also now claim: “The actual claim is getting foggy and I cannot find any reference on line but she claimed Olentangy was spending significantly more in a supplies account or something of the like. Her claim was millions of dollars but it appears she forgot to back out the expenses for opening new schools that other districts don't have. It was extremely misleading.”

    Well, my recollection is not as “foggy” as yours so I recall Smith noting that the district’s 2008 budget showed Professional Services and Supplies & Materials increasing by something like 40% and 60%, respectively; these were the districts figures—not her own. This is a hockey stick that shows increases that far exceed the incremental growth one would expect to see for new builds. If you look at past budgets I bet you’ll see years where more schools were opened than in 2008-2009, with a fraction of the increase in these expense areas. Such growth in these areas points to poor budgeting, poor cost management, or fraud if these accounts were knowingly inflated beyond known demand and contingency to suit other purposes. Witnessing from the sidelines the veil of secrecy that the administration has been fighting to maintain over the financial data—and the self-incriminating actions the majority of the board have taken to prevent a colleague from gaining visibility into them—I have little faith that the latter is not occurring.

    Lastly, you claim: “Finally, you are correct the sophomores were not treated the same as juniors but to say they were not treated fairly is incorrect. They were treated just like the students who opened our last high school and were treated the same under our redistricting rules.”

    No, the Sophomores were not treated the same as the Juniors, and No, they weren’t treated fairly. You know better.
    I’d like to say that you contradict yourself (again), but I can’t because you obfuscate the matter—which is deceit—by focusing on procedural equivalence in order to make your judgment of each group appear morally equivalent. But the Sophomores were not treated fairly, and the boards judgment on the matter (and yours) is immoral. Fairness and equality are not mutually inclusive, true (this is your smokescreen), but when one group of students is conferred benefits and favorability in status over another that represents unequal and unfair treatment. Worse, the rules—things that you like to brandish when you believe they leverage your position—were bent or broken to accommodate no larger a cause than to ensure that star football players kept their eligibility, while soccer players—apparently less valuable than football players—lost theirs. Substitute “football players” and “soccer players” with “white” and “black” and the board would be defending itself against a lawsuit now, instead of browbeating a conscientious board member for insiting that citizens' concerns receive thoughtful consideration. Shame on the board for allowing this to happen; shame on the board for not giving the aggrieved party a decision (blank stares and silence is not a decision), and shame on you for trying to deceive the readers of this forum on this issue.

  21. Tim Ward is a good man and had the right intentions. But he had a silver bullet in a Hilliard Soccer Assn boosters endoresement-mailing of City Council members in violation of the Assn's tax exempt status but he refused to use it.

    He could have ended the "Old Guard's" reign with a compaint to the Ohio Secretary of State but he chose instead to take the high road and argue the issues, which was particularly difficult given the local paper's bias against him and for Council/Reynolds.

  22. Glad you asked the question about the role of school boards.

    As I said earlier, I've served in both executive management (of CompuServe and Worldcom) and on the Board of Directors of shareholder owned corporations (Pinnacle Data, iAsiaWorks), so I think I have some relevant knowledge on this matter.

    Those two roles - Board and Management - are clearly different, for a reason. In the private sector, the Board of Directors represents the shareholders - the true owners of a corporation. The key roles are straightforward: a) the hiring and supervision of the CEO and other executive officers; b) the development of the strategic goals and methods for the organization; and, c) monitoring the operational and fiscal performance of the organization on behalf of the shareholders.

    You can hang a ton of other words on this, but this is the basic stuff. People like to talk about stakeholders and culture and civic duty and all that, but in the end its all about the shareholders, and everything else is a means to that end.

    We're seeing a great example of that right now as InBev makes a run on Anheuser-Busch, one of the most venerable and widely known of American companies. The Busch family may think they still own the company, but they don't. They sold out decades ago, and now the shareholders are in control. If InBev offers enough for BUD, the Board will have to sell, no matter what Augie Busch IV wants.

    Much of the 1990s stock market debacle in this country was because the Boards of Directors and the management got too close. Whether we're talking Worldcom, Enron, Adelphia or many other smaller firms, things might not have gotten so whacko if their Boards weren't of the attitude that they serve the CEO rather than the other way around. The notion that the Chairman, President and CEO titles could all be held by one person is wrongheaded in a shareholder owned company.

    Same thing in school systems. If the Board just rubber-stamps everything the Superintendent wants, they are failing their duty to the public - the true owners of the school district.

    How activist should a school board be? Depends on the situation, doesn't it? If the strategic landscape is changing, the Board had better be demanding that the CEO come up with some ideas. If the company isn't performing to expectation, they may need to consider replacing the CEO.

    So where is the HCSD? I think we're facing a financial crisis of a magnitude that requires new strategic thinking. I personally disagree with the way our Superintendent is dealing with that, and feel our Board lacks the executive leadership experience to know what to do about it.

    So I think we need new Board members in Nov 2009, and that Board needs to be pretty active on strategic matters until the picture looks much better.

  23. In response to anon on what kind of school board you want.

    First off, I expect them to hold the treasurer and Supt. accountable for educating our students and making wise financial decisions. The tax dollars are to be spent prudently, not as
    as private entitlement domain to be spent at will by the Education Assoc. the Supt and the Treasurer. The board ultimatly hires these people and should get rid of them when they make decisions that are detrimental to the district.

    We have a spending issue in our districts, spending dollars on compensation increases we do not have currently. We allow the Education assoc.
    to run the buildings, and parents have no recourse. Along with our spending issue, we have a funding issue from our state, and our school boards, EA, and District Adm. have supported the current group of office holders

    If asking questions by a school board member, a parent, a student for that matter, saves even a minisclue amount of money, so be it

    I think the entitlement and ego mentality in our education system
    is quickly going out of control, and as taxpayers, parents, we should have the right to question
    poor decision making

  24. In my view, the role of a school board is not that different than in the private sector. It has a responsibility to support the actions of the administration it has put in place, but also to hold it accountable to be truthful and accurate in reporting the status of contracts, finances, etc. In OLSC, it appears that the administration and all but one of the board members think this means simply rubber stamping. Ms. Smith has the guts to do what school boards should have been doing all along. Questioning doesn't mean disrespect, it means doing your fiduciary duty. In Hilliard, the board is failing miserably. We are edging closer to the absentee voting deadline, summer days are breezing past, and I have not received one letter from the district yet about the November levy and why I should support it. Don't deluge me later with desperate begging. Yes, I plan to support it, but I doubt it will pass because the voters feel disrespected by the board. There have been no attempts to make any symbolic moves on the part of the board or administration to show they are serious about cutting expenses. If so, the superintendent and the treasurer would have voluntarily given up car allowances as evidence of budget restraint -- as well as not accepting retirement annunities unless/until the levy passes. These are small items which aren't going to save the budget surely, but they do resonate with the voter. If they want to say we'll lose good people if we don't offer these "perks" then let them leave. I don't think they will be as quick to run out the door as they let on. They will find similar battles elsewhere and they know it. This board appears tired to me, and their lack on enthusiasm is very telling. The administration is coming off as elitist, and for most voters who are doing all they can to stretch their personal budget dollars, it is disheartening. It is like we are living in two different worlds.

    Finally, has the board explored use of an school district income tax as a means to raise revenue instead of, or as a supplement to, a property tax levy (or a smaller levy)? Has this option been dismissed? If so, why? It may appease retired homeowners who might be willing to pay a smaller increase in property taxes but would not have as much as an income tax hit. I'm relatively new to the district so if I missed out on this discussion, forgive me.

  25. First, welcome to the school district. I'm glad you found this blog, and hope the info here has been helpful.

    To my knowledge, there has never been any serious discussion of a school income tax for the HCSD.

    Note that the Board has two different kinds of income taxes to choose from (or mix & match). One is an income tax that is applied to what would be Adjusted Gross Income on the Federal return.

    More recently, the General Assy created the "Earned Income" income tax option for school districts, which excludes interest, dividends, pension income, Social Security and the like, and is targeted to protect senior citizens on fixed incomes, but would have the effect of excusing anyone whose income is primarily investments.


  26. ... and you're right, absentee voting begins in 82 days.

    Of the 210 days between the March 4, 2008 election and the beginning of early voting on Oct 1, 60% have already passed.

    At this point, the Board has not even met to decide how large the levy will be, and that paperwork has to be filed with the County Board of Elections by August 21, just 42 days from now.

    Nor have they answered the primary request of their own levy campaign committee -- to spell out what cuts they would make if the levy doesn't pass.

    This levy should have been their primary agenda item for their June retreat, but they squandered the opportunity.

    They're good folks, just clueless about their role in this situation, and maybe a little too stubborn to listen...


  27. I'm pretty sure the issue is not so much what type of tax they want to increase, but rather the fact that they want an increase at all. When the payers are dealing with their own
    economic situations and the payees are receiving bonuses, raises, and greatly subsidized benefits, THAT is the issue. The board has been silent, the HEA contract has not been made available to the public, and the taxpayers spoke loud and clear even before the contract was approved. It's going to be a long tough ride until November 2009 when we can hopefully elect responsible board members who have some communication skills.

  28. Paul, have you had any luck getting a copy of the HEA agreement ?

  29. The story is that they need one more signature to make it official, and that person has been on vacation.

    I'm expecting it this week.

  30. To Anon 11:53 who asked...

    "Do we want a board member like Jennifer Smith....?"

    As a taxpayer, father, fiscal conservative, one who trusts but verifies and expects the same of elected official, one who believes that checks and balances are essential in government, and a person who holds ethical standards on the highest pedistal (because your integrity is the only thing that can't be taken from you).... let me say that you want not only one "Jennifer Smith" on your bard, you want THREE of them!

    As we are seeing in OLSD right now, one JS only brings light to the fiscal and ethical insanity of our district. Three of them would allow us to fix those issue. The good news is that now we know for sure who and what we are dealing with. That is a step in the right direction.

    Good luck in November 2009!

  31. We need an entire board of people like Jennifer Smith; reminds me of the line "there's a new sheriff in town". The Establishment always hates it when a "muckraker" steps up to the plate, as it leads people to believe that some people have not been doing their jobs. And in my opinion, that is the exact problem we have with the HSB - they are not keeping the taxpayers informed. Once again, the word arrogance comes to mind. They may be "good people" but they are not effective leaders.

  32. Getting back to my earlier post about income tax revenue...I'd like to say that I do think it would be difficult to get this as well as a levy request to pass. However, I don't like making decisions based on assumptions (ie. the levy request is the only way to go). There must certainly be more individuals in the HSD that have earned income than are property owners. How many there are, I don't know, but a lot. But, voters might be more willing to go for a .5% income tax and reduced levy amount if the total comes out where we need to be, instead of a huge levy amount only. This distributes the pain a little beyond property taxes and might take the sting off those whose income and property taxes are on the lower end of the economic scale. Sorry to say I haven't done the math, and if anyone has, it would be nice to see the numbers crunched....that's all I was trying to communicate. Have these numbers been presented to the board by the treasurer? (Has the board ever asked about it?)

    Thanks for the welcome Paul, I do value your and others opinions on this and all school related topics. It has been an education!

  33. I'm not aware that the HCSD Board has ever seriously considered an income tax, of either variety. You bring up an interesting question - are there more income earners than property owners in the school district?

    I think maybe it doesn't matter. The property that makes up a dwelling is owned by someone, and that someone is paying property taxes.

    I don't think there's that much difference between a property tax and a standard income tax, as I bet the household income and property values track pretty closely. In other words, you end up collecting the same amount from the same folks regardless of whether it is income or property which is taxed.

    One big difference is this: property taxes are paid by homeowners and businesses alike, while income taxes are paid by residents only. Businesses would love to come to a community where the schools are funded by income taxes, as it amounts to a commercial property tax abatement granted by the voters.

    Another key distinction between income taxes and property taxes is that an income tax is more likely to lower the burden on seniors who have lower incomes but high-value property. An earned-income only income tax would likely result in no tax at all for many seniors.

    But that doesn't change the funding requirements - it just transfers the burden from seniors (and others like me who live primarily on investment income) to folks who collect a paycheck.

    Some would think that's fair, and others not. I guess that's why we vote on such things.

    Lastly, one important characteristic of an income tax is that the amount collected goes up (and down) with incomes. School leaders in Ohio are desperate to find a funding source that grows at the same pace as their personnel costs.

    The reality is that there is no such income source in Ohio. School personnel costs are increasing faster than property values, business income, personal income, sales taxes or almost anything else you can think of (except oil prices).

    In other words, the pie isn't getting any bigger, but the education community wants an ever increasing piece of it. They argue that Ohio's future economic health is a function of the quality of our schools.

    That's hyperbole at best. The future of Ohio's economic health is based on how many decent-paying private sector jobs get created here, not how many kids pass Algebra II.

    But that's another topic...

  34. So Paul, let's say you get elected in 2009 with a majority of like minded folk. What specifically would you do to correct the situation.

    It's fine to snipe from the sidelines, but we have law in Ohio that gives the unions the same bargaining power as it gives the board, we've got mediation and, in some cases, binding arbitration that does not take funding sources into account and you've got a union who will eventually strike if you try to significantly change the contract. If it was easy, we wouldn't have hundreds of lookalike contracts all across the state and some truly poor district would have been able to make material changes.

    What would you do with your new majority?

  35. Absolutely fair question.

    During my campaign for the Board last fall, I published My Agenda. It's still speaks to what I think needs to be done for starters - which is to execute a community education program with the goal of getting all the smart people in this district engaged in the conversation.

    Our operating costs are driven by employee compensation - I've said this repeatedly. Without adding a single teacher, it's going to go up 6% or more every year just because of the current contracts. Health insurance costs may drive it even higher.

    That growth rate is compounded when we also have a growth in student population. So one of the first things we have to do is get the public mad enough to tell Don Schonhardt, Mike Coleman and their colleagues to quit building houses until they catch up with commercial development.

    To put some teeth behind that, we need the General Assy to give us impact fees for capital expenditures, making it impossible to move into our district then vote against bond levies to build and/or improve school buildings and other fixed assets.

    No one except developers should object to the form of impact fees I propose. Rep Larry Wolpert sponsored House Bill 299 that would have created impact fees as a funding option for schools (cities already have this option, and Don Schonhardt has already implemented them in Hilliard). But the bill was crushed by the developers. Neither Rep Wolpert or our school leadership really tried to sell this bill to the public. I didn't even know it had been introduced, despite having personal conversations with Rep. Wolpert beforehand (including the letter). His staff knew of my interest, as evidenced by the fact that they called me to tell me it was dead. Why would that be?

    And before it's all over, there has to be a respectful but assertive conversation with the two unions, HEA and OAPSE, about the architecture of future contracts. The conversation can't start right before the contract expires - it's a dialog that should take place over many months, and involve more folks than just the negotiating teams from the unions and the Board.

    And you know what? If in keeping with the well-understood wishes of the community after all that communications, no agreement can be reached and the teachers decide to strike - so be it.

    The common theme to all of this?

    Communications and integrity. More not less.

    Lots more.

  36. To the point of the negotiation process and the union contract.

    First of all the alternative is to keep passing levies every three years
    with 20% increases and it is evident that the administration will also benefit compensation wise.

    As noted before, we are headed for a critical crossroad. The HEA crossed the line allready by bringing in the negotiation into the school buildings. The sad part is the school board and the admin did nothing about it. So we are probably headed for a job action at some point.

    When economic times were going well
    people had the tendency to hold their nose and say yes. But with things getting tighter and finding out about the contract that has caused some serious questions. I dont favor a zero raise either, however if you dont have the funds to pay, why was this done.

    This question has not been answered by the board.

    If the HEA wants to throw the strike element in, given their very positive benefits, time off, pay levels, then so be it.

    I dont think the "cuts" on things
    that have a very small impact are going to do the trick.

    It seems interesting in the board
    discussions that compensation never comes up. I bet it will in the fall

  37. Paul, thanks for sharing some of your plan. I'd vote for you just to see you try. I hope you keep some tranquilizers nearby.

    Good luck on the requirement for impact fees. School board members lobby the general assembly all the time and get nowhere. Impact fees could have unintended consequences all over the state, plus, what you are really advocating is an income transfer between developers and school employees. As others have said, we do not have a revenue problem, we have an expense problem.

    I also think you are bit naive about negotiating with the HEA. You are trying to tell us that you will be successful where similar efforts have failed in every other district. Talking to the union in a respectful and assertive manner happens all over the state to no avail. The bottom line is that given a choice, the union would rather have fewer, higher paid employees than more lower paid employees so you can either grant the wish and cut programming or fight the wish and eventually cut programming anyway when Hilliard fails multiple levys in a row.

  38. Thanks for the feedback.

    As for negotiating with the HEA, what I'm saying is that I propose that we sit down with them over a long period of time and look for different ways to address compensation than just tweaking the base pay and insurance contribution.

    We need to understand how compensation relates to retention for example. My understanding is that 50% of new teachers leave in the first 5 years. How many of those are people who love the profession and are good at it, but can't live on the pay?

    Or why does our pay grid give teachers with MASTERS+15 nearly the same compensation as requires a MASTERS+45 or a PHD in other districts?

    Do we need to pay senior teachers as much as we do to retain them? I suspect that as time goes on, the value of the pension program takes on a greater value than current pay. Who would leave after 25 years and abandon such a pension?

    That's not to say our district is an island - if we want a great district, we need great teachers and we'll have to reward them competitively. But it's not always about the pay. Frustration, administrative BS, etc all play into job satisfaction, and it all has to be looked at.

    But primarily what I'm saying is that I would be ready to let the teachers call a strike if that's what it takes to recalibrate their compensation package to the wishes of the community.

    It's the nuclear option - I would hope both sides take extraordinary measures to prevent it. But the teachers need to know that the Board is prepared to push the button if that's what it takes.

  39. As for impact fees:

    Politics is a high dollar game these days, and to get politicians to pay attention, you have to either promise them campaign dollars or votes. It does no good for school board members to lobby a politician without also bringing one or the other, if not both.

    Several State Representatives, including our own Larry Wolpert, formed a group called LASER in 2004 purportedly to take up the cause of suburban districts. I attended one of their presentations, and learned what may be the most important fact about school funding in Ohio: The taxpayers of the suburban districts have most of the money but the fewest representatives in the General Assembly. This condition allows the urban and rural representatives to continue to pull funding from us to them, and we don't have enough votes to stop them.

    That's why I'm an advocate of impact fees. As long as the current system of community school districts is allowed to exist, the suburban districts are going to be the cash cows for the rest of the state.

    We're on our own without any weapons, especially when the city goverments allow (help?) developers to build houses as fast as the market will bear.

    Impact fees are just one of the weapons we need, but a pretty good one. It doesn't pit us against the urban/rural districts - they don't care.

    But it does pit us against the deep-pocketed developers when competing for the attention of our own representatives. What does that mean? It means bills like HB299 never make it out of committee because the very representatives who introduce it lose interest in doing what it takes to push it to a floor vote - once the developers weigh in with their threats to pull their campaign funding and give it to a developer-friendly rival.

    Still, the final bullet is our vote. If we want impact fees, we have to elect candidates who support the concept, from State Representative and state Senator to Governor. And such a candidate can't just tell us they like impact fees yet take big contributions from the developers. We know which master that candidate would serve if elected.

    I think the effort to get the option of using impact fees starts by electing a school board who will make educating and motivating the public about the realities of school funding a top priority.