Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Talk With The Board

Official announcement from the School District...

Hilliard City School District
Community Conversation
July 23, 2008
7:00 p.m.
Annex Building behind District's Central Office
5323 Cemetery Road

Please join us for this "Community Conversation" concerning the school operating levy to be placed on the upcoming November ballot. This is a great opportunity to hear the latest information concerning our school finances and share your thoughts with school officials as we move forward with levy decisions in the coming month.

... and please take my survey if you haven't already!


  1. Man, everytime we have an opportunity like this my schedule doesn't allow me to attend.

    I'll be in TN on this day. I really wish I could attend. This has the POTENTIAL to be an excellent meeting. Note I said potential!

  2. Today's Northwest News says the Board is going to seek a smaller levy combined with cuts, because people who voted "no" said they could not afford it. However, they say a smaller levy would last only 2 years. This looks to me like a bait and switch if the levy is more than 3 or 4 mils. A 6 mil 2 year levy is no better than a 9 mil 3 year levy. They'd be "kicking the can" 2 years down the road instead of 3 years. (The "can" being the expense explosion issue we have in our district.) I want them to address the expense explosion, change the % of funding they get from business vs. state vs residents, and reduce the "champagne taste" before I approve any money for them. If we approve a reduced levy, I still believe they would be business as usual until they used up whatever new levy we approve. They would be back in our wallets in 2 years instead of 3. I am disgusted with the lack of willingness to make fundamental changes. I don't think we should let them off the hook for making a teacher's contract we can't afford.

  3. While the NW News story might have clearer, I think you're reading something into it.

    I was at the meeting, and the Board never said that they absolutely were going to put a smaller levy on the ballot. They asked Treasurer Brian Wilson to prepare several scenarios, and smaller levy scenarios would certain be among those.

    Nor did they say that the amount they select would be meant to last only two years. Again, that would surely be a consequence of some of the scenarios, but no scenario has been selected.

    I'd hope they wouldn't vote on the levy amount at the 8/4 meeting since it will likely be first time they will have seen these scenarios, and certainly the first time they will have to discuss as a Board (that is unless they ignore the Sunshine Laws and have private discussions prior to 8/4). I'd certainly want to go home and spend some time with the scenarios before I voted on one. But perhaps this Board isn't so inclined...


  4. Anon, that was my point of a comment I made on a previous thread.....

    In a risk assessment scenario one either eliminates, reduces, ignores, or transfers a risk. In our case, the "risk" is financial need. What you are describing is transferring. The need (or risk) doesn't change, but the owner or manifestation of said risk is changed. Simply put, nothing really changes it's just shuffled around to make it look better.

    Anything at 3 mils or more a year is THE SAME levy we just had. If it's 3 for 1, 6 for 2, or 3 for 9 it's the same annual payment. Plus, we leave the door open for cost growth in the meantime. Personally, I'd rather have a longer levy. At least then I know I have a fixed liability for awhile.

    I will say that I agree there is a fundamental change required, including cost control, a more balanced revenue system (property vs business tax), etc. While the BOE may have SOME impact on the latter, I can't hold them entirely responsible for the lack of business revenue. And even if we elected today, the right group of people to the BOE and the city council that knew the magic formula to fix that problem, it would take time to correct. It would do little to help us today. Cost control can be improved, but only so far.

    I still say there is a short-term solution and a long-term solution. The long-term solution is more impactful and is "corrective" in that we can do things like balance the revenue stream, petition the state, or whatever. But, today, we have a need. And that need is SOME level (wish somebody would say for sure) of funding to keep us going until the more permanent fixes are implemented and take hold.

    I think the hybrid approach for the short-term is a good one. I hope the BOE doesn't blow it with silly games such as a "fire sale" (6 for 2 or 9 for 3). And I hope those that want use their vote to impact change (and rightly so) will see a hybrid approach as a viable short-term solution and support such a proposal.

  5. Take a look at Cathy Wogan's story in This Week Hilliard - I think it paints a more accurate picture of what happened at the 7/9 Board Meeting...


  6. Paul -- you are certainly right that Cathy Wogan's article in the "This Week" paper does a better job of accurately reporting school news. I have been stunned all year by the errors that have appeared in the Northwest News's school articles. Even in tonight's article, they inaccurately stated that the March levy would have resulted in a MONTHLY $291 tax increase per 100,000 valuation. Good heavens. It really makes me wonder how they can mess up such basic facts, but again, it has happened all year. We all need to be careful when trusting the media for information -- which is depressing since it is the most accessible, and sometimes only, source most community members have!

  7. The first line from the NW News article page 1:
    "The HCSD will seek a lower millage amount in the operating levy slated for the upcoming Nov 4 general election ballot."

    Later on Pg 2:
    "While seeking a smaller levy, the district plans to alert voters that it will last about two years."

    The article was clear... "Will seek a lower millage amount." It is unfortunate if the paper's reporting is not accurate. It is even more unfortunate if board members are telling the newspaper reporter soemthing different than what they have discussed in public meetings. But aren't these their usual tactics? Dictate to us how it's going to be through statements to the press. They already know what they are going to do. The meeting is just to go through the motions and make it look like they have considered what we want. It is business as usual. Any levy that passes, it will be business as usual until it is spent. They learned nothing from the March levy defeat and they gave us the finger by agreeing to a teacher's contract that we cannot afford without a 9 mil levy. They own it and I don't think we should bail them out by playing games with hybrids.

  8. By going for a smaller levy now, and making it last for 2 years, the Board may be trying to get off cycle where the levy and HEA contract negotiations are happening around the same time.

    I too will not be able to make the meeting with the Board. I just wish they would give us more notice than 10+/- days prior to the event.

  9. RE: Hilliard Northwest News vs ThisWeek Hilliard, you're right - the Rosemary Kubera article made it sound like a made decision, while Cathy Wogan, I think, painted a more accurate picture of the discussion.

    Edjr: It would be nice if the Board was thinking that way, but there was nothing said in their discussion that indicated that they have a goal of decoupling contract and levy cycles, or that they have even thought of this point.

    I've wondered whether that would be a good thing, and I guess it depends which one is 'ahead' of the other. If a levy passes first, and the district looks flush with cash, then the tendency for the HEA will be to demand more, and for the Board to be more generous, which just accelerates the timing for the next levy.

    But on the other hand, if the contract negotiations come and the end of a levy cycle, as is the case this time, it makes it look like whatever the HEA gets is money we don't have, forcing a bigger levy that we want.

    The right answer is somewhere in between. The HEA members should reasonably expect to receive increases commensurate with the general economic conditions, and the people of the community should be willing to underwrite those costs (hopefully in partnership with new local businesses and the State of Ohio, neither of which are helping a lot right now).

    When the basic mechanics of funding and spending are well-understood by the community, the timing shouldn't matter. But the mechanics aren't well understood, so everytime a levy vote comes up, emotions prevail over reason.

    And this isn't a time when people's emotions lean toward pumping money into things they don't understand.

  10. Levy amounts are not guesses or random figures or firesales, they are mathematical calculations easily derived from the five year forecast. When they say a levy will last two years, all that means in that the well runs dry in FY2011 instead of FY2012. If the rate of spending continues unabated, it doesn't save you a penny over time. You are still paying for the expenses identified in the forecast. Whether that happens at 6 mills every 2 years or 9 mills every 3 is more a psychology problem than a math problem. Keep your eye on the expense line - if that doesn't move, the levy calculations are political and nothing more.

  11. I disagree - the levy rate that gets set is a best guess estimate of what it will take to cover expenses for some period of time. This estimate is based on a set of assumptions - both revenue and spending - which may not bear out.

    New home construction rates may go up or down, as might the development of commercial income. Insurance costs might skyrocket (remember, the School District bears 90%+ of the risk of this).

    At best, all that can be said is that "the incremental revenue generated by an additional X mill levy is projected to cover the growth of operating expenses for Y years, at which point an additional levy of Z mills will most likely be required."

    By the way, I've asked the Board - in person - to think about and disclose what they estimate the NEXT levy amount will have to be, and when it will be needed.

    That's what KJ is talking about - making sure that these three numbers are connected so the community sees the whole picture.

  12. Seems to me a smaller levy for a shorter term may be a better idea. If we give the Board more money, they will spend every nickel of it, and be just as broke in 3 years as they (we) are now. It all goes back to them spending every nickel they had available during the good times, and saving nothing for the potential tougher times. They even dug themselves a deeper hole with the new HEA contract AFTER the levy failed. I might vote Yes on a somewhat smaller levy; I am sure I will repeat my No vote on a 9.5 mill levy. Also, I would rather not wait 3 years, watching them spend every nickel. I'd rather hold their feet to the fire - make them show us they can live within their means
    like "what have you done for me lately".
    As far as the error in the cost of the levy reported in the NW News, there is a reason those staffers don't work for a larger paper like the Dispatch. And even the Dispatch publishes corrections to previous articles on a daily basis.
    I'll be at the meeting next week, should be interesting, unless it is
    90% Executive Session.

  13. Anon July 17, 2008 10:47 AM

    Exactly! The lower levy amount if coupled with fewer years (i.e., 2 years vs 3 years) is a political move. It's not a real reduction in funding, but a more optically pleasing scenario.

    Keeping an eye on the bottom-line is the true metric for cost control. However, costs will always go up (beyond any initial major cuts made) once "cost control" is achieved. It's the rate of that increase that is important to us as it dictates the frequency, and magnitude, of the next levy.

    Don't assume we will ever get to a point where we won't need a new levy every 3 or 4 years (maybe 5 if we get REALLY streamlined). that's just the nature of the beast. But it's the magnitude of that levy that we can control.

  14. I just noticed that the meeting on July 23rd is not even posted on the District Web site. Guess they are relying on the local weeklies to get the word out?

  15. hillirdite,

    Try this...

    Kind of hard to miss...

  16. Anon - your link is to THIS web site, not the HSD site. But you are correct - it is on the front page of the site now, and I was looking under School Board, where the regular and special meetings are listed. My bad.

  17. Hillirdite: Actually both links take you to the District's website.


  18. Paul you are correct - I guess it's been a long day!

  19. hillirdite,
    Anon 3:40 PM here... Yes, I have had a few of those too, lately. I should have put a :) after that post. Have a good evening.

  20. Just got home from the meeting. The first 30 mins or so consisted of remarks by Superintendent Dale McVey and a financial overview from Treasurer Brian Wilson. Brian's first slides identified those items which are significant in the budget: flat funding by the State, elimination of the Tangible Personal Property Tax (which doesn't really hurt us this levy cycle), decreasing real estate valuations (I'm not so sure - I think HB920 neutralizes this), energy costs, and employee health insurance. Interesting that he didn't call out employee compensation, the biggest expense of all.

    Dale spoke about cuts implemented in earlier years: $589K in 2007, $751K in 2008, and $4.5 million for 2009.

    Brian said he has been directed by the Board to prepared scenarios based on levy amounts of 6.9, 7.9 and 8.9 mills. A person in the audience asked if an income tax had ever been considered. Brian answered that it had, but that surveys indicated that residents didn't want to fund via income taxes because it doesn't generate revenue from businesses.

    Dale closed his remarks by saying that if cuts have to be made, they would be in things like:
    - high school busing
    - field trips
    - personnel in all categories
    - closing schools to use by community groups
    - eliminating some extracurricular activities

    He also said that on Friday the District would receive its Report Card from the Ohio Dept of Ed. He said it would report the highest score since the Report Card system was instituted. But he avoided saying anything about the designation, which I understand will once again be Continuous Improvement because of inadequate yearly progress in some subgroups. Not sure why he didn't explain why this happens when he had this audience. Perhaps he didn't want to open that can of worms in a funding meeting, but seems to me they are linked topics anyway, so might as well use the opportunity to educate the public.

    Then the floor was opened up to questions. I'd have to say that the majority of questions demonstrated how little folks understand about the mechanics and politics of school funding. These folks are among the most interested in school funding, so what does that say about the level of understanding of the other 40,000 or so voters in the District?

    Ignorance is the obstacle to solutions. The consequence of not having a broad base of voters who understand the issues well is that support is based on emotion.

    Parents alone can't carry the day - a significant majority of the voters are not parents. With little skin in the game, there is great propensity to vote against any new tax.

    The Board will hear Mr. Wilson's scenario presentation on 8/4, and is scheduled to vote on the final levy amount at the 8/11 meeting.


  21. I don't defend the HSB all that often, but seems that some of the people last night expect the Board to do all of the lobbying for the state to reform the funding mess. I would agree that they have to do a better job, but when only 6 or 8 people are on the ACT Committee (or show up anyway) it shows that you are correct that people don't understand how things work, and they are not going to get more informed without some help.
    I also noted some misinformation: regarding the percentage of teachers eligible for the 4.1% step increases - Mr Wilson said 60% and I heard Paul say 80%. There was a question regarding millage in other districts and while I could not hear who responded with "New Albany is requesting 25 mills" I heard Paul say "that is a replacement levy" and that was not addressed by Mr. Wilson, which I think should have been, especially if HE made the comment (which I suspect but, as I said, I could not see from the back; regardless, if Mr. Wilson heard the comment he should have clarified it.)The Projected Revenue figures, were, I thought, a bit misleading in that they are based on flat growth even though there is a fair amount of commercial development going on in Hilliard and I would hope that the percentage would shift towards that direction, especially since housing starts are next to nothing and growth has been 100 students the last year. Trueman Blvd, Erikson(sp?), etc, were not even mentioned. Since I consider myself fairly well informed on the issues (both from this blog and my own digging) I did not get much out of the meeting that I did not already know. I hope some of the other 150 people DID come away better informed, and more eager to stay on top of the issue. Wonder if anyone stayed to talk to the gentleman who is running to fill Larry Wolperts seat? I had to leave to get home to kids ( sorry I could not take the time to introduce myself Paul!)but I got his information for future contact. Anyway, I'm glad I attended and will be there Aug 4 when Mr Wilson makes his presentation. Wonder how much time will be allotted for questions/comments from the public at that time????

  22. Let me double check the step increase numbers, and I'll report back.

    The New Albany levy has two components - 20.7 mills to replace a 3 year emergency levy that is expiring, and then 4.3 mills more to cover expense growth. They are considering other optionsother options, including a 1.75% income tax levy instead of the 25 mill property tax levy. They may also put a 2.5 mill bond levy on the ballot.

    The person running for Larry Wolpert's seat (the Ohio 23rd House District), is Keith Goldhardt, who is currently a Prairie Township Trustee (a resident of the Southwestern City School District). He is running against Cheryl Grossman, who is currently the Mayor of Grove City. I've spoken to Keith on a couple of occasions, mostly about residential development since he is also part of the Big Darby Accord leadership, and like what he has to say. I don't know his positions on other things, but at this point he would get my vote. But regardless of which of them is electioned, there will be no HCSD resident in the General Assy next term...

    The 8/4 meeting will be an official Board of Education meeting, so I anticipate that public comments will be held to 3 minutes per their policy, and the total amount of time allocated to public comments will be limited as well. Their policy also says that they are not required to respond to the speaker, although sometimes they do.


  23. According to the data I have to work with, there are ~1260 members of the HEA, of which 1,115 are eligible for a step icrease. That works out to 89%.

    I'll check this with Brian Wilson.


  24. Hillirdite:

    By the way, lobbying is all about money and votes. You can talk to politicians until you're blue in the face, but unless you show up with campaign donations and/or votes, they don't care all that much. They have to do enough to be perceived as responsive to their constituents, but the really important, big money issues are controlled by the big money interests. That's American politics these days...

    Our ACT Committee could have some power if they would act like the OEA and HEA and pick candidates to endorse. If you were running for Larry Wolpert's seat, wouldn't you appreciate an endorsement from the Hilliard ACT Committee? Even more, wouldn't you be concerned if the Hilliard ACT committee endorsed your opponent?

    Of course, that works only if the candidate perceives the ACT committee to have any influence on voters. Right now the profile of the ACT committee is so low that their endorsement (or criticism) means almost nothing.


  25. You might want to remind him that he "estimated" (my word, not his) 60% last evening in response to a fairly adamant comment that we can't afford these types of raises. And while on the subject, Dale Mcvey also tried, once again, to gloss over the matter of step increases; his response to the question of raises was 3.1% until the questioner mentioned step increases which the questioner wrongfully termed "cost of living" increases. That is when Mr. Wilson said 60%. Between that statement and several mentions of "contributing to health benefits" without stating 6/8/10%, I was gritting my teeth. Why can't they admit to real figures? I let it go as it is a done deal and did not think time should be wasted with things that already are water over the dam, but it continues to bother me.

  26. Paul, was there any discussion on
    the raises given out. Did the people who did come seem to really care about it.

    Also was the make up of the crowd
    primarly school employees, teachers
    etc. ?

  27. Yes, as Hillirdite commented above, one gentleman said that the raises given out in the new contract were well above what people were seeing in the private sector. He asked what the real raises were. Dale said 3%, and that's when I said "7.12% with the steps."

    Dale then went into a long psuedo-explanation of the step system, stating that it was a state mandated approach designed to bring all the underpaid teachers up to competitive salaries. I thought that was a BS answer, and typical of the kind of manipulation of the truth that has our district leadership in trouble.

    While it may be true that the State mandates steps systems (or maybe the OEA has just been successful in getting steps negotiated into every local contract), it is not true that ever teacher contract in every district has the same structure. In fact, it may be challenging to find two that do. I wrote a story about this back in March if you'd like more background.

    My friend Rick says levy votes always have the same dynamics: 40% will vote yes for whatever millage, 40% will vote against every time, and so the battle is for the 20% whose vote is unpredictable. I think he's in the ballpark with those estimates.

    And I think in this election, more of that 20% is seeking hard facts to counter what they feel - which is to vote down any new tax is these uncertain times - especially the more it is understood that it is the compensation and benefits of the district employees which are driving the need for the levy.

    And one more time - I have no problem with teachers getting paid well, I never have. My only objection is the practice of obscuring this truth with the "it's for the kids" kind of rhetoric.

    You could tell that a number of people in the room were parents who are getting scared that the school system is going to blow up while their kids are still in school. The challenge for the District is that parents represent a minority of the voters.

    This election will be won by demonstrating to the non-parents in the community that the Board and Administration is willing and able to exercise fiscal constraint. It was a dumb move by the HEA to drive for 7% raises and a mistake for the Board to approve this contract.

    The HEA and OAPSE contracts are key in determining the size of this levy, as well as the next one. The smaller the levy we pass in November, the larger and the sooner the next levy will be.

    As others have said, it's a tough position. It might have been avoided had our school leadership put together an effective community education program eight years ago when I first called for it.


  28. Oh, and as far as the makeup of the crowd: there was the usual cadre of administrators, all the Board members except Dave Lundregan, and many of the same community members who you see at most every event of this type.

    State Rep Ted Celeste was there, as was Tim Rankin, his opponent in the Nov election. Keith Goldhardt, the Democratic candidate for the Ohio House seat now held by Larry Wolpert, was also in attendence.

    And there were lots of folks who I have never seen at a school funding discussion before. I wonder what they took away...

  29. Paul and Hillirdite, thanks for for the update on the meeting. I desired to go, but ended up having a late scheduling conflict. However, based on the description, I believe I would have been disappointed.

    Per the 40-40-20 ratio. Based on my personal experience, I think that is changing. I used to be in the 40% that would always support a levy... until last March, when I migrated to the 20% unpredictable (while having a child going into 7th grade). So, I think the ratios might be more like 30-40-30, with many "vote yes" moving into the "unpredictable" category.

  30. RE: Marks comments. Thanks first for the comment Paul on th 40 40 20

    Mark I think you may be correct and especially this fall there may be that extra 10% who will start questioning the levy. Most of those will come around, but even if only 2% shift to no you are in that absolute same scenario of
    57 to 43 that came about in March

    It was interesting during the first
    35 minutes, that the compensation part never came up. I could not stay, however I am glad someone asked about the step raises.

    If the step raises are mandated,
    which I dont think they are,
    then this is an area that has to be addressed as it is another tax shift to the local homeowner.
    Similarly the inventory, business tax reductions are again dollars that have to be made locally.
    So we hear so much about tax relief
    but in reality we end of paying
    in one form or the other which I have consistently said are TAX SHIFTS not cuts

    Paul and all others, I would be interested in everyones take
    on a proposal to the district to
    reduce the compensation package
    that was just implemented by
    3/4 of a percent It would be less than a 1 percent adjustment, and how many jobs could be saved by
    reducing just a small amount. Could it be as much as 1.5 million
    It would be a great pr move to get people to vote yes.

    I am sure it will come back as being complicated, however to save jobs, and the " educational welfare of the district" if the levy does not pass would it not save some significant dollars?

    Just thinking out loud on that one

    I am toying with the idea to
    get a hard and fast list of at least
    1,000 people signed on the bottom line that in the HCSD we want to move toward spending reforms and
    state mandate reforms, and state funding reforms. Working on an
    Acronym but it is a thought

  31. Rick:

    It would be interesting to ask the HEA membership if they would accept an n% rollback on the salary grid in exchange for laying off fewer of their members. Unions portray themselves as one-for-all-and-all-for-one, but when such questions have been posed in the past, the outcome sometimes is that the senior members with the secure jobs and high pay aren't willing to sacrifice to keep the younger members employed.

    Such folks think it's a zero-sum game with the 'management' - the less the management pays the workers, the more the management can keep for themselves. That's generally not the case, but paying CEOs a $zillion doesn't help the argument.

    The amount of money an organization has to spend is dictated by revenue. If your company's product is selling well and selling for a profit, everyone does well, and the workers should expect their fair share. But if you company has declining margins because the product isn't selling well, everyone has to take a haircut.

    During the first stages of a downturn, the workers don't believe the management, and you get this behavior of the senior folks sacrificing the young ones.

    I'm thinking in particular of an occasion when a United Auto Workers local had a chance to vote on a new contract that would have included wage concessions, but also a promise to recall many laid-off workers. The problem was that, by union rules, the laid-off workers weren't allowed to vote, and ones who were working refused to take the cut.

    That didn't stop the company's decline, and as the layoffs cut deeper, even the senior folks showed some willingness to make concessions to keep their jobs.

    But it was too late, and now they're all laid off.

    The HEA has one product: a body of skilled teachers and other professionals in the schools in sufficient numbers to achieve the results expected by the community. If their senior members allow a large number of junior members to be laid off, just so the senior members don't have to make any sacrifices, then the sum of their product will be diminished, and the willingness of their customers - the people of the community - to pay for their services will diminish, not increase.

    It's not about the kids, and maybe not about education.

    It's about jobs.


  32. Just got a note from Brian Wilson regarding the step increases.

    At the meeting, he said 60% of the HEA members would receive step increases. I said it would be 80%.

    Brian double checked his data and found that the correct answer is 795 out of 1,107, or 72%...

  33. Of course, those models (40 Y, 40 N, 20 U or others) depend in part on the school district you're in, too. I'd bet that UA's is more favorable to passing a a levy and that South-Western's model is even more difficult than 40/40/20 or 30/40/30.

  34. Thanks again Paul for all the work on this web site - it has been very enlightening.

    I, for one, have been disappointed at the board and our leaders for not pointing out the critical nature of these step increases. I saw little to no mention of it in the media (maybe I missed it), but everything I can recall focussed on the 3% "raises". Then, when it is brought up in the meeting, they start up with some little dance about it being required by the state, blah, blah, blah.

    You know what, I want to be informed of exactly how much more the contract was for raise wise. I could care less if they call it raises, "steps", or whatever. The bottom line is it is a raise in salary as understood by the majority of reasonable people. I want to know how much it is because I pay for it !!

    It seems to me that the district emphasizes what they want to in the media to make the position look better. 4% step to 70% of the staff is close to what the entire 3% across the board "raise" costs us. How come that is not publicized more? How can a cost that has such a huge impact on what you and I pay not be publicized more?

    I think this administration is doing a horrible job of communicating the entirety of the districts financial picture. Shame on them.

  35. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think your feelings reflecting those of a growing portion of the community.

    I learned in business that nothing is more valuable than a trusting relationship with your customers, and the key determinant of trust is open and frequent communications.

    Our school leadership has dealt in a mode of poor communications and partial truths for so long that as the whole truth comes to light, the first thing lost is the trust of the community.

    If the majority of the voters were parents, the levy would have a decent chance of passing because those parents would support the levy just to keep the schools functioning for their kids.

    But parents are in the minority, and failure of the leadership to communicate effectively with the rest of the community creates a huge obstacle to getting a levy passed.

    It will be interesting to see what the Burges and the Saperstein surveys find.