Monday, August 25, 2008

More on the Cuts: Timing

There were a number of speakers at tonight's School Board meeting, and maybe 15-20 total members of the public in attendance. It's good to see public participation on the rise. All the speakers spoke in favor the levy, citing various reasonable points for why the levy should be supported by the community. More than one congratulated the district officials for our "Excellence with Distinction" designation on our State Report Card. I'd like to add my congratulations as well.

My comments tonight were simple:

Agenda Item F1 is a list of the cuts you will make to the FY10 budget should the 6.9 mill permanent operating levy not pass in November. However, you have not yet disclosed to the community what cuts you would make if the 6.9 mill levy passes.

In other words, there must have been three budget projections developed in the past year.

First, a budget that would be in effect with the passage of the 9.5 mill levy – now moot – which presumably would have fully funded our current staffing and programming without cuts.

A second which would be put into effect with the failure to pass any new levy, which should be the first budget less the cuts you have described in F1, totaling approximately $11 million per year.

And finally, a budget which would be put into effect should the 6.9 mill levy pass. Presumably it would be somewhere between the first two, requiring some level of cuts.

Or perhaps your thinking is that the 9.5 mill levy would have fully funded all current staffing and programs for three years, while the 6.9 mill levy will fully fund all current staffing and programs for only two years.

Whatever the answer, the point is that the public doesn't understand what we would be getting with the 6.9 mill levy that's different from the 9.5 mills, or zero mills.

I'm making the assumption that these three budget scenarios were prepared in order to support the assertion by the Superintendent, the Board President and other Board members that "6.9 is as low as we can go" on this levy. Otherwise, the 6.9 mills is just a seat-of-the-pants number, and I'd hate to think our $150 million district is being run on a seat-of-the-pants basis.


I expected that the regular meeting wouldn't last very long, but Superintendent McVey presented an implementation timeline for the cuts that would be made if the levy doesn't pass. It looked like this:*

On Nov 5, 2008 (the day after the election), the following would be cut:

  • 84 Assistant Coaches starting with winter season (not all will be layoffs as most coaches are also teachers – this just cuts the Supplemental Salary they get as coaches)
  • Freshman sports (36 coaches) that start in the winter
  • All Middle School sports which start in the winter
  • All Middle School athletic field trips
  • All Middle School music field trips starting with the winter season
  • All shuttles

On Jan 5, 2009 (the first day after Christmas break), the following would be cut:

  • 10 3rd shift custodians
  • Stipends would be cut in half (I'm not sure what this is)
  • Evening, after-school and weekend building usage fees would be raised to reflect actual cost

On Mar 30, 2009 (the first day after Spring Break), the following would be cut:

  • 9-12 busing
  • Kindergarten mid-day busing
  • Daycare transportation
  • Summer School and summer school transportation

The remainder of the items on the cut list would be enacted at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

The Superintendent indicated that if cuts didn't commence on this schedule, the School Board would need to put a levy approaching "13-14 mills" on the ballot in March. I don't quite understand this remark, but I have always assumed that if the 6.9 mill doesn't pass this November, there is likely to be another levy on the ballot no later than Nov 09 anyway.

Remember that in Nov 07, Treasurer Brian Wilson said that if no levy is passed, there will need to be $3.9 million in cuts in FY09 (which have already been enacted), another $18.2 million in FY10 (how did that drop to just $11 million?), and another $3.1 million in FY11.

In fact, it makes complete sense to say that for each year funding is held constant, more and more junior people will need to be laid off and more programs cut in order to pay the increasing cost of compensation and benefits of the more senior people. With no new money, the only way to fund 7% pay raises for some is to lay off others. I'm hoping the union members are discussing this and looking for other solutions (e.g. smaller raises across the board).


  1. Hi Paul,
    Nice job at the meeting tonight. I'm sure it gets frustrating to ask these relevant questions that never seem to get get answered by any of the board members. It sure would be nice if they felt an obligation to respond to any of the tougher questions posed by the audience, especially when their silence on the matter only creates more feelings of distrust, at least for me.

    I didn't sign up to speak tonight because I'm not sure I yet feel comfortable speaking before this group. I hope to compose something to say before the next meeting.

    Tonight, though, I sat through the meeting thinking how more productive and thought provoking the public comment portion of the meeting would be if we were able to comment at the end of the meeting, rather than at the beginning of the meeting - except I think the board would probably continue to politely listen to the comments and questions and only respond to those questions and statements which further their agenda.

    What I would have said tonight, after each of the board members spoke about how difficult the cuts were to make and what kind of impact they would have on the school system and the community, would have been something along the lines of "Exactly what did you think was going to happen if the 9.5 mil levy didn't pass while you were sitting there negotiating a 3 YEAR CONTRACT with 7% PER YEAR PAY INCREASES FOR 70% of the teachers with NO PROVISIONS SHOULD THE LEVY NOT PASS???" Maybe keeping the pay increases to only 3% until a new levy passed would have at least prevented us from having to cut so many of the vital staff (although I'm not sure that cutting the gifted teachers and tutors should be a higher priority than cutting some of the other expenses not yet mentioned in the proposed cut list).

    Timing was perfect to implement changes to the HEA contract and the economy pretty much demanded that changes be made. Unfortunately, the current board members blew the opportunity to fix an out of control spending problem and effectively locked us in to continual spiraling labor increases for the next 3 years.

    I'd hate to think that either 1. The board can deal with only 1 financial crisis at a time or 2. They believe that the community will continue to fund whatever budget they come up with (as we have in the past) or 3. The negative impact of another levy failure will be so great on both the district and property values that homeowners will pass the next one rather than suffer the decline in housing values.

    Finally, in all of the cuts that have been proposed/listed, I wonder why we haven't seen any for things like Conference and Travel budgets. Or entertainment? They're usually one of the first things cut at my company. I wonder how much the trip for our 2 PR folks to attend a conference in Arizona cost? Or the conference at Disney World. I know the school doesn't have any control over where conferences are held, but they do have control over whether people attend....Or maybe for a year we do away with the free staff lunches and gift cards to show staff appreciation...I'd think that their raises and great benefits should already express quite a bit of appreciation - and the PTO is constantly hosting lunches and parties for the teachers anyway.

    I could go on and on, but I guess I'm only preaching to the choir.

    We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us and I just wanted to than you again, Paul, for facilitating this conversation and for being a voice of reason in this blog.

  2. KK:

    Thanks for your comment.

    For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of School Board meetings is that they don't actually have any discussions. The Board members will make statements like the ones you heard last night, but they aren't talking to each other when they do that - they're talking to the audience.

    By law, meetings of such public bodies must be carried out in the view of the public, but there is no requirement that the public be allowed to participate in the meeting. School Board meetings are created to be the occasions where the Board members discuss, debate, and decide matters requiring their attention.

    So what does it mean when they have no public discussion on critical matters such as the contents and timing of the cut list?

    It could mean that they are having the discussions outside the public meeting, which would be a clear violation of the Sunshine Laws. For a long time I've felt that these discussions were taking place in their lengthly Executive Sessions. However, they have made minimal use of Executive Sessions lately.

    They could be holding discussions on the phone or over email. Ohio courts have held that such conversations between Board members can be considered a meeting if official business is discussed, therefore making such conversations illegal.

    Or they might not be discussing this stuff at all, and just rubber stamping the wishes of the Superintendent and the President.

    Which do all of you think it is?


  3. Instead of laying off teachers, as they did recently, why didn't they cut the assistant coaches first!?

  4. To KK: Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I have been feeling. I will support the levy, as I have in the past, but am holding my breath to see what happens on November 5 IF IT PASSES. As Paul said, we just don't know what would come by way of cuts. This is a very difficult personal decision for me, as I have a single dollar in my wallet right now. That is the end of my cash until the end of the month (since I gave my child more money yesterday for unexpected classroom "necessities"). We're stretching our household supplies to the MAX, and are keeping our fingers crossed that we can, without undue burden, pay the tax bill when it arrives. I just hope the board and administration understand the real sacrifices many of us are making to ensure the continued success of the district. Hopefully, it is at the forefront of EVERY fiscal decision, including those involving travel and staff lunches.

  5. For Tom - a lot of my people might not like my idea on your question but could it be that we actually are overstaffed? Many businesses, when facing tough economic times, are forced to lay off people, requiring those that are left to pick up the slack. Just a thought, brought on mostly by my 16 year old coming home the other day and saying maybe we could make do with less than 4 assistant principles at Davidson.

  6. Paul,

    Could the board actually have "pre reads" regarding the cuts? In my mind, as with any business, a practice of giving the board members a packet of information with records and financial information prior to the meeting so thoughtful discussion could occur at the meeting would make sense. Now, the packet should just be information and I assume from reading about the Sunshine Law through your blog, that discussion between board members should not occur prior to the meeting.

    If there is a "pre read" would that be part of the record available to the public? I would hope so and, since you have not mentioned it, I assume it must not be included.

  7. Mom:

    Yes, the Superintendent prepares a packet of information for the Board members before each meeting. While I believe the public disclosure laws would make it a requirement that these materials be made available to the public on request, that doesn't mean they have to be made available prior to the Board meeting.

    You caught the main point of my complaint - that regardless of the amount of information the Board reviews prior to the meeting, the only place and time they should discuss those matters is in the public portion of the Board Meeting.

    The lack of these discussions is troubling. By far, the most likely reason for the lack of public discussion is that they are having the discussions outside the meeting - which is blatantly illegal.

    The only other choice is that they aren't having the discussions at all, and are reeling off 5-0 votes on everything the Superintendent and President puts before them.

    I don't require the School Board to agree with me on everything, but I do demand that they reveal their discussions and decision-making processes so I know: a) if I wish to give them additional input for their consideration; and, b) should a member choose to run for re-election, whether I would vote for him/her.

    Besides - it's the Law.


  8. Well, Paul, it looks like Mr. McVey is finally responding (indirectly, of course) to your question of what will need to be cut, even if the levy passes Hilliard Northwest News "we will make every attempt to absorb the $3 million by eliminating positions through attrition, reorganizing, streamlining operations and finding new efficiencies".

    If this weren't such a serious matter, I would have laughed at some of the slanted statements in this article.

    First example, I'm not sure whose words were..."The change [in wording from ...eliminating evening, after-school & weekend building usage.. to ...building usage fees will be increased to offset utility, custodial and any other costs associated with the use of such facilities..] will enable the district to keep buildings open after school if the levy fails." Reading that might make one assume that the Board was doing everything in their power to accommodate the needs of the public. Something tells me it was more likely accommodating the needs of ORC 3313.76.

    Second example: If it is possible, as Mr. McVey is quoted as saying, to "...absorb $3 million by eliminating positions through attrition, reorganizing, streamlining operations and finding new efficiencies" and if the impact of these measures is so insignificant that Mr. McVey and the board don't feel a need to announce to the public, then why didn't Mr. McVey et. al. just do that a year ago and request a 6.9 levy instead of the 9.5 levy presented to us earlier this year.

    Finally, in Opinion Letters, 2 writers, agreeing with some of the public comments made at the last school board meeting, seem to think that the people in the community who question the board's choice of spending cuts, either are either friviously dismissing them as "scare tactics" or just don't understand that, like the prices of other commodities, school costs increase too.

    I took offense at these comments - although I guess I would have to admit that there is probably a very small coalition in the community that might fit this category.

    I disagree with that sentiment, however, based on several on the comments that I've read on this blog. There truly is a growing knowledge in the community as to the facts and figures being tossed around and it is perhaps those who blindly support the board and administration who are without accurate facts or figures.

    There is nothing wrong with questioning board and administration decisions or estimates. A community dialogue would be very healthy for the entire district, assuming that the current board and school administration would listen with an open mind and would discuss with open books. To question, doesn't imply not the words of Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but Verify".

    Reasonable heads must prevail if we are going to arrive at a solution that truly puts the children's needs first (above even the union's needs). I still shudder when I remember one parent saying at a recent school board meeting, something along the lines of "... it doesn't matter what the cost, our children's education is at stake. We must pass this levy."

    I'm giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt that emotions caused him/her to utter that statement, because otherwise, well, I just can't imagine any other explanation.

    Paul is so on the mark when he suggests that educating the community about school funding should be the most important goal of the school leadership. Imagine, if you can, a dialogue wherein differing opinions were discussed and evaluated. Imagine the board, administration, HEA and community all working together to arrive at a solution. Hard to imagine with the current administration, but definitely an admirable goal.

    At this point, I guess I've come to the conclusion that the levy must pass, but like those who aren't voting for it because of the implicit thumbs-up signal it sends to the school board and administration, it certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    My goal is to get through this levy and then to fix the first problem - The school board who put us in a financial quagmire. Hopefully a more financially astute board will then begin to resolve many of the issues facing the district with more creative ideas than the current solution of just throwing more money at the problem (and blaming the state for not giving us more money).

    What was it one poster said? Something along the lines of "...we have a spending problem, more than a revenue problem..."

    I hope that Paul will still be interested in running for school board and maybe a couple of other dedicated individuals will also throw in their hats.

    So, please forgive my ignorance in this area, but how many and which board members will be up for re-election (and when)?

  9. KK:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I too smiled when I saw the new language about building usage on the cut list. There is little doubt that this change was the result of the Superintendent being questioned on the matter. I still wonder why an experienced administrator would not know of this law. Or maybe he did and thought he could slip one by us?

    The dialog about the publishing of the cut list has been indicative of the shallow thinking that hurts our ability to get serious dialog going. Several of the speakers said they couldn't understand why people who said they wanted to know what would be cut if the levy fails were now calling the preparation of that list 'scare tactics.'

    Those who are making that argument don't understand that it isn't the existance of the list which is a scare tactic, it's what has been put on the list, including things like the discontinuation of building usage by public groups.

    I don't understand why the Board didn't insist on line-by-line detail of what effect each cut would have. For example, how much would be saved by cutting the various field trips? Our oldest had the opportunity to tour England with the choir when she was in high school. We paid a good chunk of change for her to go, and we were surprised to see when we got there (the rest of our family traveled there independently), that several other school officials and spouses were there as well. Our impression was that the fee we paid covered the travel costs of those officials as well. So what was the actual out-of-pocket cost for the school district? I bet it wasn't much.

    But if the Adminstration threatens to cut these things, you can bet a boatload of parents will rise up in support of the levy.

    These are the things people are calling "threats." Some see them as being specifically chosen to cause distress if cut, even though they have little impact on the school budget. The only way to know if this is true or not is to see a line-by-line accounting of the impact of each cut, and that was not disclosed.

    Your 'second example' is a powerful question - indeed if the difference between 6.9 mills and 9.5 mills is a set of tolerable cut, why wasn't it a 6.9 mill levy on the ballot in March?

    The terms of Denise Bobbitt, Andy Teater and Lisa Whiting (who was appointed to fill the remaining term of Cheryl Ryan) will end Dec 31, 2009, and those three seats will be up for election in Nov 2009.


  10. KK.... awesome post. Can't add much that you didn't cover. I agree, I'm voting "yes", but over the past few months much has been shown to me that I do not like.

    Honesty and integrity are important traits to me in those who "lead". Too many lies, half-truths, "misinterpretations" going on for me to trust anymore. I tend to be the type that wants to believe in people and prefers to think that those in leadership is more "in the know" than me, and while I don't understand a particular decision, there must have been a good reason for it.

    Sadly, I'm not finding that to be true in this case. I will vote for change in 09 and I will call for continued change thereafter until I see a sign that says "Under New Management".

  11. Paul, for the record....

    How many times in the past few months have you either identified a mistake, or led the discussion that identfied an "untruth" by the district.

    By my count, it's 3.

  12. My thought when I read about being able to "absorb" $3 million was, "I wonder how much the budget can really 'absorb'?" Do you think they know? Do you think they have done the analysis of how much the budget and staffing can be reduced through attrition or other adjustments? This just reinforces for me that they may pick a millage number out of their *hat*, based not on what they need but on what they think they can pass. Perhaps the letter writer in the paper a few weeks ago was right, that they don't 'need' any money at all, they just want more. ( ok, that is a bit of hyperbole, but do we really know what is actually 'needed' to run this district?) I am disgusted.

  13. Paul, I would certainly hope that you and the other students' parents were not subsidizing school officials attendance on the tour of England, that they paid at least what you did out of their own pockets.
    I always question that line "absorb cuts". Again, it makes me wonder how much fluff is in the budgets, and how much attention is paid to trimming the actual fat before cutting programs entirely. By the boards own statements, cuts were made last year that went unnoticed;
    I wish Denise Bobbitt would have explained that comment. If we didn't notice them, then how important were they? If one assistant principal were to be cut from each high school, would any of us miss them - other than saving $250,00 a year in salary and benefits (more when Bradley opens.)
    I know a lot of people around here want us to vote yes on the levy and then concentrate on reform - I'm still having a hard time with that as I think it should have been the other way around. But I will admit that I am starting to be influenced by the groundswell I see here - just not sure it will carry over to the point that things will change in the bureaucracy that is the HCSB and the HEA.

  14. Paul,
    I keep thinking about one of the cuts on the list - Summer School and Summer School busing. The first thought that came to mind when I head that summer school busing was being eliminated was that I didn't realize that we even provided transportation to summer school students and the only mention I could find was that it possibly offered to elementary school students. When I polled my co-workers, they all had never heard of their districts (Dublin, UA, Worthington) offering summer school busing either (Worthington's web site specifically says it doesn't offer busing). With a district as large as Hilliard, I'm surprised that it was even offered.

    But the second thought came this morning. My older son opted to take his PE classes during the summer (we were living in a different district at the time) I remember thinking how expensive summer school was then, so I checked to see how much summer school is in Hilliard.

    Turns out, for middle school, HCS charges school residents $140.00 and out-of-district $200 to attend. Summer school meets for a total of 60 hours over 13 days. A minimum of 17 students per class is necessary for the class to be offered. No mention of busing.
    HCS takes in a minimum of $2,380/classs offered

    For elementary, the fees are the same, scholarships are available to students on reduced/free lunch programs, there mention of busing, 30 students per class is required for the class to be offered, class hours total 39 hours over 13 days and teacher ratio is mentioned to be 10:1. Assuming no scholarships, the school takes in a minimum of $4,200/class.

    For high school, the fees were higher and there wasn't mention of minimum class size, so I couldn't calculate numbers for those classes, but most of those classes were for credit, rather than remedial, so I'm not sure that they already shouldn't be charging adequate fees to cover the cost of the classes being taught.

    From what I read in the board's minutes, summer school teachers receive either $25/hr for 1st year teachers or $30/hr for experienced teachers. Assuming all are exp. teachers, the teacher cost is $30/hr, the cost for 3 teachers to teach an elementary class is $3510.

    The cost for a teacher to teach a middle school class is $1,800

    We also pay for site coordinators and summer school principals: Summer School Coordinator.
    Site Coordinator elementary school summer school $3,000.
    Principal of the 2008 elementary, middle and high school summer
    school $6,000.
    Site Coordinator of the 2008 middle school summer school $3,000.
    Lead Teacher ELL summer school$1,650.
    Site Coordinator high school summer school $4,500.

    Maybe there's more overhead (custodians, lighting, etc.)

    My point is, how much can we possibly be saving by eliminating the summer school??? And for the enrichment and credit classes offered in high school, why shouldn't the tuition cover the costs associated with conducting the classes, since we tax payers are already providing the very same classes during the regular school year?

  15. One more thought on the proposed cuts...the Gifted Teaching Reduction...The administration says we will save money by cutting 10 Gifted Teaching Positions.

    Public disclosure: I'm not saying that I completely understand the SF-3 Reports that HCS files.

    But from a layman's perspective, I interpret the Gifted Unit Allowance Section as saying that we currently have the equivalent of 10.4 gifted teachers for which the state provides us a supplement of $383,999.63. Let's say the average salary is about $60,000 for these 10.4 teachers based on the years/degrees listed in the chart. I interpret this as the state is supplementing about 60% of our gifted teacher salaries.

    I wonder if in the estimated savings figure for reducing 10 gifted teacher positions, the corresponding loss in state funding for gifted teachers was taken into consideration?

    If I'm wrong on state matching, please feel free to delete the above section from my comment.

    Also, we currently have 10.4 gifted teaching positions. In the HCS FY 2008 budget, our proposed expenditures for gifted teachers was to fund 17 teachers for gifted teacher positions. I read that to mean that instead of actually cutting 10 gifted teachers, we'll actually not create 7 new gifted teacher positions and only reduce the actual number gifted teachers by 3 positions. I say only, not because I don't think that it is a significant number of gifted teaching positions (a 28% cut), but because I think the public perception is that our gifted teacher count is going to go from 10.4 positions to .4 positions.

    If that assumption is right, then I feel this is a prime example of a "scare tactic" that they've been accused of using.

    And again, I'm not trying to pick on Gifted Teachers, I'm just trying to figure out the real impact to the bottom line.

  16. KK - please be careful stating facts that you can't confirm. I can confirm that HCSD actually had 16.5 gifted teaching fte's until the Spring when the cuts to the department (3) left it at 13.5. I saw the SF-3 report as well and notice that ODE is using the phrase of "units" not FTE which we can assume are different or they would have used FTE. A quick check of the district website backs-up my numbers. Sometimes "it is what it is" and not a conspiracy.

  17. KK:

    You make great points. I suspect you are the first person to look at the numbers from this perspective - the correct one I believe.

    Almost all of the costs of running our district are fixed - that is they don't change that much in relation to small changes in the number of students. This is what makes Per Pupil Spending a tricky statistic on which to base any analysis(e.g. Administrative Costs).

    It's distressing to me that as we peel back more and more layers of detail, we continue to find evidence of decisions that seem not to be the result of sound economic reasoning, but rather an intention to bully the public into passing levies, 'or else.'

    I started this blog being primarily concerned about the funding side - in particular the devastating effect unchecked residential development has had on our community. Like most, I assumed that if our Per-Pupil-Spending was in line with other districts around us, our problem was all funding, not spending.

    Sadly, I've come to realize that this is not true. Our spending side is literally out of control, meaning the folks who are supposed to be controlling it - the School Board - aren't.

    The second truth is that we have a top-notch school district here in Hilliard, and if we don't pass this levy in November, there's a good chance it will melt down before we have a chance to fix it.

    Some of the blame is on us. We've been asleep at the switch while all of this has been going on. Those of us who have been in the community for 30 years like I have perhaps carry most of that blame.

    We can vilify the members of the School Board, but I know each and every one of them and can tell you they are good, community-minded people who love our schools. They didn't run to be criticized and abused, and certainly not for the pay, or because they're power hungry.

    But they're in over their heads in this situation. Within our community, there are scores of folks who have the education, training and experience in the management of large enterprises, and who could make a real difference if they ran for School Board.

    The School Board likewise would be wise to recruit some of these folks to help them in the strategic planning and fiscal management of the District.

    And we have to honestly ask and answer the question whether our executive leadership is up to the job.

    So we can go around kicking each other in the hind end, or we can decide to do what it takes to fix our situation without simultaneously blowing it up...


  18. "So we can go around kicking each other in the hind end, or we can decide to do what it takes to fix our situation without simultaneously blowing it up..."

    Paul, this is what I've been saying for awhile. I'm so gld you re-iterated your thoughts here.

    I realize many of us are on the learning curve and when these type of issues become clear there is anger and finger-pointing. Totally natural response. But it doesn't SOLVE anything. I'm ready to talk about solutions.

  19. anonymous at 2:36 -
    I'm the first to admit that I don't know exactly how to read and interpret the SF-3 Report. But I also didn't blindly attempt to interpret the data, either. I found a couple of Ohio school websites that went to the trouble of explaining line by line the definitions for each of the report lines and explained to their community the impact that each line/figure had on their total school budget. It was quite interesting. But I do know that this report was submitted by HCS, and if you go to the chart called "Training and Experience" and you add up the total number of teacher units (Number U) in the grid, you get a total of 868.87 units. Then if you go further down to 13A, Number of Classroom teachers, on the line that says "Actual Classroom Teachers" the number is 868.87 which leaves me to believe that a teacher unit is an FTE. Why those numbers don't match with the numbers you know, well, you'll have to ask Mr. Wilson about that.

    And, in all honesty, I really wish you would and let us know why the figures differ. I'm sure there is a reasonable explanation for it, I just don't know what it is. As for "it is what it is", well, according to another president I like to quote, "that would depend on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.

    Maybe, as Paul has stated, if HCS would educate the public on the school funding process or would at least put up a document that explains the SF-3 report as it applies to Hilliard, it would be much easier to intrepret our data, and there would be less need to speculate as to what the reality is.

    Or maybe, as some seem to believe, myself being part of this group, the administration doesn't want laypeople second-guessing their decisions. Otherwise, why not be upfront with the facts and figures?

    Nobody likes their decisions to be second-guessed, but in the private sector, that's the right of any boss or employer. And if the employee doesn't like it, well, he has 3 choices:

    Build a reputation for consistently making good decisions
    Put up with the 2nd guessing if he wants to continue to be employed,
    Leave the company and find another job elsewhere.

    From what I understand, the administration reports to the school board and the school board is supposed to represent the public. So, I wish my school board would act as my representative and second-guess the decisions that don't make sense until one of the 3 items above happens...

    The president of the company (about 1,300 employees in 10 countries, with an operating budget of $250 million) where I work holds open forums every 3-4 months where he describes the key accomplishments of our organization, he reports on our financial status, and he then opens the floor to questions from the employees. And if an employee prefers to ask a question anonymously, there is the opportunity to submit questions via the web.

    In the beginning some of the questions were really challenging and thought provoking and I'm sure a little difficult for him to answer. But after the first 3 or 4 open forums, you could tell that the employees had confidence in his decision-making, trusted his answers to be honest and a lot of the rumors that had been circulating around the organization for the previous 15 years were either confirmed or put to rest.

    Whenever there is a 'crisis' situation at work, the challenging questions return, but the president continues to host these forums and answer the difficult questions.

    We are a member-owned organization, so he, too, reports to a board and also indirectly to a members council made up of a much larger delegation. And he does the same updates and question and answer sessions with these representatives too.

    I know that the school board hosted a community conversation in July, and unfortunately I was unable to attend, but from some of the resulting comments, it sounded like the answers given weren't the answers to the actual questions asked, but answers to the questions the board wanted to hear. Plus, the missing component, which I think is very important when it comes to questioning the spending that is in support of the education of your child, is the opportunity to pose a question anonymously.

    Plus, being able to submit questions in advance would allow time to research answers, such as 72%, not 60%.

    A couple of these meetings would go a long way in establishing a trust between the community and the school board and administration. And who knows, both sides will actually learn something from each other?

  20. KK:

    Sounds like you and I come from the same kind of corporate culture. We believed open communications was essential to trust, and that trust was the basis for any lasting, healthy relationship. The last thing in the world we wanted to do was surprise customers, employees or even suppliers. Any time I got myself into a jam, it was for failing to live up to that principle.

    In leadership coaching, I use a concept I call the Trust Circle. It has three steps: a) say what you're going to do; b) do what you say you're going to do; and, c) report that you've done what you said you were going to do.

    The more times you go around that circle, the more trust builds. It doesn't matter whether you're talking customers, co-workers, friends or your kids - it works the same way.

    Our school leadership needs to understand this, and the first step is to get everyone up to a basic and shared level of understanding of school economics. Sadly, I think some of the Board members need this lesson first.

    Then I think the major drivers become obvious: a) residential development outpacing commercial development; b) the State using the suburbs as cash cows to fund the urban and rural districts; and, c) labor costs which are rising faster than in the general economy.

    Until we get to this point of shared understanding, everyone is going to have their own opinions about what minor element needs attention.

    One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to align and focus the resources of the organization toward shared goals. Our school leadership needs to stop viewing the community as a checkbook, and start viewing us as a pool of resources they can draw on to help solve our critical problems.


  21. Questions still to be answered that handled the correct way will go a long way in passing this levy.

    Will the next contract contain adjustments that will slow the rate of spending? We will be back on the ballot in just two years, and realistically does anyone believe
    that we will get a significant adjustment in funding from the state.
    Reality, the next levy is going to be even bigger. Everything has to be on the table. Do we realistically think that a 10 + mill levy will fly next time ?
    Is everything On the Table?

    State Funding: the election is two months away, we have an election for state reps that cover our district. Does the district, school employees,, residents etc
    have any idea what the game plan is
    from these candidates to help districts like ours. Someone from the district should have stepped up by now, or one the committees should have on a schedule to get these politicians together in a community forum so we can grill these people on specifically what there solution is AND a game plan to get it passed. In the past our district, leaders, Hea etc have supported the status quo and with
    campaign contributions.

    Will the district give us a commitment that contract negotiations will stay out of the school buildings moving forward.?
    This needs to be addressed and a commitment to action be expressed.
    This also had an effect on the levy outcome last time.

    Reality is this levy will cover us only two years, and we need a game plan to cover us for the next 10 !
    Our schools and their health are a key component of our community.
    Tough adjustments will need to be made. Are we up to it, or is it business as usual ?