Monday, August 4, 2008

Three Big Knobs

The School Board held a Special Meeting at 7pm tonight for the purpose of hearing presentations from the executive leadership of the District on various financial scenarios, leading up to its decision on the size of the next levy.

The meeting was in two parts. The first part was a reasonably detailed presentation of what would be cut from the 2009-2010 budget if the levy doesn't pass. The detailed list is supposed to be posted on the district website soon, but here is a preview: (The official document is now posted here).

  • Administrators: 1 Asst Superintendent, 1 Central Office Director, 1 Asst Transportation Coordinator, 1 High School Assistant Principal (note that Asst Superintendent Tim Hamilton has already retired, but has been rehired to see through the construction of Bradley High School, therefore this reduction will likely be achieved by not replacing Tim). Reduction: $483,604

  • Classified Staff (OAPSE members): 10 3rd shift custodians, 3 Secretaries, 5.5 Accounting Clerk reduced by 10 days/yr, 1 Print Shop Operator, 1 Central Office Receptionist, reduce all Elementary School secretaries by 5 days/yr. Reduction: $907,219

  • Certified Staff (HEA members): 3 Athletic Coordinators, 2 Asst Athletic Directors, 6 Nurses, eliminate all 23 reading and math intervention teachers, eliminate all grades 9-12 proficiency tutors, 18 librarians, 2 Asst Media Specialists, 2 high school guidance counselors, 2 instrumental music teachers, 84 asst coaches positions, 3 asst choir directors, 6 asst music directors, 3 asst drama directors, all freshman sports, all middle school sports, 1 psychologist, 10 unspecified high school teachers. Reduction: $5,907,163
  • Transportation: Eliminate 9-12 busing, field trips (middle school athletic, freshman athletic, music, drama, art, PK-12), shuttles, summer school transportation, daycare transportation, mid-day Kindergarten busing in walk zones. Reduction: $1,255,042

  • Program/Curriculum: 10 Gifted teachers, 10 instructional technology teachers, grant PE credit for kids who participate in Band, Athletics, Cheerleading, eliminate Summer School, eliminate 5th grade band/strings, eliminate evening, after-school and weekend building usage. Reduction: $1,437,126

The presentation ended at 7:40pm, giving the Board a time to ask additional questions, consider options, and express opinions. Pretty much all they did was make statements expressing the same general opinion – that this levy must pass because these cuts are severe and would rewind years of progress in our school district.

My expectation for the second part of the meeting was that the Superintendent and Treasurer would present scenarios for levies of 6.9, 7.9 and 8.9 mills. In other words, if the list above is the cuts the executives recommended should no levy pass, what would the cuts look like if a levy were passed for a lower levy amount that the 9.5 mills that was defeated in March?

In my management career, I've both prepared and been presented budget scenarios many times. So what I was expecting next was a spreadsheet with four columns, one each for 0 mills (i.e. levy defeat), 6.9 mills, 7.9 mills and 8.9 mills. Each column would show the expected revenue and the projected expenses, pretty much in the same format as the Treasurer's Five Year Forecast. From this macro perspective, we could understand which major line items would change given the different revenue estimates. From there, I would expect a drill down to about the same level of detail as the 'no levy' analysis presented at the beginning of the meeting. I expected the Board to have some conversation among themselves about which scenario looked the most reasonable, and to start making a plan for communicating their reasoning to the public. This would make for a very informative meeting.

What actually happened astonished me.

Superintendent McVey commented that the community is saying that for a levy to pass, it needs to be more affordable. He told the Board that he felt it needed to be the lowest number being considered – 6.9 mills. Valid opinion, but where's the analysis?

President Bobbitt said she had asked Treasurer Wilson to prepare a 6.9 mill scenario (but none was presented at the meeting). When Bobbitt asked how long he thought a 6.9 mill levy would last, the Treasurer gave a whole list of caveats about projected revenue, and then said it would probably last two years. Translation: This will be a permanent levy and it will last forever, but we'll be asking you for more money in two years.

Doug Maggied brought up the cost of diesel fuel, natural gas and electricity. Andy Teater said 6.9 mills is as low as we can go. How does he know? President Bobbitt agreed that 6.9 mills is as low as we can go (how does she know?), even if it requires additional reductions. However, she said, it signals the community that the Board is listening.

Superintendent McVey said he would have the resolution drawn up for a 6.9 mill levy, ready to be voted on by the Board at their regular meeting, next Monday, August 11, and then submitted to the Board of Elections for placement on the November ballot.

I am astonished that this Board would make such an important decision with virtually no data or analysis. Most of the Board members have no clue how much in the way of cuts would still be needed if a 6.9 mill levy passes, or where they would make those cuts.

My quick estimate was that it would take somewhere on the order of $3 million in cuts to balance the budget is a 6.9 mill levy is passed. When we chatted after the meeting, Board member Dave Lundregan told me he had estimated about the same number. A third person in the audience said he also had estimated this amount, so it's probably a good number to work with.

But there's another variable – the interval until the Board expects to put another levy on the ballot.

In fact, there are Three Big Knobs which the Board can turn when considering levy funding options:

  • The size of the current levy. The larger the levy put in place now, the more options for the future. The Board can either 'buy down' the next levy with a larger levy now, or extend the interval until the next levy needs to go on the ballot.

  • The size of the next levy. In general, the smaller the current levy, or the longer we wait until putting another levy on the ballot, the larger the next levy needs to be.

  • The interval until the next levy. One way to decrease the size of the current levy is to shorten the timeframe until the next (permanent, additive!) levy will appear on the ballot.

Notice that the descriptive language I used was a bit redundant. That's because these three elements are tightly coupled to each other – a change in one changes one or both of the others. I've asked the Board on several occasions to talk about all three numbers as a set, but have been pretty much ignored.

I believe the Board came into tonight's meeting already set on a 6.9 mill levy, which is disturbing because it would signify a violation of the Sunshine Laws. The only other conclusion is that all it took was the Superintendent and President to suggest 6.9 mills, and the rest of the members fell into lockstep.

I also believe the President signaled that she believes this levy will produce only enough funding such that another levy will be needed within two years. Of course, that depends on the size of the cuts made even if the levy does pass.

And finally, I believe this Board has absolutely no clue what the size of the next levy might need to be to continue to cover the costs associated with the new union contracts, which will add somewhere around $10 million/yr to our operating expense.

What a horrible position this Board has put our community in. Our school system is a $150 million/yr enterprise, serving 15,000 kids with 2,000 employees, utilizing an asset base valued at nearly $140 million (and a replacement cost of at least $300 million). That's a big outfit, requiring highly skilled and experienced leadership. Or at least a leadership that recognizes its shortcomings, and seeks counsel from those who can fill those gaps.

There are many skilled, experienced and capable people in this district that could help if our leadership were willing to recruit the right folks and give them the opportunity to have an impact without a lot of bureaucratic crap.

Do you know what I think would go a very very long way in getting this levy passed? For the HEA/OAPSE members and Administrators to step up and say they'll roll back their salary increases enough to absorb the shortfall. With gross pay at approximately $100 million/yr, this would mean knocking about 3% off their paychecks. The unions could figure out how to enact that, by eliminating the 3% base pay increase they just negotiated and keeping the 4.15% step increases for the 70% of the members eligible, or taking a little out of each, or many other permutations. But with a give-back like this, all programs, services and jobs could be maintained.

That would send a message to the public.


  1. Your blog entry leaves us thinking of disappointment and opportunity lost. I totally agree. But most of all I agree with your part about sending a message to the community. To think all of the money and time that was spent into the negotiations into salaries and benefits for those that are employed by the district. Then to see the lackadaisical attitude toward the levy as if all this was an afterthought or show for the inept public. With all the the talk of its about the kids a 3% one time cutback would be a worthwhile gesture and would make people stand up and notice. Maybe even bring some critics back to the side of for the levy. Especially if administrators would take the lead on it. Lead by example is the quote that comes to mind. I won't hold my breath for it though.

  2. Paul, thank you for such a valuable service.

    Don't you think that each board member had extensive communication with the superintendent and treasurer prior to the meeting. No violation of sunshine there.

    The rest of the meeting was straight out of the levy playbook. Maximum pain on the community by threatening busing, closing the schools to afterhour activities and, of course, threatening middle school sports. Olentangys looked very similar.

    My first question would be along the lines of how much middle school sports costs in the scheme of a $150 million dollar budget? 0.1% maybe? Also, the superintendent spoke of a resolution specifying the cut list. There is no requirement for such a resolution and it wouldn't be binding in any case - it is pure sophistry. Paul, the administration said the 6.9 mill levy will last for 2 years. Perhaps you can tell us the size of the 2010 levy?

  3. I have no doubt that the Board members spoke to the Superintendent and the Treasurer individually as part of their data gathering effort. What I'm questioning is how they collectively arrived at 6.9 mills without some dialog among them? At least one Ohio court has ruled that if the President discusses matters with each Board member one at a time, it amounts to a 'serial meeting' and is not permitted under our Sunshine Laws.

    Equally troubling would be if they just kinda settled on 6.9 because that's what the Superintendent and the President said they favored. There was absolutely no discussion of other possible levy amounts in the public meeting.

    Yes, I'll see if I can estimate the next levy given the data available and a few assumptions (e.g. that $3 million in spending cuts will be made).


  4. Let the blood bath begin...This sounds like a typical levy by addressing all the negative cuts and making threats to the parents. The school board and administration needs to start sharpening their axes, as I have my finger on the NO button.

    I want to know whats going to be cut IF the 6.9 mil levy would pass. Something has to give.

  5. I'm confused. Don't people want to know what will be cut if the levy doesn't pass? I would think if this information were not presented, there would be anger at the secrecy of the board. It has been referred to as a scare tactic, but isn't that because it WILL be scary if it doesn't pass? To keep middle school sports, they would have to cut something else. Paul states repeatedly that teacher benefits/salary are the biggest expenditure. So, do we cut more teachers to save middle school sports? They CAN'T make cuts that aren't scary, can they?

  6. They are desperate to just kick the can down the road and maintain their status quo as long as they can. With a 6.9 mil levy, it's kicked 2 years down the road instead of 3...They needed the full 9.5 mils to fund the raises they just gave, so what is going to need to be cut anyway? Do they think we are stupid enough to think 6.9 for 2 years with an unknown after that is better than 9.5 for 3 years? They are out of control. This budget mess needs to be met head on instead of avoided as they are attempting to do. Vote No and force them to do their jobs: rein in our champagne taste, psuh the state on a funding solution, work with the city leaders to bring in more business, minimize residential development.

  7. Feel sorry for those teachers who may lose their jobs, but welcome to the world 95% of us have been living in for the last few years.

    My main concern is not the levy passing or failing, but rather that the school board and administration get their spending under control.

    These difficult discussions should have taken place 5-10 years ago before decisions were made such as adding administration at 1.8 times the rate of student growth (reference to info from Paul). As others have mentioned, our district has as much of a spending problem as a revenue problem. Nothing said at the meeting convinced me that their mindset has changed from this. The somber tone and discussion of the "pain to all" with future cuts will last until 5 minutes after the next levy passes (if it does). Then, back to business as usual. Fast forward and the whole circus starts up again in 2-3 years.

    It still does not seem they "get it" in terms of the community's ability to fund levies. Nice try Brian and Dale, but I'm still a solid "NO" come November.

  8. Paul,
    Can you address the 6.9 for 2 years vs. 9.5 for 3 difference? Is this essentially requesting the same amount but for a shorter period, or have they made further cuts that will be absorbed that weren't mentioned last night? I'm totally confused.

    Further I thought gifted services weren't going to be on the chopping block. Eliminating 10 gifted teachers is essentially wiping out the entire gifted program (don't you think one board member would have asked whether there were any other alternative cuts at all to spare this - I'm shocked that they could just say "oh well" to possibly losing an entire gifted population (I would think that the "gifted" parents would not hesitate to take their kids elsewhere fast - I certainly would if my kids were not provided this service any longer).

    Finally, the administrators aren't going to give up a dime of their salary as a goodwill gesture - if so, they would have already done it(has Mr. McVey given up his car allowance yet)?

    Thanks Paul, as always, you are doing a good job keeping us informed.

  9. When the levy appears on the ballot, it won't say "6.9 mills for two years." In fact, it will be a Permanent levy, meaning that once we start paying it, it will be on our tax bills forever.

    The interval is simply how long it is estimated that it will take expenses to grow to the point of consuming all the current year levy revenue plus whatever cash is held in reserve.

    This is where this "three knobs" notion comes from. Normally a school board would request a levy that produces a surplus in its first years, adding to the cash in reserve each year. Then gradually expenses catch up with the levy revenue and the district begins consuming the cash reserve. A new levy needs to be passed before the cash runs out. Here is a graph which depicts levy timing.

    So when the Board says a levy will last 3 years, what they're effectively saying is that in the first year, some amount of extra cash will be generated, then the second year will be around break-even, and the third year will consume all the extra cash put away in the first year (because in the third year expenses - mainly payroll - will have grown to a level in excess of revenue).

    When the Board says, "this levy will last two years," they're pretty much saying that in year 1, revenue will be a little in excess of expenses, and in year 2 expenses will be greater than revenue by about the same amount.

    But we're also forgetting a long-standing Board policy - to strive to keep at least 10% of the annual expense budget in reserve at all times.

    Here's what the numbers are looking like using the most recent 5 Year Forecast (for revenue, expenditure and cash balance numbers), assuming that the 6.9 mill levy passes, and $3 million in additional spending cuts are enacted:

    1. Our cash balance of $12.5 million on July 1, 2009 would drop to $6.3 million by June 30, 2010.

    2. That $6.3 million would be exhausted in 2011 - so another levy would be needed, or about $5 million in cutbacks in 2011 and $18 million more in 2012.

    3. To finish 2012 with ZERO cash in the bank, the 2010 levy would need to be about 6.2 mill.

    4. Here's the sobering number - to restore the 10% operating reserve by the end of 2012, the 2010 levy would need to be 11 mills.

    It can be debated whether a 10% reserve is too much (or too little for that matter). But what it gives you is a little 'wiggle room' when unexpected things happen. For example, if there is a big spike in energy costs or a sudden loss of revenue, a little extra money gives the Board time to make adjustments. Cash is like oil to an enterprise - you can have the highest performance car on the track, but if it runs out of oil - it blows up.

    So the story this time is the same as last time - the smaller the levy now, the sooner/larger will be the next levy.

  10. Anon 11:59, let's say the savings of cutting middle school sports is $x. Middle School Sports is very high visibility and will upset sports fans across the district. What they are saying is that there is no other lower priority savings item to save $x. They need to articulate what x is. I'm willing to bet my levy vote that there are tons of things that are of lower visibility and less import that could be cut to save x. Middle School Sports is a politically motivated cut straight out of the levy playbook. They probably have polling data from other districts that highlights what voters will care about. They are not going to solve this problem by taking away basketball in the 7th grade, but they are going to tug on heartstrings. Missing from the discussion last night was any hint as to how the cut list was derived. I'd be curious what didn't make the list. There must have been extensive discussions that determined that activity "y" was higher priority than everything that was on the list. Paul, it might be useful to file a public records request to get all emails and documents related to the formation of the cut list.

  11. Interesting idea - let me know how it goes...


  12. I am getting very appalled at the lack of care and governance that our school leaders are exhibiting with a $150 MILLION budget. They go about their business as if there is no accountability, deploying tactics (in meetings, projecting cuts and HEA negotiations) that I take personally insulting to my annual contribution (> $5,000, soon to be > $6,000 if the 6.9 passes).

    I definitely want a good education for my son (going into 7th grade), however there is only so much lack of accountability, honesty and short-sided thinking that I can support. I WILL support a levy if I witness accountability, honesty and forward thinking, along with the tough decisions that go along with it. However, I will not be swayed to pitch in an extra $1,000 a year just so my son can tryout for 7th grade basketball and play 7th grade baseball.

    I understand the Administrators and Board have tough jobs and I do not pretend to be able to perform that role or make their decisions. However, I would be much more accepting of their performance if they behaved in a more professional and thorough manner, as well as ADMITTED where they are not qualified and seek out experts in those areas to ASSIST with the tough decisions.

    I'm not sure if I'm the first, but I volunteer at this moment to participate, and even lead if necesary, the "Lambert in '09 Election Committee".

  13. Thanks Mark! At this point, it is my intention to run again in 2009. Maybe you should consider a run yourself?


  14. Some random thoughts:
    I could live with the 6.9 mils IF I thought the Board would be seriously looking at trimming expenses without the wholesale cuts. But the history has been to spend every nickel, with no foresight to the future. That is part of why we are broke now. Agree with Anon 12:23 all the way on that.

    Cutting athletics has ALWAYS been threatened, and often carried out, when levies fail. But painful as that might be to some families, it is better than cutting teachers. I am a firm believer in pay to play - for athletics AND for such things as music programs. I want my money to go for education that will get my kids into the college of their choice, with extracurriculars available at an extra cost to those who participate. We (I) already pay some fees for those things, I would pay more.

    There is still no Revenue Forecast that takes into account any increase in business property taxes. Seems like we have at least a couple of pretty big commercial projects in development - what are the forecasts of what those might bring in revenue wise? Or has that money already been "spent"? Most budget forecasts err on the optimistic side, ours is always the pessimistic side, with no reasons
    or sound data to back it up.

    To not tell us what 6.9 mils will buy is deception, once again, on the part of the Board. I was pretty sure it WOULD be the lowest figure mentioned at the public meeting ( I won a bet on that) because they set us up to get the highest possible vote in November by throwing out three figures and going with the lowest one. It is all about getting ANY levy passed, or they would not have tried for 9.5 mils the last time. If this one fails, what will the next figure be? We are being played here, plain and simple.

    The Sunshine Laws are being violated on a full time basis, obviously. The Board does not have time, apparently, to sit down with the taxpayers to hammer out how they are going to spend OUR money. Most, if not all, of them need to be replaced. The meeting last month doesn't count - that was pure and simple lip service, and full of wrong information at that. Did the levy committee have any insight in the 6.9 figure?

    Lead by example? You have got to be kidding! They spent money they did not have on the last round of raises, knowing that they did not have it. Imagine what they will do if they do get it? They are just like tax and spend democrats (sorry, don't mean to be political)

    Even at 6.9 mils the levy does not stand a chance. There is no trust factor - it will take new blood in the Board. Which means the majority feels the present Board has failed.

  15. Key questions to be answered

    1. What are detailed cuts with passage of th 6.9 mills

    2. What is the difference in actual revenue with 9.5 at 3 years or
    6.9 at 2 years, all permanent

    3. Will the district make a commitment to make adjustments to the
    next contract to reduce the compensation package given out in the last 3 contracts.

    4. Will the district, HEA make a
    commitment not to bring contract negotiations into the buildings

    5. Will the board/district come up with a new inclusive committee to
    work on this state funding issue, with specific goals, guidelines
    and exposing our so called friends
    in the legislature as the frauds they are. And after all the HEA
    the board, admin, city leaders all supported our current state rep and state senator.

    6. Address the "FEAR FACTOR" all the teachers will leave for Dublin and Arlington etc, if we dont pay them a premium increase.
    If they want to go, they go, you cannot tell me we cannot attract
    good teachers to this district.

    I also believe Sunshine Laws have
    been violated. I also wonder
    if we get exposed to the same
    type of negotiation that again
    carries into the classrooms and school buildings that somebody just
    might feel their kid got "damaged"
    and you end up with costly litagation !

    This is all one big happy family
    there on Cemetary Rd. They are all
    in lock step. New blood needs to be on the board. It will take
    tens of thousands of dollars to get elected however as the HEA, city leaders, administrtors, school employees, board member will pour
    huge dollars into school board
    campaigns for those willing to stay in lockstep with the status quo

    It was almost a comical experience last night except that it is all so sad. !

    My first thought was that everyone might cave in, but on the other hand, people might pay attention to the pay increases, and the medical plan, and say you should have done
    a better job.

    I think the board was afraid of a strike. Given the compensation
    and the medical benefits, and other
    very lucrative opportunities, I
    would have said, go do it, and hire
    a new group.

    The people of the HCSD have been very supportive of its schools for
    a very long time. It will be interesting on how all of this is really presented to the public !

  16. I agree totally with Anonymous at 11:59 am. Everyone needs to be informed and know what will happen if the levy doesn't pass, so they can make a more informed decision. People always scream "scare tactics" when the district lays out the information. The district is in a no-win situation in this case. I, personally, was frustrated in the spring when we weren't told of the cuts prior to the election. I want all the facts before I vote, so I can decide whether I want to pay for those services or not.

  17. I'm with Anon at 4:28 PM and Anon at 11:59 AM.

    I'm confused too... People want to know what the cuts are going to be and then complain that they are 'scare tactics' once they are announced.

  18. Unfortunately, the Board can't "make" adjustments to the next contract itself, only the offer. And if the present contract only narrowly passed, what chance is there to rein in the costs? We keep hearing that it was not about money, yet Paul's research of the previous contract vs. the present contract does not bear that out. It was obviously (at least to me) about the contributions to health insurance. Health insurance is only going to get more expensive, so is the union going to accept a larger share of the premiums? Say 12/14/16% over the next three years? Probably not. As far as a strike, I agree - let them walk. As far as I know, the HSD is an "open shop" meaning teachers do not HAVE to join the union (correct me if I am wrong on that. I know the Board is probably afraid of the "image hit" if they strike, and a strike would also have other tough consequences, but they can't keep caving in on the largest expense of the district and expect us to pay for it. Besides, I don't think they
    will strike to begin with.
    And I strongly agree on the "scare tactics" comment - we can't look at valid information being classified as scare tactics. You can't have it both ways. And you can't pay for everything that everyone wants and stay within ANY budget. They have to rethink the entire budget based on the present day economics such as lower state funding etc.

  19. Hilliard teachers are not required to join the union, but the very first article of the HEA contract states that the Board recognizes the HEA as "the sole and exclusive representative of all regular full-time and part-time licensed/certificated employees." In other words, no teacher in the HCSD is free to negotiate their own employment deal. Adding insult to injury, the HEA gets to collect what is called a "Fair Share Fee" (Article 33) from any teacher who is not an HEA member on the rationale that since the non-member benefits from the HEA's negotiations, the non-member should pay some of the negotiating cost.


  20. Paul... thanks for thinking I would be qualified... but I know I would not do the role service. It requires someone with large organization strategic leadership and governance experience, with a heavy dose of fiscal and contractual experience. Oh, it would also be helpful if you had a great grasp on how school funding works from all angles. I think everyone on this blog knows who is the perfect fit for that.

    There is a very compelling case to be made for anyone with those credentials in the next board election, even without the HEA/OPSE endorsement. I would just pose the question "What has the current board done to change the tide of HSD funding and expense issues that all other boards failed to address." I think it would be pretty easy to paint a picture of why HEA/OPSE endorses their candidates.

  21. There might not be much of a district left by Fall of 2009...

  22. Eliminating building use is a clear "punitive" cut. What is the cost of Optimist basketball to the schools? I know for a fact that Optimist pays for the janitorial staff(at the highest pay rate regardless of personnel charge rate). Where is the cost of any activity in the building? Lights? please!

    The cuts they propose are so ridiculous. Gratned, some are legitimate, but most are just silly and reduce next to nothing in the way of true or meaningful expenses. I bet Dale's car allowance is more than any light bill that might be generated because of evening or weekend use of buildings.

    Even the churches/organizations that meet in the schools pay about $1000 or more a week to hold a 2 hour service.


  23. Anon at 9:07PM...
    You're upset that the building use on nights and weekends is on the cut list. My guess is that there would probably be someone else out there who would be upset if it were NOT on the cut list.

  24. I'm upset because it saves NO MONEY. It's "punitive" only. That kind of attitude is what makes me mad. If it saved money, I would agree that it should be on the list. But there is no money savings in doing so.

  25. I have thankfully used gyms for pre-season baseball practice for 11/12 year old Hilliard boys the last two years, for free, as long as there was a custodian on site during their normal hours. If this is sincerely a cost to the district, than I can understand cutting it. However, if there are options to reimburse any expenses incurred during use, then they should keep it going.

  26. I'll agree that closing school use on evenings and weekends if someone can show me the cost. If major use is reimbursed, I really don't see the benefit of closing them.

  27. Anon at 9:32PM...
    So do you have proof that it saves no $$$?

  28. I just can't imagine what it would be. If janitors are reimbursed (or already there), what cost is associated? Lights? Heat? ok, maybe utilities, but that is usually included in the "fee" paid. I know Optimist pays a premium rate to cover such things, as does the other organizations I am affiliated with that use the schools.

  29. No one wants THEIR favorite activity, project, etc. to show up on the cut list. Cut everywhere else (especially administrators), except what affects me and my kids.

  30. Anon 9:51PM...
    If this really upsets you, you should e-mail Mr. Wilson or Ms. Bobbitt and ask them what the specific number is.

  31. My kids aren't impacted by schools closing.

    I'm just making the point that there is no real cost savings here and it's a "pain" factor they are dealing.

  32. Let's face it, everyone is going to be upset about something on the cut list. I think we need to remember that all (or most) of US have had to make cuts due to the current economy. Do we think that the schools should be exempt, and then continue to vote NO on the levies? Regulars around here probably know that I am not in favor of the levy due to the spending habits of the HSB. I am not naive enough to think that all of the savings can come from trimming staff salaries, even though I think that is a large part of it. As I have mentioned before, my business has had to look at EVERY expense over the last several years and trim a few dollars wherever possible. And yes, our staff has had to suffer through some years with no raises (Disclaimer: we DO pay 100% of our employees health benefits, although that is another subject) We have had minor attrition that was not replaced but at the same time, our turnover has been next to zero and the average tenure is around 13 years in a 25 year old business. If the Board could act in a similar fashion, maybe the levy would pass and maybe the teachers/union would accept less increases in compensation (IF they can convince the union leadership, which is quite a hurdle).
    And by the way, the two principals in my business took 10% pay cuts two years ago, not since replaced. The administration staff might want to take a clue from that. Lead by example as Anon 3:07 posted earlier today.

  33. I know it would be foolish to point out the clear negative bias towards the HCSD at this point, but remember this: They WILL operate under a balanced budget, whether we like how they get there is another story. The HCSD is a HUGE company with a HUGE budget, and I think they do a fantastic job of educating our children. Mistakes have been made, and probably will be made, as in ALL large companies. The problem here is the state of Ohio and how education is funded more than it is the HCSD. People keep saying that HCSD needs to learn to tighten their belts, "like we all have for the past five years." They have. They have operated under a balanced budget every year for the last five years. Many families can't say that. There is no credit card, that I know of, for the HCSD. If they don't have the money, they don't get it. They HAVE tightened their belts, and made cuts, in order to make it work. I don't think they get enough credit for running a district that meets EVERY statewide indicator. They are good at what they do. Funding sucks. The State of Ohio is to blame, not HCSD. Someone in another post said the collapse of HCSD is not something they are willing to experiment with. I agree. Let's fix funding without making the collapse of our district the impetus for change. All this talk of the district as a business forgets one thing-HCSD can't do anything to change income, other than a levy. EVERY company that looks at expenditures is also looking at ways to bring in more income. McVey is looking at that, but until it changes the only way is a levy. What company cuts costs without looking at how to produce more income? With HCSD, they have little income options. Would we prefer they cut and cut and cut, without asking for more money? We live in a GREAT district that I am proud of, and it is embarrassing when people vote no that can afford it. We should be showing that we support our schools, if we can financially, not showing other communities that we are willing to let all these great programs fall by the wayside. I don't see the posted cuts as threats, that is a realistic look at all we stand to lose.

    I frequent a forum of another school district, and I must say, you folks over here are VERY intelligent and thoughtful. I like that very much, that you all care enough to work like you do. I would even vote PL for board, because I think his head is in the right place. However, I DON'T think voting no will "fix" things like we want. The only thing we know about a levy failure is what we stand to lose. I'M not willing to take the chance that something great may come out of losing all that has been listed.

  34. Thanks very much for stopping by and posting. I encourage you to come back often as we seek to peel more layers from the onion, and find out the whole story of school funding and fiscal operations.

    I think that most people who cry out for funding fixes are taking the bait put in front of them by the teachers' unions. The reality is that as long as schools are funded by taxes, that tax money has to come from somewhere, and in Ohio that somewhere is the people of the suburbs.

    If the State took over 100% of the school funding, where would the money come from? Undoubtedly income taxes, sales taxes and maybe even some taxes we haven't thought of yet. All of those taxes tend to be paid primarily by folks in the higher income brackets and those folks live in the suburbs.

    You can't assume the commercial enterprises in Ohio will pay the taxes. Take a look at the story in the Dispatch this morning about how much industry has fled our state already. Raising commercial taxes won't encourage new businesses to come in, and may push more of the employers we have to find greener pastures.

    The truth is that local property taxes are the best way to keep suburban money in suburban schools. But it means the school leadership has to treat their local population as partners and customers, not as ATM machines. Our leadership doesn't see this truth because, until Dave Lungregan was elected, they weren't business folks. No, I'm not saying everyone on the Board should be a business executive, but neither is it good to have no large-enterprise business savvy on the Board.

    The final truth about school economics is that nearly 90% of the operating costs are associated with the compensation and benefits of the employees, notably the teachers. We shouldn't expect anything different - a school system is a professional services organization in the same way as a law firm or a physicians' practice.

    But I think this statistic has been a surprise to many people in our community - maybe even a few people in the school leadership. That surprise is a big part of the problem.

    There certainly was a time when teachers were woefully underpaid. Because the preponderance of teachers are women and often the secondary income in a household, it was felt that paying them piddling was okay.

    That rightfully changed when the teachers banded together and began demanding pay commensurate with their importance to our society.

    But I think the pendulum has swung too far. Teachers are now well compensated (senior teachers at least), have great benefits (especially their retirement system), and are getting pay increases far in excess of the private sector.

    The dialog about school funding is being driven by the teachers' union - the Ohio Education Association and its affiliated members such as the Hilliard Education Association - and it's all about securing their compensation and benefits, which as I've said, makes up 90% of the operational budget for a school system. The OEA doesn't want local taxpayers deciding how much they'll get paid - they want it to be in the hands of state-level politicians who can be 'encouraged' with generous campaign contributions. That's not what I want - I like the idea that I get to directly participate in the decision of how to fund our schools. But I can't be bought off - I have to be sold - and our leadership doesn't have a clue how to do that.

    I don't think teachers are being paid too much, and have never said that. But I think it's time to recalibrate their compensation with trends in the private sector.

    A lot of tension could have been avoided had our school leadership done a better job to educate the people of the community on these interwoven issues. We should have spent the last several years having a dialog and making plans about how to better manage our community and our school system.

    Instead, we allowed pro-developer carpet-bagger politicians come into our community and permit houses to be built by the thousands and thousands without regard as to the impact on our schools.

    And we've let our school board sign contract after contract with the teachers and staff that have driven our costs up to an unnecessary degree.

    And finally, because our school leadership has been afraid to tackle these issues and enlist the public in the solution, we've reached a point where the public knows only one thing - their taxes are continuing to climb while their personal income declines and substantial personal net worth has been lost.

    The school leadership has let this and every election be about emotion. And the problem is that the prevailing emotion has become "we've had enough!"

    This blog/website was created for one purpose only - to communicate information and encourage dialog on the economics of our school system. My goal is to be put out of business by a school leadership team which understands the importance of truthtelling and dialog.


  35. Paul,

    As always, I agree with everything you have said. I agree on the need for more dialogue, and agree that honesty is always the best policy. I also think many people will look for any reason to vote no. Some folks use your website for validation for their negative vote, punishing the school district in the hopes of securing some form of change.

    Paul, do YOU feel that we should be sending our district down the path towards destruction, which WILL happen, in an effort to induce change at the state level? Will voting no convince the HCSD leadership to be more honest? What WILL it do?

    You have a GREAT approach to this topic, and I hate to see that effort used to justify voting no, which will eliminate so many things that are great about our school system. People who think these are threats that will not happen are WRONG. Let's make changes, but do so cognizant of the fact that eliminating funding will devastate our school district.

  36. In reply to anon at 8:10, perhaps HCSD has technically operated under a balanced budget. But for years they have allowed the budget to increase to match the money available. The non-teaching staffing has grown at a rate almost double the rate at which student population is growing. The budget has grown at a rate that far outpaces inflation and growth of student population. It took only 4 years to grow into a 25% increase. We cannot continue to let the school budget expand at that rate. After a 9.5 mil levy was defeated, they made a contract with the teacher's union that could not be supported without that same levy. Now they are asking for about 35% less than what they said they reaally need, but not revealing the cuts that will be made to get there. This is mis-management of the money that is already available, not the fault of the state of Ohio. A budget of close to $200 million is a huge budget for educating 15,000 children. Enough to provide a premium education when we are mostly middle income people. I always supported levys up until 5 years ago, then I realized it was like feeding a monster ( or hogs at the trough). They will spend whatever we allow in short order and demand more. It is time to stop this unchecked spending growth and re-evaluate what we really need in our school system. Yes, it is partly our fault for not watching more closely in the last 10 years. But most of us are busy in our lives, and those that don't have kids in the schools didn't think about them too much until the cost began to hurt our own standard of living. The answer is not to look somewhere else for more money and blame the state. We have to start here in Hilliard with the things we can more directly control. It is time to rein in the spending to something we can afford. The boarrd is retreating even further into its bunker. How to communicate when they don't listen? I have decided I will communicate my dissatisfaction by voting NO on any levy until they begin to work with the city to develop business revenue, prevent the residential growth from ratcheting back up when the housing market picks up and adjusting programs to fit what we can afford. Blaming the State is like shaking your fist at the sky. The answers are here in Hilliard.

  37. I believe the Board came into tonight's meeting already set on a 6.9 mill levy,... I expected the Board to have some conversation among themselves about which scenario looked the most reasonable, and to start making a plan for communicating their reasoning to the public. This would make for a very informative meeting.

    Fifty years ago, my grandpa used to go to court trials even though he didn't know the defendants because the trials were meaningful. Things happened that mattered and real business was done. The school board makes their meetings as banal as possible which depresses community interest which equals endless cycle. As was said years ago, "Where's the beef?"

    I think this is part of the reason the public doesn't get more engaged with the school issue - they feel all the real business happens behind closed doors.

    Anyway, great graphic. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  38. What a horrible position this Board has put our community in.

    Economists say the public sector is always less competent and efficient than the private sector, so there is no surprise that the Board is illustrating this.

  39. Anon 8:10am: I respect your support for the district, especially in the manner an approach you presented it. The District sure could learn something from communicating it like you do.

    As a taxpayer who can "afford" the increase and has a child in the District, I am still planning on voting "No" at this moment. I agree the education that exists is very good, but I can't condone continuing to not address the long-term issues. If the Sup. and Board are truly looking to change the continual levy burden on the taxpayer, they are not doing a good job communicating it. I personally do not hear anything that does not make me believe the current steps are band aids, and we will be in the same exact position in less than two years. And then two years after that. And two years after that. SOMETHING has to be done to stem the tide.

    (On second thought, having the teachers start to pay health care is something that was done, but that was more a no-brainer that anyone of us would have done in the same position.)

    This analogy might not be perfect, but it seems almost like the pleas of the US Auto Industry when the Toyotas, Hondas and Datsuns started providing better cars at cheaper prices back in the early 80's. "Buy American" was the campaign, even though the products were inferior and more expensive. It worked for a while, then Americans couldn't subsidize the mis-managed, over-compensated companies. We can't continue down this path.

    I would support the levy if I saw actions that would support long-term addressing of the issue, even if the decisions were not popular. We need to change the approach.

  40. Paul, is it an option for the District (or constituency) to "hire" a "professional" board to manage/run/govern the district? I do empathize with the limited skills available from the general public. It seems like it would be much more efficient, less emotional, and worth the investment, given $150 Million funding, if there were professionals in the position.

  41. Anon 9:25 - thanks for the feedback. For the record, I have voted in favor of every school levy which has been on the ballot since we moved to Hilliard in 1979, including the 9.5 mill levy in March. I'll also vote for the 6.9 mill levy in November, but only because we need the money to buy the time to straighten things out without blowing up the district. But it's the last time I'll vote in favor of a levy unless things significantly change. What do those changes need to be?

    1. Mayor Schonhardt and the Hilliard City Council need to crank up commercial development (I'm optimistic), and they need to control residential growth. The best way to show me that they're interested in doing that is by putting out the word that they have no interest in annexing any additional land for residential development.

    2. The HEA and OAPSE have to show some willingness to recalibrate their contracts to today's economy. As I suggested above, a great step would be a giveback of some part of the increases built into their latest contracts.

    3. The School Board needs to develop a better relationship with the community. I'd like to help with that by becoming a member of the Board, and at this point intend to run again in Nov 2009.

    Anon 9:30 - Exactly, except that your "NO" vote alone won't change much. Your statement would be much more powerful if you engage your friends and neighbors in our conversation. Recruit them to our grassroots movement if you will.

    Anon 9:55 - The thing that will get the Board to change behavior is for us to show up at Board meetings and demand that they obey the law. There have been fewer executive sessions lately, but I fear it means they're having what should be official and public conversations via other means (emails, phone calls, etc).

    Anon 10:04 - Indeed. Nothing drives efficiency like having your daily survival controlled by your customers. That's why I'd like to see a 100% voucher system in Ohio.


  42. As I look at the list of proposed cuts, it's easy to think there's not much that affects my family because I won't have any elementary or middle school-aged kids by then. But sometimes things can have a domino effect. Consider this: once middle school and freshmen sports and clubs (i.e. most extracurricular activities) are gone, how are all the kids who participate in those programs going to spend their after-school time? I'm sure they'll need something to do, and I don't think that most working parents will be available to supervise them (I know I wouldn't be). Inevitably, some of them will resort to less than desirable activities. As a community member, I'd much rather pay taxes that fund supervised, positive, educational activities (and yes, even sports are educational!) than have the entire middle-early HS school population looking for their own after-school entertainment. And you can bet some of you who voted "NO" on the levy would be the first ones to call the schools or police to complain about those teenagers running through your yard. Just something to think about!

  43. Mark:

    That's what the Superintendent and the Treasurer are supposed to be, just like in a shareholder-owned corporation.

    The Board of Education (Directors) are elected by the shareholders (residents), who are the folks who put up the capital to fund the enterprise, and who expect performance in return. The shareholders are supposed to be wise enough to hire compentent folks to represent them on the Board. Friends are friends, but Board members need to be able to guide and oversee the organization.

    The Board in turn hires the top management to run the enterprise. These folks are supposed to hired because they have the skills and motivation to do the job well - and if they don't - they get replaced. Bad management can't be allowed to drag the organization down, because often it never recovers.

    Whether we're talking about a public or private enterprise, it's rare to find a single executive who can do it all. Sometimes the CEO is a visionary, but not all that good at management. A smart Board will team that CEO with a COO who knows how to get stuff done.

    Ohio law specifies that school districts are managed by two equal executives - the Superintendent and the Treasurer, both who report directly to the Board. I think this is wise. For one thing, it gives the Board a chance to recruit a superintendent who concentrates on the educational mission of the district, and a treasurer who can be responsible for both money raising (e.g. levies) and fiscal control.

    I think Roger Nehls and Mike Watson may have been such a team when they were running the district.

    Mssrs. McVey and Wilson are not of that caliber. But to be fair to Dale and Brian, Nehls and Watson served at a different time, in a smaller district, partnered with a different Mayor (Roger Reynolds).

    And we need to acknowledge that as the Chief Education Officer - Dale and his team have just delivered the best State Report Card this district has ever achieved (notwithstanding the NCLB designation penalty).

    Dale and Brian a good men, but they need to quickly grow into the role of senior executives of the 9th largest school district in Ohio and a $150 million/yr enterprise.

    That means their job is as much about community relations as it is internal operations. And they need to do a much better job of the community relations piece.


  44. Anon 11:07
    It seems to me that some people want to put the task of raising their children on the schools shoulders. Should the schools be responsible for
    a child's every waking hour? What about the kids who currently don't participate in extra-curriculars? And I don't think this is the case in Hilliard at all - I believe we have parents who are actively engaged in the child's development, both in and out of school. That is what separates most suburban districts from Columbus, and the test scores show it. You cannot put the blame for misbehavior on the schools - put it where it belongs - on the parents and the child. I will agree with you that kids who are very involved with activities tend to stay out of trouble, but that is a benefit, not a requirement, of the educational system.

  45. To Anon at 8:10 AM,

    “They have operated under a balanced budget every year for the last five years”. I thought it was state law that school districts budgets had to be balanced? How is that somehow some great triumph for the district?

    “…it is embarrassing when people vote no that can afford it.” Wow – I wish I had the foresight to make this kind of statement. I know many people that cannot afford to see their property taxes go up 20% (less now with 6.9 mills). It seems a little presumptuous to make such a statement – because it is not true.

    “They HAVE tightened their belts, and made cuts, in order to make it work.” Sorry, but your whole “cut to the bone” thing seems ridiculous considering that 70% of the staff will see 7% raises for the next 3 years.

    “Let's fix funding without making the collapse of our district the impetus for change.” I agree, but the funding fix should NOT be a 20% increase in property taxes every 3 years.

    “All this talk of the district as a business forgets one thing-HCSD can't do anything to change income, other than a levy. EVERY company that looks at expenditures is also looking at ways to bring in more income.” I agree. However, HCSD can do a much better job of controlling expenses. Back to my point above – 7% raises has me and my neighbors fuming. The district crying for another levy with this compensation package given out less than a year after a filed levy is a slap on the face of the homeowner.

    “The problem here is the state of Ohio and how education is funded more than it is the HCSD.”. I agree that is part of the problem, but so is the HEA and the excessive raises “negotiated” by the union. It’s easy to pass this issue off on the “state funding”; how come no one ever wants to talk about the way the union hurts our financial situation? Seeing the HEA union machine in action has convinced me it is truly not “all about the kids”. Are you by chance an HEA member?

    Thanks for your comments, but I am still a solid NO in November.

  46. "And you can bet some of you who voted "NO" on the levy would be the first ones to call the schools or police to complain about those teenagers running through your yard. Just something to think about!"

    You can't seriously be suggesting that non-parents should feel responsible for paying to keep your children busy and out of trouble after school. Is that why parents want the sports and extra-curriculars? It's free after school baby sitting? A free time-filler so you don't have to figure out what to do with your kids or pay yourself to keep your kids safe until you get home from work? Usually people say sports and extracurriculars are part of a well-rounded educational experience, but maybe the easy, free time-filler is the truth. There are sports and activities outside of what is paid for by the schools: soccer and baseball leagues, music lessons. But you have to pay for those yourself. Or you have to train your children to come home, do their homework, play in their own yard until you get home from work.

  47. The previous writer hit the housing development politians played a major role. House after house being built and then schools are needed due to overcrowding, then more funds are needed and we go round and round.

    Now, here is another item to ponder over. Someone ask Bruner Contractors what they got for installing the latest digital thermostats that still do not work in the majority of classrooms. Let's hear from some of my fellow teachers on this sore subject. My room averages 80 degrees. Others are even worse. How can you learn in that environment? Then the installation of light sensors that allows the lights to go out after so long with no one in them. Our custodial staff and probably most will shut the lights out when they are done cleaning anyway. How much was that ordeal? Many times when in our high schools for various reasons the lights are on in the gym, field house and even wrestling rooms and no one is utilizing them. These aren't your everyday 100 watt bulbs but the high powered and expensive bulbs. How about the need for new computers about every year. I hear they even have new computers in the early grades of the elementary schools. I can see in having the kids be literate in the computer world but getting new ones frequently? Anyway, there is much much waste and the Board at the helm just keep spending. Paul see if you can find out what Bruner charged the district for those will take your temperature over the top.

    I agree with a previous comment. We need a town meeting on these issues and we need SOMEONE TO LISTEN. This District needs help before any outcome in November.

  48. Re: Anon 4:10 - point 6

    I personally know of several teachers currently working as substitutes, because they cannot find full-time teaching posions - so I know they would jump at the chance to get a job in Hilliard. Besides that, most districts that I know of won't/don't want to hire teachers with more than 5 years of experience since they don't want to pay them what would be required, therefore if Hilliard teachers want to "jump ship" they would probably find it difficult to find comparable position/pay.

  49. To the teachers who write on this blog, I would like to thank you for always providing insight into your daily issues - the public and the administration/board need to hear more from you.

    It does not appear that the board will do much to curb residential growth - after all, they just sold property to a developer! What was needed prior to this decision was some out-of-the-box thinking on what the district could do with the property that might actually benefit the school AND community (even if it means the district just held onto it for a few more years - it WAS paid for, in full). I'd have given my two cents if I realized that they were planning to act and had asked for community input (again, there's the communication issue).

    I think looking at ANY alternative other than selling to a developer is IMPERATIVE. Can't we do better than just saying, oh well, let's recoup our money today and worry about future implications later? If this board can't handle that, we do need a change.

  50. To Anon 8;10

    I question where you get the basis
    of everyone can afford this.?

    I hear this frequently from people
    who have ties to the system. Alone in medical cost, the difference to
    the taxpayer in the private sector is different by a wide margin to what an HEA member pays

    Using the contract just approved..... A family in 3 years will pay 135.00 per month
    or 1620 per year. A family in a well funded well known plan RIGHT NOW pays over 4200 in premiums
    and that is sure to go up in 3 years

    Plus few people have gotten 4.15 %
    step raises alone over the last 9 years.

    This is a spending issue combined with the state, but again the HEA supported our current local reps.

    Very simply by simple adjustments of even 1 % over the last 9 years
    so 2% increases plus a 4.15 step
    how much money compounded in 9 years would the district have saved
    I will bet we could have held on to
    another year, and fewer layoffs.

    The unfortunate thing is that I believe there is a big groundswell of questions about the teachers compensation program, given the
    current economic conditions.

  51. I'd encourage those who are "NO" voters to read Paul's post at August 6th @ 11:00AM and consider the merits of what was said there.

  52. There is no groundswell of questions regarding compensation - the questions were answered when the Board caved to the union demands. But that is only the latest boondoggle. Both Davidson and Darby were built (and sold to the voters on the bond issues) as being expandable. Instead land was bought for a third high school that nobody wanted, and in a place where nobody wanted it. A former Board member was elected on a platform of being against the third high school
    and shortly after assuming office, pulled a 180 and was for the third high school. Reasons for the 3rd high school seemed to focus on more extracurricular opportunities for our kids, which the board says we can now afford only if we cut existing programs at the middle school level. And, we can't afford to bus kids to the new school either. The Board never had the foresight to ask the City to slow down the residential development, the biggest cause of this mess. Previous city administrations can share the blame for that one. School administration grew at a pace far ahead of student population. Each building principal was allowed to run their own little fiefdom without proper oversight as to the expenses and I know of at least one principal who had a reputation of almost never being in their assigned building. Postage money was wasted sending letters "To the Parents of" every single student, meaning 2-5 letters with the exact same information going to each house, all at First Class rates rather than taking advantage of discount options and/or selecting by last name & address. Yes, a lot of this is now being addressed but only because all of the money is now gone.
    So, we should Yes on the levy or else we are against the schools and of course because we all live in an upper-middle class suburb, that means we can all afford it? I am not willing to keep bailing out the Board for their continued pattern of horrible management. If this were a public company, the shareholders would be rising up against the Board of Directors, CEO, and COO, and demanding their replacement. Unfortunately we have to wait until terms run out. Let's hope we are not collectively foolish enough to reelect the status quo. Meanwhile I will continue to consider the merits of everything I read here, and make my decision in November. It is going to take a lot of merits to convince me that voting Yes is the right thing to do.

  53. Anon 12:06 - Actually, a school district is not required to have a balanced budget. In fact it is perfectly normal for a district to spend more than it takes in during the year or so before they ask for the next levy (see this explanation).

    What they're not allowed to do is run out of cash reserves, and are required to make cuts as necessary to prevent that from happening.

    Anon: 9:30am - "Yes, it is partly our fault for not watching more closely in the last 10 years. But most of us are busy in our lives, and those that don't have kids in the schools didn't think about them too much until the cost began to hurt our own standard of living. - I understand, and I felt just like you for many years. But the reality is that in a democracy, it is ultimately the responsibility of the voters to hold government in check. Democracy requires an informed and involved public. It is indeed our fault that things have gotten to where they are.

    So I'm suggesting that the reasonable course of action is to pass this 6.9 levy, then apply the energy we're devoting to complaining to fixing.

    For example, what if every neighborhood association in the district elected a representative to the school board meetings? It would be that person's mission to attend the school board meetings on behalf of their neighborhood, as well as to take information back to the people of their neighborhood. Wouldn't it be cool to see 50 or 100 observers at a school board meeting? And what if 5-10 of those neighborhood representatives had something to say to the Board every meeting? Might the Board start behaving differently?

    We all have work to do in getting this straightened out.

    Anon 3:40pm - "I'd have given my two cents if I realized that they were planning to act and had asked for community input".

    To be fair, this action was on the agenda, and all you needed to do was check the district's website to find when it was to be discussed (I also wrote a blog note in advance of the meeting).

    I have no problem being critical of the school leadership in regard to their communications. But part of the reason they have to be so good is that our community is so bad about taking the initiative. For example, every piece of information I've posted on this blog comes from attending meetings, reading minutes, and doing the research. I am most definitely not an 'insider' - and the information I get is available to anyone who makes even a little effort.

    I'm happy to provide a service to the community in doing that research and writing about what I learn - don't get me wrong. Nor am I zapping all you good folks who share my passion for getting our schools straightened out.

    But we remain a minority. There are tens of thousands of people in our community who engage only to vote.

    That's a big weakness in America these days - we're letting a small but politically skillful minority control everything because we've become lazy citizens.

    How to change that? We all have to become evangelists - engaging our neighbors and getting them fired up about this stuff too.

    Will you help?


  54. Hillirdite:

    If this were a public company, the shareholders would be rising up against the Board of Directors, CEO, and COO, and demanding their replacement. Unfortunately we have to wait until terms run out.

    To my last point, there was an election held just 9 months ago. Were things hunky-dory then, and have gone bad just this year? I don't think so.

    Yet the leading vote getter for school board was the incumbant who had served the longest - Doug Maggied.

    The two successful candidates for the school board were those endorsed by the HEA - Maggied and Lundregan. You could argue that the candidates elected in Nov 2007 were selected by the handful of people who sat on the HEA Endorsement Committee.

    Dan Nichter moved into Hilliard and a few months later was elected to City Council.

    Meanwhile the Mayor ran unopposed.

    What kind of message did our community send in that election?

    I think it was "Do That To Me One More Time"...


  55. hillirdite,
    I saw your reference earlier to 'tax and spend democrats'. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that it was under a Republican president (George W Bush) that we've seen the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act enacted. I'd be interested to know the financial impact of NCLB. Not sure what business the Federal Government has there. (BTW, I'm a registered Republican.)

  56. Sadly, 'tax and spend' is a trait of the politicians of both major parties. The only questions are how much tax and which set of benefactors are going to get paid off with the revenue.

    We get the best government money can buy - what could be more American than that...


  57. I've always been confused by this uproar over 'unfunded mandates.'

    Isn't it true that if everyone is required by federal law to enact such a policy, it doesn't really matter at that point whether the money comes from the federal taxes we pay, the state taxes we pay, or the local taxes we pay.

    Couldn't you argue that it's more efficient to fund NCLB locally than to raise our federal taxes and have the money flow through the federal bureacracy?

    Of course, one big difference is that the federal government can have a perpetual deficit budget - essentially printing more money. I guess we shouldn't care that this causes inflation and further weakens the dollar.

    States and local government have to raise real money inside their borders and can't spend more than the real cash they have in the bank. Isn't that a good thing?

    It is entirely appropriate to argue the merits of NCLB as a program. Maybe it should be killed off.

    But if we're going to keep it in place as a nationwide standard of performance, I'd rather fund it locally and keep the Fed out of it.


  58. I'm anon from 9:30 yesterday and the reason I advocate voting No is I am convinced if we give the Board any money now, they will claim they have approval from the community, proceed with business as usual and not address the problems we face. They will spend like they are flush with cash, "grow into" the new funding in one to two years and be back in our pockets directly. I am tapped out. I have no more money to give them. I have been in favor of levies in the past because I believed it was "for the children". It is not for the children. I am not going to take money out of my pocket and struggle so others can get 7+% raises. No more. And to quote to the Hilliard news that "it's only $17 a month" as if everyone can afford that and anyone who says they can't is a stingy grinch is pure BS and only confirms my position.

  59. Paul,

    I can't get past the fact that raises were given at the same time such drastic cuts were being considered. That is a kick in the teeth to everyone in this community.

    I didn't get a raise this year, and I don't have insurance. I can't afford to quit my job, and we only go to the doctor in emergency situations. That is just the reality of living in these times. I'm not bawling about it to any one who will listen, and I'm not dressing in all black in protest.

    If they make these cuts they've proposed, and ruin the Optimist Club and all the good they do for our kids, I will move out of this district.

    If they cut middle school sports, hopefully the Optimist Club will pick up the slack. The Optimist Club pays to use the school facilities. There is no reason to not allow clubs access to fields, gyms, etc.. when they pay to use our schools. That is just common sense and yet another scare tactic, our school board likes to use.

    Until every employee of this district stands up and says, "I'm willing to take a pay cut." I'm voting NO in November. If the teachers and administrators don't like it, they can quit and go elsewhere. I'm offended by their raises. Plain and simple. We can't afford it. I don't get why they don't understand this.

    The current board has run this district into the ground. Their secret meetings and ham handed way of doing business has got to stop. There has to be a way to get these people out of office before Nov 09, but I do not know enough about this process to know where to even begin. We can impeach a president. Surely we can kick inept board members out of their seats. What is the process?

    Since it looks like they've violated the Sunshine Law, their phone records and emails need to be subpoenaed. We have a right to know what they've done in secret, since it affects every one of us. I find this entire mess, outrageous and intolerable.

    I'm glad you're running again, Paul. I didn't know the extent of the mess this district was in, last time you ran. I thought everything was hunkydory and didn't vote for you. I know now, though! If we're still around in Nov 09, you'll definitely have my vote. Keep writing letters to the editor of our little rathole newspapers. That's how I found you and this blog, and where I get a great deal of information about our district.

    Thank you for all you do!

  60. I wish we all used names on here, all the anonymous's's's gets confusing!

    I am the one who stated I find it embarrassing that people who can afford it vote no. I wasn't implying that everyone can afford it, I was implying that those that CAN afford it should vote yes, because we are really punishing the kids, and not the Admin with our no votes.

    Something that I think needs to be emphasized is that the PUBLIC elected the board, as Paul pointed out. They are OUR mistake, if we don't like them. Our ignorance last election has cost us now, if you believe they are doing a poor job. So maybe we should vote them out at our earliest convenience, but continue to support the schools until then. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of what will happen to our district if we vote no.

    People think teachers are dying to get into our district, and they are right. But the reason is because of the salaries, benefits, and commitment the district has made to education. Take away the funding, and those teachers won't be flocking here anymore. A district directly to our South is proof of that.

    Also, for those clamoring for pay give-backs from teachers. Would YOU give back some of your income if asked? I am a part of a teachers union in another district, a union I despise. We almost went on strike, and the sole reason was pay. We did end up getting a raise, 4.5% over two years, one I was willing to forgo. However, I would not give back that money willingly if asked. Most of you wouldn't either. I think we need to look forward, and see what we can do to affect the future, not rehash how the past has done us wrong.

    There is a way to solve this problem without causing catastrophic results for our district:

    -Get involved in board meetings.
    -Get involved in elections by voting for the right people.

    The board sees 10 people at a board meeting? The community is saying do what you want.

    Voting no does not punish the board, voting them out does. Voting no punishes students for OUR mistakes, and that is wrong.

  61. musicman,

    "I am the one who stated I find it embarrassing that people who can afford it vote no. I wasn't implying that everyone can afford it, I was implying that those that CAN afford it should vote yes, because we are really punishing the kids, and not the Admin with our no votes."

    Let me get this straight: Those who can afford a tax increase need to vote yes that also ends up on the back of those who cannot afford the tax increase.

    Did you really mean to say that?

  62. Anon 8:37am - "I am convinced if we give the Board any money now, they will claim they have approval from the community, proceed with business as usual and not address the problems we face"

    That's true only if the extent of the community's involvement is to vote, then withdraw back into ignorance and complacency. I'm advocating that we follow our dollars with a serious commitment to get involved and stay involved.

    We've become a nation that abdicates our civic responsibility then complains about the results. What do you say we change that in Hilliard?

    Anon 8:52am - I didn't get a raise this year, and I don't have insurance. I can't afford to quit my job, and we only go to the doctor in emergency situations. That is just the reality of living in these times. I'm not bawling about it to any one who will listen, and I'm not dressing in all black in protest.

    I completely understand. I'm one of the founders of a small business here in the school district, and have a good chunk of my own money in it. We pay ourselves very little (I take only Minimum Wage), and no one on our team has taken a pay raise for six years because we all believe in our vision and know that money is precious. While I have some capacity to weather all this, I am in admiration of our small band of employees who have hung in there without raises for the whole time as well. They'll do well if our company takes off, but in the meantime are earning much less than they did six years ago.

    There are plenty of people in this district who - despite the big house and nice cars - are barely hanging on. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has done some compelling research on the dangers to the American middle-class.

    Part of what I've learned in the last couple of years is that we are at a time in America when there is a transfer of wealth from the private sector workers to the public sector workers. Certainly there are business folks who are getting rich, but in the case of the common Jane/Joe worker, they would be much better off working for the government than a private employer, and an increasing fraction of the private sector worker's income is going to pay the compensation and generous benefits of public sector workers.

    That can't go on. You can't have a well-compensated public sector without their being a healthly private sector supporting it. Once this stuff becomes better understood by private sector workers, the 'pay us anyway' attitude of the public employees' unions drives them to anger and even retaliation.

    I'm suggesting that the HEA/OAPSE members voluntarily decrease their raises (not take a pay cut) to defuse some of this. But I expect their leadership to battle such a notion with all kinds of rhetoric and smokescreens.

    It is an enormously expensive and arduous task to recall School Board members for violations of the Sunshine Law - I've looked into it. Ohio Law states that the only way to do it is via a civil suit - the state Attorney General's office won't get involved. And even if a lawsuit were filed today, it likely wouldn't be resolved before the next election anyway.

    As I've said before, we have our own little Cuban Missile Crisis brewing...

    MusicMan - yes, thank you for using a name, even an alias!

    Would YOU give back some of your income if asked?

    The reality of economic conditions in America right now is that many private sector workers are taking pay cuts, and are doing so to keep from being laid off. That's really their only choices.

    I'm putting the same choice to our teachers' union: take an across-the-board rollback of raises in exchange for fewer - maybe no - layoffs. But what I suspect to be true is that the more senior members, who control the union, would rather sacrifice young teachers than cut their own comfortable pay - especially if close to retirement since the magnitude of retirement benefits are directly influenced by the highest paycheck received.

    The union leadership will try to deflect this by saying it's a choice that doesn't have to be made - just pass the levy and give us all the money we deserve.

    I fear that strategy is going to backfire. And so just as I encourage the people of the community to take back control of our school system, I encourage the younger teachers to make their voice heard in their union. It's no walk in the park to get a teaching job these days, and I'm sure the young teachers would rather hold steady for one contract cycle than be out on the streets looking for a job.


  63. Please don't rely on the local weeklies "facts" as they get it wrong more often than right. One paper said Gov. Ted Strickland was at a meeting (it was Rep. Ted Celeste); yesterdays NW News reports Brian Wilson said the 6.9 mil l levy would bring in $16.3 million each year for about two years (the levy is permanent, it will bring in an additional $16.3 million forever)Not sure who reported "$17 a month, must have missed that one, but we all know that is incorrect.That's why I love this blog - errors (mine included!) get corrected by people who know better.
    As far as giving back and concessions, I already have. I'll grant you that as a part owner of a business, I am better compensated than my employees, but when things got tough, it was ownership who took cuts. Another reason I resent anyone telling me I can afford to increase my debt load.
    Paul, you had my vote when you ran, although I will admit I did not know all that much about you or your positions. I only vote for incumbents if I have been impressed
    by their previous terms - not just satisfied but actually impressed. I also voted for the now-departed member who flip flopped on the 3rd high school. Look where that got me! I voted against the bond issues because I knew for sure that a levy
    would be required to open it and because of the previous "intent" to expand the 2 high schools when necessary.
    The Mayor ran un-opposed, true enough. But residential growth has been next to nothing lately, maybe not his doing, just circumstance; his administration HAS pushed for more commercial development which is good for the schools. He should probably chill out on the sign code issue though, if he wants to encourage more commercial development.
    I would not vote No to punish anyone. But it is NOT about the kids. I'll drive my kids to school, I'll spend extra time with their studies, I'll take care of their after school time. I won't succumb to threats to take away sports when there was no mention of pay-to-play
    as an alternative, closing the building to after school functions when groups are paying for it, etc.

    Agree with all the "anonymous'" around here, mighty confusing. But I can understand people not wanting to use their real name. But please talk to your neighbors and friends in Hilliard and get them involved. I've had letters published in the local weeklies and you might be amazed at the conversations that has generated, including with some of my kid's teachers who have agreed with many of the points I have made.

  64. Interesting views on this blog and I appreciate your dedication to the cause Paul.

    I will be first to stand up and say hold my raise back to save another brother/sister from losing their job, however, Mr. McVey, you need to STAND next to me and not accept your increase. Other District Superintendents have passed on personal raises, it's the RIGHT thing to do in a crisis - can you not accept your next one sir?

  65. Thanks for your input. As someone has already said - the mission of this blog is enhanced when teachers come aboard and express their views. This teacher-as-enemy thread of thinking is something new in our district, and again I believe it's brought on by the surprise many folks are feeling at the realization that 90% of the funding goes to pay compensation and benefits, and that the employee team is - at least right now - getting well above normal raises.

    By the way, on that 90% - remember that if all the "extraneous" stuff were eliminated, and there was nothing left but teachers and kids, compensation & benefits would be 100% of the budget. The problem isn't the fraction, it's the sudden realization of this truth, and the fact that the school leadership never talked about it until recently (perhaps this blog had something to do with that).

    Reasonable people can disagree on the details, but through open, honest, empathetic, and continuous communications, this stuff can all be worked out.

    The problem in our District is not just that the school leadership doesn't communicate well (which includes the Board, the Administators, and the union leadership) - it's that the public doesn't get involved in strategic level stuff.

    Sure parents care a lot about what their kids are involved in...

    As an aside - I was driving by Cross Creek the other day when pee-wee football practices were happening, and noticed all the parents sitting around and observing the coaches and kids. When I played sports, I liked it that my parents weren't around, so I could just have fun with my friends without being yelled at by my Dad to 'use two hands' or whatever. I also think I benefitted by having a coach yell at me on occasions when a little coaching was called for. I bet coaches do a lot less of that when the parents are sitting around. Are parents getting too involved with their kids (the so-called 'helicopter parents)?

    ... but not about how the district is managed. I can see why the Board would think they have no need to communicate with the public, because the public doesn't seem to care.

    Again, welcome to this forum. I hope you weigh in frequently.


  66. Paul,

    I agree that the more input we see on here, the better. It is through civil discourse that people from different postions can move forward to some sort of an agreement. It also helps to do some research, become informed and take advantage of some of the opportunities - such as BOE meetings, Community Conversations, etc. - that present themselves.

    BTW, as Anon from August 6, 2008 5:02 PM & 10:47 PM...I'm certainly not saying I want the Federal Government MORE involved in local matters. I AM concerned about NCLB though, its impacts (financial & otherwise). At this point, I'm not convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs.

  67. This crisis scares me more long term than short term. Just think, the baby boom generation has just started to retire. Traditionally, they have mostly been on limited income and have not supported smaller levies than this, much less this every 2-3 year nonsense Dale and company are trying to push. What happens as there numbers increase? I wouldn't bet on state funding to fix this mess either. Our aging population will inevitably require higher taxes on both the state and federal level to support Social Security and especially Medicare.

    Aging population on limited incomes and increased state and federal taxes are two significant hurdles for future school funding initiatives in the years to come. That is why I think it is so critical that the Board and admin get this right soon. They need to reign in staff raises and realize that that the district they want in terms of prestige and "extras" may be more than their constituency is willing to pay for.

  68. I agree with your perception of the megatrends.

    It wasn't that long along that the Upper Arlington school district had shrinking enrollment. UA was first developed in the 1950s, and had a real herd of kids for a while, most of whom graduated +/- 1970. Few folks remember that UA sold off Fishinger Elementary (which became the first phase of Wellington School), and I think closed one or two others (Barrington?) for a while. There had to be teacher and staff layoffs associated with that (although I think some number of the Fishinger teachers might have joined the Wellington faculty).

    HCSD and the other '270 Suburbs' might well go through such a phase in around 15 years, and may see a decline in enrollment before then. That will depend on how much new development takes place in the district in the next few years.

    It might seem to be a good thing when the school-age population of the school district declines - it should mean the aggregate tax burden should go down.

    But as the population ages, as happened in UA, household income decreases and the willingness to support the never-ending growth in compensation & benefits costs starts to wane.

    While I am a big proponent of funding schools locally, it might be true that a local income tax is better than property taxes. An income tax would tend to go up and down in sync with the number of kids in a school district, all other things being constant.

    But all other things aren't constant. Think of the poor folks in the Wilmington City School district in the DHL hub there shuts down. If those 10,000 jobs evaporate, and their schools were funded by income taxes - their primary revenue source would go poof overnight. At least property tax assessments don't tend to change that violently.

    This is the kind of stuff that needs to go into long-range strategic planning. Right now we need to focus on November 2008.

  69. The thing is though the 3% rollback is pie in the sky...The Board has already drawn the line in the sand with the cutbacks already detailed. How does one get the board/HEA to listen to the idea of only providing for the 4.15% step increase and holding steady instead of the additional 3%. That is the frustrating part.

    Let me take a blurb from recent business news: JetBlue Airways CEO David Barger volunteered to take a 50% pay cut in the wake of the airline's announcement last week it lost nearly $7 million last quarter.

    A pay reduction at the top sends a message that every penny counts and would make people take notice. Where is McVey at this "where the rubber meets the road" moment for our school district?

    BTW, I was anonymous 8/5 3:07AM and had account problems. Would you pursue that at 3:00AM? ;)

  70. Wildman:

    Actually, the Board only detailed what would get cut if the levy fails. Presumably, nothing would get cut if the 9.5 mill levy had passed. So the question remains: What will get cut if a 6.9 mill levy passes?

    I'm suggesting that it will have to be at least $3 million, and one way to get that would be for all employees - teachers, staff and administrators - to reduce their increases by 3%.

    And it would be great if the initiative came from the HEA itself - telling its young members that all would rather take less than to see any of the youngsters laid off. The 'leadership' isn't just the School Board and the Administrators, it's also the officers of the two unions.


  71. Paul - since you are a numbers kind of a guy, how much exactly would be saved if teachers went without the 3% raise? How much exactly would be saved if administrators would as well?

  72. ABM:

    The back-of-the-envelope analysis is that since Compensation & Benefits is about $100M/yr, a 3% cutback would yield about $3 million/yr (although insurance costs don't change with compensation). That might coincidentally be about the same amount that STILL has to be cut from the budget if a 6.9 mill levy passes.

    Whatever 3% might yield, we would accomplish two things from my proposal:

    a) the district employees could show that they have empathy with the public and are willing to take a smaller raise to help resolve this situation, which I think would significantly increase the odds of getting the levy passed; and,

    b) Both the public and the union members will find out if the union leadership would rather spread the impact of a $3 million cutback across all of its members, or have their youngest and lowest paid members get laid off. I suspect it is the latter, and the realization of that might lead to some interesting changes.

    Of course, the administrators would have to be a part of this giveback as well.


  73. As I read the comments here and in the local rags lately, one of the things that popped up when I was talking with my wife was regarding bussing. Specifically, the 1/2 day runs for kindergarden.

    70's flashback... Since I went to kindergarden in the afternoon, my mother arranged a car pool with other local mom's to get us to school and then we rode the regular bus home.

    I know that this is only one small piece of the puzzle, but I know that fuel cost are playing a factor here, as well as the drivers for these 1/2 day routes.

    If that's too much of an inconvenience how about one of these other options:

    1) The same bus that is dropping off the morning kindergarden, could also pick up the afternoon group during the same run. They would have to cut 1/2 and hour out of both halves of the day to make this work, but it would at least cut these runs in half.

    2) How about full day kindergarden. I know that JW Reason already offers this. Would it really require additional teachers or just slightly larger classes.

    I would like to see some out of the box thinking instead of simply cutting and threatening, etc...

  74. The writer of the 10:52 comments brings out some healthy questions which brings up my earlier comments that it would be "beneficial" to have an open forum for questions, thoughts and new ideas. Bring up these concerns in numbers. If I was a Board member I would welcome the chance to hear of new ideas. It's healthy. As huge as Hilliard is, I find it strange that workers of the HCS and voters (those with or without children) but especially those who have children attending these schools, do not attend or get involved more. The majority just sit back and wait to read the papers. These meetings should have a packed house and be lined out the door to get in. The total number attending meetings vs. the Hilliard population would astound you. Why is that? Is the word not getting out....well, I would have gone if I had known about it...kind of thing? This issue will GREATLY effect school age children, parents, property owners and even families considering moving into this school system (or not). So what I am saying is GET INVOLVED before its to a voice for your kids, your community. This will affect ALL Hilliard residents.