Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Work Begins

I've been a poll worker since the Nov 2004 Presidential Election, and yesterday was once again a member of the excellent team in Brown Twp. We had a steady flow of voters from the time we opened the polls at 6:30am until late afternoon. Until then, at no time was there a voting machine idle, other than a brief interlude about 4pm when they all ran out of paper. It was good to see lots of young folks participating for the first time (we cheered for all the newbie voters and rewarded them with a donut!).

In addition to all the folks who showed up in person to vote yesterday, about 30% of the registered voters in our township cast their ballots absentee. This has become a powerful mechanism for encouraging voter participation, and has permanently changed the dynamics of the election process – for the better I believe.

In the case of Issue 78, the Hilliard Schools 6.9 mill operating levy, the vote in our township was FOR: 279 to AGAINST: 481. School levies don't often pass in Brown Twp, or the other townships for that matter. I'm not sure of the reasons, but I think there's perhaps something we folks who live out in the rural areas share in terms of frugality. And it may have been a mistake to rename our school district from "Scioto Darby Local Schools" to "Hilliard City Schools," because goodness knows that many of us out in our township don't consider the City of Hilliard government our friend.

District-wide, 14,714 votes were cast absentee – 41%. Somewhat surprisingly, the absentee vote was 7,023 – 7,691 Against the levy. Again, it will be interesting to see the precinct breakdown of the absentee vote, and note what patterns emerge.

Another interesting statistic is that district-wide, there were 604 ballots completed on the voting machines in which no vote was cast on Issue 78 at all. I wonder how much of that had to do with the fact that the school levy was on the last page of the ballot.

The Board of Elections website reports that district-wide the levy passed by a margin of 19,246 to 16,771, meaning a total of 36,017 votes were cast. While many would say that the margin of victory was 2,475 votes, I think the more accurate view is that it passed by 1,239. Had only 1,239 voters said AGAINST rather than FOR, the levy would have been defeated. In other words, the margin of victory was only 3.4%, and that can hardly be called overwhelming support.

This is not to diminish the hard work of Bobbi Mueller and the levy committee. In an election this close, their efforts certainly contributed to the passage of Issue 78. As I reported in September, these folks had a substantial challenge before them, given the vote outcome in March. There were 26,180 votes cast in March, compared to 36,017 yesterday, an increase of 9,207. Those additional votes were nearly 5 to 1 in favor of the levy – an incredible result. I said this would be all but impossible. But a number of all-but-impossible things happened in America yesterday.

And hopefully, many of the over 5,000+ unique visitors of this blog agreed with our call to pass this levy in order to give our movement the opportunity to enact change in the way our district is led.

Now is the time to honor the commitment many of us made to support the levy, yet demand change. Our support of this levy was in no way an endorsement of the current mode of operations, but our words are empty unless we now act.

The first meeting of our team is now being planned. If you want to be a participant in change, and not just a Monday morning quarterback, send me an email and you'll be added to our distribution list.


  1. Paul, great points, I totally agree with you. Hopefully we can move forward positively with a focused group.

  2. There were 26,180 votes cast in March, compared to 36,017 yesterday, an increase of 9,207. Those additional votes were nearly 5 to 1 in favor of the levy – an incredible result.

    I'm really surprised that you are surprised Paul. A big turnout could only help the levy.

    Studies show registered Republicans vote more consistently than registered Democrats or Independents, so a big turnout means more Democrats and Independents voting. And that constituency is favorably inclined towards taxes and government schools. I saw many yards with signs said "Vote for 78!" next to signs touting candidates on the Democratic ticket. I saw no "Vote for 78!" signs next to a McCain sign. Is it really an accident? Voters who consistenly vote in elections are almost by definition going to be more interested in accountability, fiscal and education-wise, in schools. Chris Matthews call the Democrat the "Mommy party" and the Republican party the "Daddy party". Which party is going to emphasize accountability? Not the Mommy party.

  3. Eire,
    You make a number of problematic assumptions. First, in my neighborhood I saw many Issue 78 signs next to McCain-Palin signs. And I believe your "Mommy" and "Daddy" party labels are offensive, sexist, and stereotypical, not to mention just plain wrong. I certainly hope we can move beyond this kind of divisive thinking, both locally and nationally, in order to effect real change.

  4. Paul - thanks for the post and especially the analysis. The title says it all - we can't afford to wait until the next levy request to get spending under control. It will be a long road to getting some positive change in the district, starting with monitoring the new committee which the board will be appointing, and continuing with getting some new faces on the board. Hope to put faces to all the names around here very shortly. I really think we can make a difference.

  5. A few observations...

    I think it is probably very unlikely that EVERYONE who voted in the spring voted the EXACT same way this fall. There was probably some movement (not sure how much) from "NO" to "YES". The lower millage and the severity of the cuts changed some votes. How many? I don't know. I will agree that it is likely that the additional voters broke in favor of the levy.

    BTW, eire... I DID see McCain and Issue 78 signs in the same yard. Remember, those are only tendencies when you say Democrats favor school levies, Republicans don't. There are plenty of examples to the contrary. I'm one of them.

    I agree that the name change from "Scioto Darby Local Schools" to "Hilliard City Schools" was probably not the best idea. (That happened long before I got here.) I think the name "Hilliard City" is a source of confusion to many. The "Scioto Darby" name seems to capture the complexity of our district better. After all, the district spans from the Scioto River all the way to Darby Creek.

  6. SJ:

    No question that there was 'leakage' both ways: FOR-to-AGAINST and AGAINST-to-FOR. The point really is that in order for the levy to pass, we needed to get a larger fraction of a larger number of voters. The numerator had to increase substantially more than the denominator.

    I wonder which is more likely - to convert from AGAINST to FOR, or from non-voter to a FOR? Anyone have any insights?


  7. Paul,

    I thought about that myself. There are likely those who changed from "YES" to "NO". Perhaps you could do another one of your polls. :) Granted, it wouldn't be scientific, but the results might be interesting, nonetheless.

  8. I worked the Norwich-B precinct (Ridgewood), and the results from the machines was 54-46% AGAINST the levy. This is an improvement from 62-38% AGAINST (all votes) in March. We were busy from open until about 10am, then pretty slow after that. Our #s were probably close to Brown -- approx 30% Absentee.

    I was one of the many on this Blog that was a converted NO in March to YES this time, so I sense a good percentage of the difference was a change in heart from NOs in March. My wish would have been to have it pass by one vote. I fear the District and Board will feel they have a mandate for continuing to not look at the future.

    I am trying to now schedule our group meeting for Monday, December 1st. This will coordinate with key schedules (availability and Board Meetings) and allow us to experience the District's reaction in the paper and a couple Board Meetings. Since the Levy passed, I am seeking the use of one of our schools for free. It will be interesting to see how that flies!

  9. I too, was a converted No voter from March. I think it is more likely though, that many non voters from March turned out and voted Yes. There were a LOT more yard signs out this time, and the levy support team seemed a lot more active - several mailings and at least one flier dropped on my porch. Plus, as always, when the proposed cuts are announced, levies historically pass on the second or third try - seldom do they pass on the first go around.

  10. Pretty simply, moving forward every single item has to be on the table.
    I do not see a contract reopener so the admin and the board should tell the electorate what type of increases they will be paying out in increased compensation in the next contract.
    Hopefully there will be a change from the last 3 contracts. The board and admin should be very upfront with the electorate on exact amounts including steps, total monthly medical contribution etc. The good news is that the next levy will be before the next contract expiration in all probability.

    There also should be a commitment to limit spending increases on a yearly basis for the next 5 years.
    A good starting point would be
    between 2 and 3 %
    One can expect given the continued economic news today and increased unemployment that the private sector will continue to shed jobs
    in the short term.

    I would also expect that the board lay out specific plans to insure the contract negotiations stay out of the classrooms and because it is
    "for the kids" the students should not be exposed to activities that took place during the last negotiation.

    Lastly, hopefully the Accountability Committee will contain some new faces, reside in the HCSD, and include independent thinking individuals rather than
    just rubber stamping things.

  11. Since the school board is hand picking the "accountability committee" it is extremely doubtful that they would they pick independent thinking people.

    That is completely opposite of how the board likes to run things, so it only stands to reason that they will be picking people like then.

    Rubber Stampers, who will not go against the status quo. That's a pity and it pisses me off to no end.

    The only way we're going to get any real change, is to elect new people to the school board. People who really will be interested in accountability, and representing the wishes of the people of this community.

  12. So, why couldn't those additional 9,207 people get out and vote in March? I question their dedication to the entire elections process.

    I was a no voter in March and again last week. I don't support giving a fiscally irresponsible school district more of my hard earned money to piss away (pardon my language). With every levy passage, we voters should have the right to elect a new school board.

    I will be joining your email list, Paul. I appreciate the information that you have provided in your website and your blog and respect your views, even though my views are somewhat different.

  13. Thanks for coming aboard with us.

    A variety of views is good as long as we share the belief that community education is step one of our mission. If you come to different conclusions than me, given equal knowledge of the facts, that makes the process stronger.

    But when the debate is based on ignorance of the facts - which has been the case for years - our community is weakened.

    The enemy is ignorance and apathy, not debate.


  14. There was a line in Sunday's Dispatch about how "the president-elect brought out voters more likely to support school tax issues". A lot of the new voters don't even pay property tax, so I wonder if the District was politically-savvy enough to have seen that coming and so were pretty laid back about pushing 78.

  15. onebratt08,

    Clarify this please:
    I don't support giving a fiscally irresponsible school district more of my hard earned money to piss away (pardon my language).

    I still don't buy the fiscal irresponsibility argument. You may disagree with the HCSD desire to compensate their employees in a manner that will keep it a desirable place for teachers to work, but that isn't irresponsibility. It is a choice, one they are making for the students of this district.

    Is it irresponsible to do what you can to provide the best qualified teachers for our students?

    Is it irresponsible to make employees start paying part of their insurance premiums? Something teachers haven't done for YEARS?

    The "well" of qualified teachers clamoring to get into this district would dry up very quickly if the pay/benefits went by the wayside.

    "Fiscal Irresponsibility?"

    FACTS please. Without facts, this sounds like ignorance, and an attempt to justify a no vote.

  16. Musicman:

    I do think our current Board is fiscally irresponsible, which is why I hope we can seat a new majority in November.

    Why do I think this? For one reason, I don't think this particular Board actually understands how school funding works, nor do they have a good handle on how money is spent. And not talking about the little details, but rather the top-level strategic picture.

    I don't necessarily have an argument with their decisions - my problem is: a) they have very little discussion in public, so I don't understand HOW they make their decisions; and, b) lacking that understanding, I see no evidence that they apply decision-making methods that are appropriate for an organization with a $200 million budget serving a community of 50,000 people. It seems to be more seat-of-the-pants.

    As I've always said, our Board members are good people, for whom I have a great deal of respect as dedicated community servants, and hopefully still as friends. They just don't see the need to do things differently at 80,000 community members, 15,000 kids, 2,000 employees and a $200 million annual budget than it has always been done in the past.

    Not only is the scale of the district larger, the fiscal and political environment has become significantly more complex. It requires more sophisticated management, and much better communications with the community.

    If they pick the right folks for this Auditing and Accountability Committee - and the Board listens to them, it may be a good start.

    So again, I'm not campaigning to replace this Board because I don't trust them. It's because they don't seem to understand how to oversee an operation of this magnitude, and haven't been willing to listen to me and others who have been willing to help.


  17. musicman - I must disagree that dispensing 7% raises, offset only by
    6/8/10% contributions to health care premiums is fiscally responsible in the current economic environment. It is far out of line with what private employers are doing, and it is also far out of line with other government entities. Compensation has to be tied to something other than the desire to have the absolute best, particularly when the funds are coming from the taxpayers. In my opinion the latest contract was agreed to only to avoid a strike and to keep the current union members satisfied, and their rhetoric indicated that they still were not happy but were willing to accept it. What does that say about future contracts? Unless the Board publicly agrees to a spending increase limit, which by definition
    will limit the future raises, I will be at the forefront of the anti-levy campaign when it comes up two years from now; after I went against my conscience and voted Yes last Tuesday, I e-mailed the Board and the unions with that exact message. This community cannot, and should not, support those types of increases forever without going broke themselves. I'll settle for teachers who understand this, and who realize that there are far more benefits to teaching in the HCSD than pay alone, such as infrastructure and great kids with great parents who get actively involved in their kids education. If it is all about the money, let them apply somewhere else. We will still get great applicants.

  18. Hillerdite, I totally agree with your last paragraph.

    Musicman, you seem to support an opencheckbook policy. Given the economic climate, the HEA should be very happy with their last 3 contracts stretch 9years. How is this a compensation problem ? How are they being shortchanged?

    You have touted a medical plan where a single individual will pay
    at the end of the contract, only
    $50.00 per month. Most pay that
    right now on a per week basis.
    How are we not compensating them

    Are you purposly dissing teachers outside of this district who WANT
    to teach here, and telling them and
    parents they are not qualified.
    Do many of them not have the certification and the same qualifications and drive to teach students.

    Please tell me about how "dedicated"
    the HEA is when the vote to pass a
    very lucrative contract was almost voted down. As in the private sector, people move all the time
    and business moves on.

    Perhaps you are willing to support in 3 years another 7% increase in compensation. over 3 years with minimal medical contribution, and
    to be honest a lot of time off.

    I am hoping that this community is ready for a double digit millage increase in two years and with the projection of the same compensation module of the last 3 contracts I think one can safely say it will
    be in the 12 to 14 mill arena, if not more. Somehow I think that one will be much tougher to swallow.

    We need some to see a slower rate
    of spending increases per year based on a 5 year plan which I have proposed and has fallen on deaf ears.

    With over 85% of our budget going to compensation, we either plan
    on smaller increases or we look at
    untenable millage increases, and
    yes unfortuntly,the possibility that Hillerdite has raised of organized opposition.
    Look to Canal Winchester, South West. Groveport, Newark and many outlying districts who have had big
    trouble passing levies in large part to organized opposition.

    I dont think the district wants to go there

  19. Why are we not looking at the PROGRESS made in this last contract? Having HEA pay even a LITTLE of their premium is progress!

    Please imagine what would happen if they were asked to pay $400 a month for the family plan, as we are in my district. There would have been a strike. Perhaps it is a savvy move to have teachers start paying more, without having them so PO'd that they strike. Next contract, push a little more. You know, that whole "you can catch more flies with honey..."

    My whole problem is that people throw around phrases that aren't rooted in fact.

    Paul, not knowing the justification for how money is spent does not make it irresponsible. Does it make it hard to trust? Yes. But not irresponsible.

    Hillirdite, I AM a teacher outside of this district. I know why teachers want to come to this district. It isn't because they like the fall foliage. They like the pay, and they like the benefits.

    If HCSD does as you all say, and gives a big middle finger to the union, and lowers/eliminates pay, great teachers like the ones we have will stop seeing our district as desirable.

    Not an open checkbook, but one that keeps its' eye on the ball.

    I agree with so much of what Paul and many of you say, but I think I've found our main difference.

    MY #1 priority-BAR NONE: KIDS

    Others #1 priority: CASH

    I personally refuse to accept any talk of a little pain now helps us later. We should fix our problems without hurting students. Going a complete 180 on the teachers union would hurt the kids, because the union would strike. I don't like unions, and wish they would go away, but one district can't do that. Who in their right mind would go work in the ONE school district that can fire its' teachers at will?

  20. Musicman:

    I feel the Board is fiscally irresponsible because they have accepted the job of being stewards of a $200 million budget without understanding how the fiscal engine works, or seeking help from those who do.

    How can they possibly accept a five slide Powerpoint with one chart and a few numbers as the sum total of their briefing of the Treasurer's new 5 Year Forecast? But that's exactly what they did at the last meeting. Their few questions were feeble and unenlightening.

    If I have the privilege to sit on the Board, it is my hope to have a conversation with the HEA that includes a plan for recalibrating the comp package over time. But I would also recommend that the Board put a contingency plan in place that allows school to continue if an impasse is reached and the teachers call a strike.

    As long as the HEA has the option to strike, the Board must be equally prepared to allow a strike to occur. The HEA can't be the only side with nuclear weapons.

    And of course, it's the kids who get caught in the crossfire.

    I've said from the beginning that I'm willing to see effective teachers get paid a boatload -- as long as retired-on-the-job teachers get the boot. Check out the experiment going on in Washington Heights in NYC. Teachers are paid $125,000/yr, but only on one year contracts.

    Or the Superintendent of the Washington DC schools who has suggested offering higher pay to teachers in exchange for one-year contracts. Who is fighting it? The most senior teachers. The younger teachers love the idea.

    School Boards have bullied by the unions for too long. Our national government isn't the only place when change is coming...


  21. Paul,

    I agree with most of what you said. And I'll be in line to vote you in for the board. Good luck breaking the union though, that is the biggest issue. But you can't hold HCSD responsible for that. Huge corporations can't break unions without irreparable damage. The problem is, HCSD doesn't make cars, they make people.

    Your thoughts are tempered with rational thought and realistic expectations, ie; tapering compensation package over time.

    Others seem a bit more fanatical. That is what frightens me.

  22. Musicman: I appreciate your support, as well as the opportunity to carry on the discussion with you.

    While I would characterize myself as a free-market type, our current economic crisis has helped me see something I think is pretty profound.

    It's that in the real world, economic/political systems don't tend toward equilibrium like they teach you in economics classes - they tend to oscillate with greater and greater magnitude until they come apart. We've seen this with the most recent mortgage mess, and it's happened many times before.

    I'd argue that unions vs corporations are of the same ilk. What started out as a good thing has become a serious problem, threatening the well-being of all.

    You're right, large companies have had a hard time breaking their unions. We're about to see two more of them - Ford and GM - go out of business in large part due to their labor costs. The steel industry is already mostly gone. The coal miners may be going back to work, but it's to send coal overseas - not power our own industry.

    Meanwhile Honda, Toyota and Nissan are (have been) cranking out cars with non-union labor here in the US, and have taken over the market.

    Unions have to come into alignment with the greater economy, or they'll take their employers down with them.

    That includes teachers' unions. The funding problem in Ohio isn't about unfunded mandates, or property taxes versus whatever other kind of tax folks think we can use to pay for schools - it's that the cost of teacher compensation and benefits is running away from the income of the taxpayers.


  23. My problem with the union is that they require the same compensation be paid to all teachers, based on education hours and years of service. It doesn't matter how good or bad a teacher is. It doesn't matter how difficult the class is to teach. It doesn't matter how difficult the area of specialization is, nor how many teachers are applying for the same position. A system like that does nothing to inspire teachers to perform at an above average level and makes it difficult to attract the best teachers.

    Imagine if all public hospital doctors were paid the same, but private hospitals could pay market rates for their doctors. Would there be much motivation to pursue the more difficult specialities in a public hospital? Wouldn't the brightest, most talented doctors choose not to work in a public hospital and instead work at a private hospital, where they would be rewarded for the quality of their work, earning bonuses for being highly skilled and be let go if it turned out they were lousy? Who would work in the public hospitals? The medicore doctors - the ones who value job security over pay for performance. The ones who put in their hours and then go home because making that extra effort makes no difference in what they are paid. Would there be any cardiologists in the public hospitals if they made the same salary as a GP?

    Why can't we pay teachers who teach high school math, high school science or foreign languages more than we pay a social studies teacher, if there are only 1 HS math certified teacher being graduated for every 100 social studies teachers?

    Why can't we pay more to teachers who teach in the more difficult classrooms (those filled with non-english speaking students, perhaps) than we pay to the teachers who teach PE to first grade, English speaking students?

    Why can't we hire a teacher with 15 years of experience from another excellent school district and pay them what we are paying teachers who have been teaching in Hilliard for 15 years?

    Why do we have to pay teachers extra (over and above fixed annual step increases and general annual pay increases) to serve on committees, to help to develop the curriculum, when at most jobs, additional responsibility is part of why you make more in your 10th year than you do in your 3rd year? And being appointed to such a committee is regarded as an honor, a demonstration of your talent and knowledge, rather than a way to make an additional $500 per year.

    Why do we have to give teachers an extra day off because they work late one evening for conferences?

    Fiscal irresponsibility isn't the decision to compensate employees in a manner that will keep it a desirable place for teachers to work - fiscal irresponsibility is overpaying poorly performing teachers while at the same time being unable to adequately compensate or reward the highest performing teachers. And unfortunately, the poorly performing teachers are usually those who make the most money, because they are the ones that have that security of tenure which prevents the district from letting them go. The poorly performing first and second year teachers don't have that same security, so they are let go. And, if we are forced to lay off some teachers, we're forced to let the highly motivated and performing first and second year teachers go and keep the higher paid, less effective, tenured teachers because of the union contract. That, Musicman, is fiscal irresponsibility!

  24. Not to pile on musicman, but another way of looking at "fiscal irresponsibility" is "fiscal short-sightedness".

    Short-sited that they let the raises and no-insurance contributions go so long to avoid HEA issues in the past, leading up to a move that should have been done years ago.

    Short-sighted that they are concentrating so much on this levy to get by for two years, while ignoring the elephant in the room for what the projections look like in a couple years.

    Sooner or later, this short-view of avoiding issues now is going to bite us, big time (happens all the time). I see it happening the next time they ask for another levy (which I have not seen anyone predict will be longer than 3 years from now and anywhere near single-digits). Oh, and it corresponds to about the time the next contract needs to be worked.

    At that time, you can't go about appeasing both sides (taxpayers and teachers). Either someone is going to be very upset causing irreparable harm, or we can work together to 1)ACKNOWLEDGE the situation; and 2) work together to reach a reasonable solution.

    Does anyone see that happening?

  25. KK- Brilliantly stated!

  26. So we should all stand up and cheer because teachers finally have to join the real world and start contributing to their health care benefits? Sorry, not me. $50 a month is merely a token
    and somewhere around 45% of teachers voted against even that. My company was just hit with a 13% hike in premiums for the upcoming year which is probably along the average for most plans; next year the teachers share will increase by 2%. That is not progress. At the current rate of salary increases, in 5 years the average salary will be in excess of $92,000, and who knows what benefits will add to that? It is time to stand up and say enough is enough. This is not a diatribe against teachers, this is a protest against a broken system.
    No one here has been calling for a
    decrease in spending - we have all been calling for a lower increase in spending. And since salaries account for 90% of the budget, there is no way that salaries can be held exempt. I'm not a fanatic, I am a realist.

  27. One other thought - I have a hard time reconciling the statements that it is all about the kids yet teachers want to come to the HCSD strictly for the pay and benefits. Seems totally contradictory to me. Teachers in the inner city are the ones who should be making the best money - they have to deal with under-performing students and under-performing parents, two things that are in the extreme minority in Hilliard. If that, and say, 3% annual raises, is not enough to attract good teachers, then maybe those teachers are in the wrong profession.

  28. Musicman, I am wondering how limiting a spending growth plan would reduce compensation levels

    I dont think any one has called for a cut in teachers pay, I know I have not. Simply, the rate of growth at 7% in not tenable when we can expect funding cuts most likely from the state due to
    the economic climate.

    I dont see based on the following
    how anyone would not see the Hilliard District as a great place to teach.

    1. Students and parents who are engaged
    2. An outstanding infrastructure.
    3. A great medical plan
    4. Consistent increases over and above the private sector over the last 6 years and for the next 3

    Fact: An average teacher makes
    50,000, (think it is a bit higher
    They get a 3% raise or $1500
    year 1 A 7% year 2 $3500?
    3% third year $1700 Total
    $6700 over 3 years. Offset Medical premium $1,000 per year perhaps family ? Single individual
    $600 per year in year 3.

    How is this not an excellent compensation package going into

    I have called for somewhere between a 2.5% and 3% spending increase per year. What this basically does is eliminate the huge step raise over at least a
    4 to 5 year period until we get
    a full adjustment in the State Spending module. This is not a pay cut, but a spending reduction.
    It is not like anyone is asking
    a teacher making 55,000 to go to
    52,000 or less.

    My proposal has fallen to a
    zero response..... So one must look at the situation and feel
    that we will continue to have to fund the current increases in all future contracts as no one is willing to step up to the plate and make some sound financial decisions.

    Strings, band, sports, music, theater, busing will certainly feel effects if the next levy
    has to support the same spending module. I think anyone who feels
    a $450 per 100,000 of valuation
    is going to pass without a huge challenge is not recognizing the current economic challenges that we are facing.

    I agree with Paul on the notion that the district needs to have
    a strike plan of their own, to
    insure our students are educated.
    If the strike card is allready being played in anticipation of the next contract, it really is not about the kids is it.

    I am confident that with an average salary of 55,000 to 60,000
    and a top notch medical plan
    we can attract new and dedicated top notch teachers.

    I suggest that last years graduating class has very bad feelings about the way the HEA
    members prodded them with a possibility of no graduation ceremonies due to the contract
    negotiations. As a parent I was not too thrilled either, to have that hanging over our heads, the
    ONE TIME EXPERIENCE you have noted musicman. But then again it is about the kids isnt it.

  29. I don't mind being piled upon, but I don't think many of you understand what I am saying. I AGREE about all of the "Union's are bad" stuff. I AGREE. But you can NOT expect HCSD to bear the responsibility for how our system works.

    There aren't, to my knowledge, ANY public school districts in the state of Ohio that do not have teachers unions. Yet many of you are holding HCSD responsible for how our current funding/union structure work. That is ridiculous to me.

    You play by the rules of the game. Changing the rules is not done by punishing those who play the game.

    I AGREE with you folks, but jeepers, it ISN'T the fault of HCSD that funding sucks and unions are out for their own best interests!!!!!

  30. Rick - from the Hilliard City School District web site:

    Teachers: 1,146 (09/08):
    With MA or higher 72.7% K-12
    Pupil/Reg. Classroom Teacher Ratio: 1/18
    Average Salary:$65,685(effective 09/07)
    Average Years Experience: 13.3 Years

    The average salary is way over that 50,000 figure; in my many conversations with my fellow residents prior to the election last week, most were shocked to learn it is that high. I am not saying it is TOO high, just that it is what it is, and people should know the facts. Teaching is not the underpaid profession that it once was. Given that at the most, it is a 10 month a year job, that equilibrates to a $78,000 salary for a year round worker. Not exactly chump change!

  31. Musicman - I get what you are saying and I agree that we are not going to be the one school district to "break" the union. My point is that the union leaders and teachers have to realize that the current economic environment will not support business as usual. We cannot accept handing out generous contracts that ensure only teachers are making more money every year. Many of our residents have seen no raises, or barely cost of living increases and we watch that go to property taxes to fund 7% raises. That is inequitable.

  32. Musicman:

    That's my point, and has been from the git-go: the leaders of the HCSD are partly to blame for our mess in Hilliard because they failed to think about all this stuff strategically. It's really this simple:

    1. Residential development at a pace greater than commercial development causes homeowners and existing business to bear the bulk of the cost of growth. For years the HCSD leadership has taken the posture that this is out of their control. That's crap. The people of the school district are also citizens of the municipalities that control development, and they vote for the politicians who run those municipalities. The HCSD leadership should have made it their mission to educate the people of the community about how school funding works, and rally folks to tell Mayor Schonhardt and his cronies that we want him to protect the community, not the developers.

    This blog came into being to attack that objective.

    2. The process of recalibrating the HEA contract to current economic conditions should have started years ago. The thing is that I'm not so sure that the Board understood that their cost driver was compensation and benefits until a year or so ago - after I started talking about it in this blog.

    The pre-2008 Board was fond of saying that they were victims of these forces. That's crap too. They just didn't understand their mission. Still don't.

    The serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference"

    They've been living in the 1st phrase, when it's the last two that should be drawing their attention...


  33. Hillerdite, actually knew average was higher, but I want to present a
    somewhat moderate approach that even at 50,000 the raises, offset by
    medical contribution, and a tax increase property wise would still leave the situation at a very
    competitive level.

    Actually it is not so much the $$$$ sometimes it is the attitude and
    somehow through all of this a free pass was given.

    I voted for this levy in the hope
    we will see some real fiscal planning with some realistic increases. I totally value the educational process and educating our children. I dont value an opencheckbook combined with an
    entitlement attitude.

    My concern is that a double digit levy proposal will really send folks to the sideline when combined with a continued failure to restrain a spending increase level on the compensation model that will not hunt with the electorate.

    Good luck to the new organizing group. May their efforts be rewarded with a result that brings everyone to the table, and every
    thing on the table.

  34. Musicman,

    First of all, I appreciate your choice in career. It takes a special person to be a teacher.

    Secondly, much of my info I have gotten either from Paul or from reading the letters to the editor from the Northwest News. Some of what was said about the districts "fiscal irresponsibility" seemed too radical to be true, but I researched the claims and the evidence I found was true for every claim.

    I think you and I share a difference of opinion on some things:

    Getting "free" health insurance would be a wonderful benefit, but is nearly impossibly to provide these days with people living longer, more disease and higher prescription costs. A 25%-30% employee contribution rate is the norm for most non-public employers.

    Most of the people lucky enough to keep their jobs in this troubled economy will be lucky if they see pay increases next year (it's only going to get worse before it gets better). Not even a COLA in a time of rising costs: higher cost of living expenses such as gas and electric bills and grocery expenses. Even in a great economy, most employers don't award 7% in annual merit increases, which exceeds even the current Consumer Price Index for Cost of Living Adjustments. I'm not saying don't give teachers a raise, I'm saying that costs should be controlled in this down economic time.

    I know some very successful and brilliant people who attended schools in districts that were "poor". I went to Hilliard (back in the days of one high school). I didn't see the point to having a television in every classroom or 4 or 5 principals. New books, activities to keep kids "out of trouble", nutritious lunches are all important ways, that I would support, to spend district money.

    I think the board needs to be cautious and wise when spending the district's money. The economy is down, and plunging further (I myself have lost 50% of my 401k thus far) and people are losing their jobs and homes. That does nothing to help the school district or the community.

  35. onebratt,

    You and I agree that free healthcare probably should not be given for teachers, using public funds.

    We disagree in that having teachers start to pay part of that is a large step.

    I think you have to start small and build. Can you imagine what would have happened if HCSD went to HEA and wanted them to accept 25-30% insurance in their contract?

    It takes baby steps to get started. What concerns me is that folks think it should all happen NOW. That is not how unions work, for good or for bad.

    You HAVE to play the game, until the game changes. Our current game is control costs and move in the right direction. I think HCSD is in a large degree doing that.

    I guess I'm just more patient. I've said many times, I agree with what you all are saying, but to me, the reality of the situation dictates how events are handled.

  36. musicman,

    I agree we can't expect to have teachers start contributing as much as the normal public all at once. The frustration comes from the fact that contributions (and the conflict that would have gone with it) were avoided several contract cycles ago when they should have been addressed. Rapidly rising health care costs have been around for years, and it was very negligent and short-sighted (== irresponsible?) not to start to deal with them years ago. The end result is a public expecting more, all at once.

    I also agree with you that you have to play within the game as long as the game exists. We will never change the game of the existence of the union, rewarding for performance, seniority rules or better-than-average retirement benefits. These are here to stay until the game changes external to HSD. However, we certainly could have eased the current pain years ago by:

    - Starting the contributions gradually
    - Providing more realistic raises
    - Not being afraid of a strike or threats of teachers leaving the district.

    You can't operate a successful, long term entity by being afraid of the near term and not forecasting for the long term.

  37. Paul,

    My biggest frustration continues to come back to the major problems staring us in the face by the 5-year forecast, and the lack of long-term planning for it. (Most of the current complaints are symptoms of the lack of long-term planning, not the root cause of our issues.) I am trying my optimistic best to give the benefit of the doubt to our leaders, and that, despite the projected lack of attention, they are working the long-term planning very hard, behind the scenes.

    One scenario that could back my hopes is that the level of state funding is partly based on the five-year forecast. That is, if we show $180 million in costs in 2010, or a $30 million deficit between costs and revenue, do we get more funding from the state? Thus, it is better to show this disparity rather than appear to be addressing it?

    I know it is a long-shot, but just thought I would ask.

  38. Mark:

    A good place to go to gain some understanding of the State Funding approach is the Ohio Dept of Education website, and check out the information under the "Finance" heading. From there select "State Funding for Schools" and then "District SF-3" reports (sorry for not providing links, but the ODE website uses lots of dynamic addressing).

    What you'll see as you go through the SF-3 for our school district is that there is no part of the calculation in which our budget status enters into the picture.

    The 'local factor' that does affect state funding is the "Charge-Off", which is the amount our state funding is reduced due to the assessed value of property in the district. This Charge-Off is the mechanism used to reduce state funding to districts with greater wealth.

    But note that it is also a back-door farm subsidy mechanism. For example, the 130 acre farm field next door to me is currently valued at $230/acre under the state's 'Constant Agricultural Use Value' program. That's one-hundreth the value in which farmland has been selling for around here (prior to the current real estate bust).

    So the school districts which are primarily farmland end up having artificially low property values, which means a smaller chargeoff, which means higher State Aid. Note that I have no particular objection to farmers getting a break, only pointing out that you have to dig past the surface of these things to understand how the pieces fit together.

    So to your question - no the state doesn't give a hoot what our local funding status might be. We spend way above the benchmark set by the state, which is why many state legislators feel it is okay to take more and more from us to subsidize the poorer districts.

  39. Paul, thanks for the interpretation.

    We spend way above the benchmark set by the state, which is why many state legislators feel it is okay to take more and more from us to subsidize the poorer districts.

    So, either we do something about it, or we will eventually reach the hard limit that represents how much spending the taxpayers are willing to absorb. Since we are not used to spending less (like considering implementing something like Rick's cost-containment proposal), there will be a great sucking sound within the district when it is finally realized that there is a symbiotic relationship between education quality and long-term cost management.

    I can probably create a graph that depicts this inflection point!

  40. I think we could get a pretty good debate going on the relationship between spending and whatever it is we use to define 'education quality.'

    I'd like to think I got a pretty good education nearly 40 years ago, and it didn't have a lot to do with the per-student spending, as I grew up in a very much middle-class to poor area. Our school buildings were decent, but not extravagent, and our class sizes always around 30 kids. No computers, or even calculators - we did our math on a slide rule.

    I think that any given community has a certain 'capacity' to fund public entities, and we have to be careful how it gets allocated. It's akin to the notion of a 'possibility frontier' in economics. If you have two variables X and Y that influence result Z, and there is a relationship such that the more you allocate to X, the less you have for Y, it may also be true that the tradeoff is not linear. It could be that one more dollar spent on X (and consequently one less on Y), has greater positive effect on Z than if you choose one more dollar of Y, and one less of X.

    For example, we may have spent money on buildings that would been better spent on programs. Or we may have spent money on one program that should have spent on another.

    In effect, our current school leadership doesn't think there is a frontier - that there is no tradeoff. They just keep coming back to the community for more money, and eventually they get it.

    Our country's current economic situation has probably changed that. It may be all but impossible to get another levy passed in a couple of years - certainly not one that supports the current spending trajectory.

    The trouble with using up so much of our community's capacity on buildings is that it's now literally cast in concrete. No matter how tough things get, we are obligated to paying off the bonds we issued to borrow money to build the buildings, including an incredible $65 million (plus interest) for Bradley HS.

    As the frontier stop expanding, and perhaps even contracting, we'll have to start cutting back on the growth of operations spending, of which nearly 90% is salaries and benefits.

    To me, it is clear that our leadership needs to immediately sit down with the HEA and OAPSE members and figure out a battle plan for a severe funding cutback. What programs would be cut? What classes would no longer be offered? Ultimately, it likely has to translate into less net income for the employees, be it through lower salaries or greater health insurance contributions - probably both.

    But of course the union leaders will absolutely refuse to participate in the development of a contingency plan, because they'll suspect that the real motivation is to take money away from them when they believe there is more to be had. It's like mice fighting over the last piece of cheese on the Titanic.


  41. Agreed 100% Paul. And the new Accountability committee is not going to perform that function of long-term planning. It is going to take a group such as ours to push the issue, and push it hard, for the next two years.
    The Board certainly won't do it either without some prodding. I think it might even give us a Mission Statement as this is what it is going to take to avoid the debacle over the latest levy. If the union, and the Board, refuse to partake in the discussion, we will need to publicize that to get the community in on the true facts of what is basically an ongoing budget crisis with no plan in place to deal with it.

  42. Musicman, I find it interesting that you would find it "fanatical"
    to produce a sound business plan
    that would provide an increase
    each year just not unlimited spending. A 3% increase on a
    budget of simply 150 million would
    still increase the available dollars to 4.5 million additional year alone. Why was there a zero response to Pauls proposal on
    holding the line for one year ?

    I am interested that it is fanantical for parents to have the ability to express concerns about
    what happens in the school buildings and how it affects their children. Because of the political nature in our district and others, badly needed scholarship dollars to pay for college were missed out on because of absolute poor decision making by admininstrators and counselors
    and teachers. It should be about merit after all and results as you have said, not whether teachers, admin, favor one group over the other. Can you explain to me how
    4.3 students in the top ten dont
    get help with scholarship back up information needed, and dont make the National Honor Society ?

    Can you explain to graduating seniors why it ok to to drive kids
    to tears about teachers making
    comments about no graduation

    My own response to this, is life lessons learned, to all affected.
    Even if they are "kids" and according to your comments it
    should be nothing but about the kids. I dont think anyone here or anywhere is focused on that.

    Why a spending reduction with a compensation increase of 3 to 4% is looked at like something impossible in a time of economic uncertainty is curious

    Perhaps an HEA member who just got a great raise of 7%, minimal
    medical cost, and our admin. team
    who love to play favorites, but yet "expect" premium compensation
    can come over and look at my neighbor in the face who will lose his home, his children are not being accomodated by the district when they could be, not because he made poor financial decisions but because he and his spouse both lost their jobs, working any jobs, two jobs to stay afloat.

    And we have employees whining about
    a small medical contribution that everyone else is paying.

    Call it fanatical, but perhaps it would be nice just for once that the HEA, OAPSE, admin, and district show some basic understanding about what is happending in the real world.

    Oh thats right, it you dont likeit
    our way, you should move.

    I dont want to see us have districts like Southwest, Newark
    Canal Winchester, Groveport etc that get into organized opposition because of the arrogance of the district. If it is all about the compensation module, it really isnt about the kids.

    I have come to the conclusion that
    my proposal to begin planning on a yearly basis with some spending
    growth reductions was really a waste of time. Why I took the time
    to try and come up fanatical like this was a huge mistake.

    Taking the time to try and point out to our school leaders and community that they need to pay attention to whom they are voting for at the state level, and not support the same failed leadership at the statehoue was indeed a waste of my breathe

    It was a waste of time to go to the board and the district and ask them to keep poltics and favoritism out of our classrooms and to treat all of our "kids" equally.

    I have tried to step up to the plate as a parent, community resident, someone who cares about
    our school system.

    I guess I will fall in line and do
    what the musicman, the HEA and the district tells me. Shut up and ante up.

  43. Paul,

    Are you familiar with Jackson Local School District in the Akron/Canton area? Jackson LSD is a high-performing, well-regarded suburban district that would be considered 'affluent' by the State of Ohio. Jackson LSD is somewhere around the size of Upper Arlington CSD in terms of enrollment.

    Jackson voters denied the latest levy request in November and high school busing is one of the cuts being made by the district. As a result, it appears that the Jackson BOE is putting another levy request on in February.

    There is a high school sports site that contains forums for individual schools and the levy was one of the topics on the Jackson forum.

    I bring this up only because the situation at Jackson might be worth watching as it unfolds.

  44. SJ:

    Thanks for the link - I take a look.