Sunday, March 22, 2009

City of Hilliard Planning Underway

When you have a few minutes, please take this online survey presented by the City of Hilliard.

As a 20 year resident of Brown Township, neither I nor my neighbors have much influence over how the incorporated municipalities we border decide to do business. Yet the actions of those municipalities are a primary determinant of the economic sustainability of Hilliard City Schools, the government entity the people of our patchwork community says they value the most.

The future is very much in jeopardy for our school district. For the 30 years we have made this community our home, folks have been generous with their support of our schools district. That generosity is most visible in the number and quality of the school buildings, but by far the greatest investment we've made is in the compensation and benefits of a large and talented corps of educators and supporting staff.

For the last decade or so, the key economic issue has been population growth. As more and more houses, condominiums and apartments have been built, the student population of our school district has exploded. Just ten years ago, in 1999, our student population was 12,005. At the end of 2008, it was 15,150 – an increase of more than 3,000 kids (26%).

The increase in operating costs has been even more dramatic. The school district calculates a statistic called "Cost to Graduate" which estimates the total cost of sending a kid through our school system from the first day of kindergarten to graduation. In 1999 that number was $60,387. By 2008, it had grown to $100,773, an increase of 67%. This is driven by two things: a) the growth in compensation and benefits for the teachers, administrators and staff; and, b) the total number of employees on the team. This is a significant problem, but not one related to municipal politics – the subject of this note.

The cost of growth and costs has shown up in the taxes collected from the residents and businesses of our community. In 1999, the school district levied $62 million in property taxes. By 2008, that number had grown to $112 million, which works out to an 80% increase.

Some of that increase was paid by new residents and businesses that have found a home in our school district since 1999. But the property taxes paid by those of us who have lived here all that time have grown significantly - by 60%.

The back-of-the-envelope analysis works out like this: if property taxes have increased 60% on homeowners who have been here for the past ten years, the baseline of $62 million of property taxes levied in 1999 grew to $100 million per year solely because of the increase in taxes on residents and businesses who were already here in 1999. Therefore only $12 million/year in new tax revenue has been paid by all the new folks who have moved here since 1999 – the folks who brought with them 3,000 more kids - while residents who were here prior to 1999 pay $38 million/yr to fund the growth. Doesn't seem fair, right?

The way that can be countered is with commercial development. New commercial properties generate property taxes, but no additional kids. We need much more of that. Mayor Schonhardt likes to say it's the City of Columbus that's screwing things up, but my research suggests that $2.4 million in new annual school revenue has been generated by the businesses in the Columbus part of the Rome-Hilliard corridor alone.

Meanwhile, most of the new houses have been built in the City of Hilliard in order to preserve access to the Hilliard schools (and avoid being assigned to Columbus school by the terms of the Win-Win Agreement). I suspect that the numbers would show that residential development in the Columbus part of the school district has been better balanced by commercial development than is the case in the City of Hilliard.

Nonetheless, Mayor Schonhardt has just annexed another 1,000 acres for residential development into the City of Hilliard. Granted, his administration has also opened up a lot of land for commercial development along the new Trueman Blvd and Britton Parkway.

But he could have opened up that commercial land without annexing all this residential land in Brown Twp – it's not like one requires the other.

I suspect that if we had not slammed into this global economic mess, we would right now be watching houses springing up west of Alton-Darby Rd. More houses means more kids means more expense which means more taxes.

The only way to break out of that cycle is to demand that the City of Hilliard not allow one more house to be built until many new commercial properties are built and occupied on Trueman Blvd, Britton Pkwy and the other commercial tracts already established.

I encourage you to take this survey, and tell the Mayor exactly that.

Encourage your friends to do the same.


  1. What has been greater since 1999? The rate of wage earnings per staff member of those in the system in 1999 to date (teachers, support, admin) or the cost of staff members added since 1999?

    What is the largest 1 or 2 growth segments (in terms of dollars) of the staff population since 1999? (i.e., Admin, classroom teacher, intervention specialist, etc.)

    How have the demographics of the student population changed since 1999? (ELL, socioeconomic, etc)

  2. KJ:

    Interesting set of questions. I'll go do some research, but ask that you look for those answers as well.

    Just to be sure I understand your questions, let me rephrase them:

    1. If the size of the school district, in terms of students and employees, had been frozen at 1999 levels, what would the cost of compensation and benefits be today? Subtract that from today's actual cost, and presume that the difference is cost of staff added since 1999. Which is greater?

    2. I addressed part of this question - in a dialog with you actually - in this post about a year ago. In terms of raw numbers of employees, the greatest increase was in 'regular classroom teachers,' growing from 562 in 1998 to 748 in 2007, an increase of 185. However, this was right on pace with the student growth, and the student:teacher ratio remained about 20:1 the whole period.

    In terms of percentage growth, it was spread across several categories including intervention teachers, intervention tutors, ELL teachers, teaching aids, etc. These groups grew from 67 in 1997 to 238, an increase of 171.

    If we assume that on average a teacher gets paid more than tutors, aids, etc, then we can also assume that more money was spent on the increase in teachers (driven by the growth of student population) than on the increase in other teaching staff.

    The tougher question is why all these non-teacher folks were added.

    3. Straightforward question. It will interesting to see if the data is readily available. Those statistics appear on the current State Report Card, but not those from ten years ago.

    Let me know what you find, then we'll compare notes and publish the results.


  3. Survey sent Paul,

  4. I'm curious about the viability of attracting commercial enterprises. It seems like these days you have to bribe them with healthy tax abatements, which basically defeats the purpose...

  5. I think just as there was a bubble in housing markets that had to be burst, there's a bubble in the education world. Business as usual is financially unsustainable.

    The way it will play out is that taxpayers will reach their limit and eventually vote down repeated levies; the people of Hilliard are so "Midwestern" (i.e. confrontation avoiders) that I think it'll be awhile before we reach that point. (Six years?)

    Oh, and to KJ's last question, I've heard from a teacher that the demographics have changed and that Somali & Hispanic immigrants require more work. Perhaps that's part of why so many non-teachers were added.

    As is usual in a disaster it's a perfect storm:
    1) not enough commercial development
    2) district fiscal mismanagement
    3) teacher pay rising faster than rate of inflation
    4)"No Child Left Behind" unfunded mandates
    5) increased immigration

    .... = soaring ducation costs.

  6. I suspect that the demographics have changed a lot in some schools, and not so much in others. During the redistricting process, there was a strong voice from some neighborhoods to keep the immigrant kids away from 'their schools.' It wasn't our community's proudest moment...

  7. Attracting business:

    The norm for many years has been that the City of Hilliard abates 100% of the property taxes for a significant new business, but at the same time does a side deal with the business such that it pays the school district an annual amount equal to what the school levy portion of the business' property tax would have been. This isn't just largess on the part of the City - Ohio law requires a municipality to gain school district approval when the abatement is more than 75% of the property value, and that approval can be made contingent upon the City and the school district negotiating a compensation agreement.

    The City of Hilliard, through one recent version of its Master Plan, served notice to the school board that it needed to be willing to accept lesser percentages of compensation if the city was to be successful in attracting new businesses. I think that's a fair statement on the part of the City. It's a lot better to have 50% of something than 100% of nothing...


  8. I would submit that increases in
    employee numbers are necessary based
    on new mandates, focus on ELL etc
    learning disabilities. I have no issues funding these issues except when there is only the mandate and
    not any type of increase in funding

    Our State Dept of Education is king
    of the unfunded mandate along with
    the Federal Govt. Our State Educ.dept remember last year was the
    ONLY department who out and out refused to make adjustments in their budgets based on the request of the Governor. He asked for 33%
    The bloated beaucarcy in the Dept of Education is good at coming up with new spending needs but little in the way of showing the way on
    how to pay for them

    Paul I agree that 50% is better than none, but somehow we got into this mess by granting tax abatements in th first place.
    There is no tax abatement for the
    individual homeowner

    Note that 'Pay to play" hit the headlines this week, with a focus
    on huge increases in pay to play
    or outright elimination of sports
    and extracurriculars if the levies dont pass. Not anywhere is mentioned a combined effort of pay to play increases and compensation adjustments.

    We keep trying to cut 100% of our
    deficit with in only 10% of the budget.

    The only way to help alleviate this
    is to temper the compensation module increases. 2.5% instead of
    7% would go along way in extending
    our budgets.

    I think a key ingredient of the fall school board race should be a
    simple yes or no to the following question

    Will you support a reduction in
    compensation increases over the next 4 years within our district.

    Will you support the community
    who have been very supportive of
    the schools, or will you support the continued same compensation
    increases year after year that have been given in the last 3 contracts.???

    We need a temporary adjustment
    Any takers from the district?

  9. MY mistake 33% reduction noted should have read 3%

  10. Paul, yes, you understand my questions. Thanks in advance for your research.

    I will investigate as well and communicate findings here.

  11. Hey Paul, have you seen all this stuff with the City Council Candidates and boycotting Candidate's Night? I figure you're the type of resident who would be interested in meeting the candidate's and wondered your take on the issues? I believe that who sits on City Council is important and affects our school system with their decisions. Do you feel the same way?

  12. I have some empathy for the candidates. The candidate's night for school board was interesting - while anyone in the audience could submit a question, the moderator decided which questions would be presented to the candidates.

    As a candidate, you needed to have confidence that the moderator was selecting an appropriate cross-section of questions, and not trying to aid or harm any particular candidate. I understand that this particular set of candidates felt that might not happen in this venue.

    The Hilliard City Charter gives the City Council the sole authority to pass ordinances, so yes, I agree that they are as important as the Mayor in controlling what happens.

    But what kind of message are the people of Hilliard sending when they allow the Mayor to run unopposed for re-election, and then put a carpet-bagger like Dan Nichter on the City Council?

    By the way, I live outside the city limits (in Brown Twp), and so cannot vote for any City of Hilliard officials.

    ps - I'd appreciate it if you would use a name other than 'anonymous' even if it's made up so can tell if different people are commenting.