Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Retreat 2009

Well, the 2009 edition of our School Board's annual retreat is now complete. The public part of the retreat began at 6:30pm on Thursday, June 18, 2009 at the Central Office Annex. The only members of the public in attendance were a Boy Scout (who was probably working on his Citizenship in the Community merit badge – yes, I am an Eagle Scout), a gentleman I expect was his Dad, and me. Reporters from Hilliard Northwest News, This Week Hilliard, and The Columbus Dispatch attended various parts of the meeting – no one else attended the whole meeting as I did.

The first topic of discussion was the food service arrangements. Lots and lots of discussion about healthy eating and appropriate menus for our kids.

Next up was a very brief discussion of district finances – much shorter than the food discussion. Superintendent Dale McVey made some comments about the two funding schemes now being debated in the General Assembly. One is the Senate's version, which is substantially the same as the current system. McVey stated "the education community would say it doesn't work, and never has." His preference is apparently the so-called Evidence Based Model sponsored by the Governor and supported by the House of Representatives. Interestingly, he said that it didn't matter that much to Hilliard in that both plans would provide about the same state funding as now for the next few years. From a planning standpoint, the District can assume pretty much what I've always said – we'll be lucky to keep what we get now.

There was no mention of the Five Year Forecast, or the $40 million accumulated deficit it estimates by 2013. Nor was there any discussion whatsoever about when the next levy might be needed, and how large it might have to be. We know the answer to the first is 2010. Doesn't the projected size merit some discussion?

Apparently not.

About a month ago I wrote about the new $10 million financing deal Treasurer Brian Wilson proposed to the Board. The language in the resolution permitted what I believe to be irresponsible financing costs, and I told the Board that. Mr. Wilson came to me after the meeting and assured me that the language approved by the Board was just routine boilerplate, and the actual numbers would be much less. Mr. Wilson took a moment during the retreat to report on what the financing actually cost, which was much more reasonable: a fully loaded rate of 0.81%. Those are very good terms, and merit a press release to the public in my opinion. But I suspect that had I not made such a stink about this at the May Board meeting, Mr. Wilson wouldn't have bothered to discuss these financing costs at all.

Asst Superintendent Leslie McNaughten gave a brief report about the ways in which personnel were being adjusted to help achieve the $3 million in cutbacks needed in spite of the passage of the last levy. Somehow that led to a long – very long – discussion about smoking policy. Maybe this topic needed that much time, but I think I would have preferred to have it spent on financial or other strategic matters. It seems like these long discussions occur only on topics of interest to President Denise Bobbitt (e.g. health matters like food or smoking).

This was followed by a very impressive set of presentations by Asst Superintendent Andy Riggle and his team of curriculum professionals. These folks know their stuff, and you can hear their passion for the work as they talk about their vision and plans. There was much talk about the various tests the kids take, and how they perform. Dr. Riggle's team had lots of data and depth of knowledge about the subject matter.

I know there are, and have been, parents who feel the school district fails their kids. And I suspect that many of those cases are valid – I know of a few of them personally. But that doesn't mean the whole system sucks. In fact, I think the educational services delivered by HCSD are pretty darn good, having watched our own two kids go K-12 through the system. So do all the people who have moved here to take advantages of our schools. That doesn't mean there aren't some important things to talk about. One of those is the college remediation rates reported by the Ohio Board of Regents, which measures how prepared our kids are when they actually start taking college classes. Specifically, 25% of our high school graduates who enter college must take remedial math or English in their freshman year, compared to 15% of those who graduate from a Dublin high school. There was no mention of this in Dr. Riggle's presentation.

The Thursday portion of the meeting closed off with a report by Carrie Bartunek, who is responsible for community relations. She reported on several programs, including the "Coffee with the Board" events, saying they were well received and well attended, but gave no hard numbers. Mark Morscher attended at least one of these – how many were there besides you, Mark? Ms. Bartunek said her group had performed a survey recently, and said parents reported feeling communications was good. Of course, they're thinking along the lines of communications about their kid, or their kid's building. Those interviewed also reported being concerned and under informed about school finance; how many times have I made this point to the school leadership?

The meeting adjourned at 9:30pm, to be resumed Friday morning at 8am.

Asst Superintendent Tim Hamilton started off the day with an update on the construction of Bradley High School. You may have read that this $65 million facility has now been turned over the HCSD. It was good to hear that activities are already taking place there (we've heard the drumline practicing from our house).

Gary Orr, the Director of Technology and Richard Boettner spent the next 90 minutes updating the group on their IT achievements and plans. Mr. Boettner, the Coordinator of Instructional Technology, explained many ways in which information technology has been applied to the classroom, with many teachers and students taking advantage of its potential.

President Denise Bobbitt asked a great strategic question: at what point can we start using electronic devices as a substitute for books, and get out of the business of buying and maintaining printed books.

No one around the table got the right answer however. The issue isn't technology – the Amazon Kindle is already here. It's that the school book publishers haven't figured out how (or if) they make money in a world of electronic books. They've watched the music industry get torn to pieces by failing to correctly analyze the strategic implications of downloading, the iPod, and Wal-Mart, and don't want to make the same mistakes.

The strategic response for the Board should have been to give the IT folks the mission to start working with Amazon, their current book publishers, and other large school districts to do some experiments (e.g. select a set of high school kids to receive a Kindle loaded with all their textbooks, and try it out for a year).

The curriculum team was brought back up to discuss progress on the one strategic initiative I'm aware of, called "High School 2020." Of particular interest to me was the discussion relative to the Pre-Engineering program being implemented. You may have read that the HCSD leadership decided to drop our district's support of Metro High School – a decision which I still don't understand. One goal I heard mentioned was that students in this Pre-Engineering program would receive credit for "their first two engineering courses at Ohio State." That seems like a very low goal. I'm not even sure what it means. I was in the College of Engineering at OSU, and couldn't tell you what "the first two engineering courses" might be.

The argument against supporting The Metro School is apparently that a lot of money gets spent on a few kids. Our agreement with Metro says that we can send five students per class to Metro – a total of 20 kids. I understand the cost to the school district to be about $6,700 per kid – less than the average per student spending for a student in our own schools. Metro students complete their high school requirements by the end of their sophomore year, and by graduation may have completed a year's worth of college credit – which includes actually taking classes at OSU.

So what if only a few kids can attend Metro? Seems to me that we have no problem with that kind of selectivity in other arenas. For example, only 50 or so kids get to play varsity football for one of our high schools. We pour an enormous amount of resources into those few kids, including a pretty fancy football stadium, coaches, uniforms, etc. Spend a pile on 50 kids for athletics, but balk at spending a little (and no extra) on 20 kids for an extraordinary academic experience? What does that say about our priorities?

After lunch, the external health insurance consultant gave a presentation on the merits and challenges of converting to a 'self-insured healthcare plan.' I am familiar with this concept – my employer was self-insured for many years. The idea is simply this: rather than paying large insurance premiums, the school district would pay claims for healthcare services directly. To keep from being exposed to the potential risk of huge claims, the school district would buy a "stop loss" policy which kicks in after a large deductible is met – usually on the order of several dollars for an organization this size.

Even when self-insured, there needs to be some parameters to the coverage. For example, how large will the co-pay be for various services? What things will be covered and what will not? How much will employees be required to contribute to the fund the school district would set up to pay healthcare claims? The best way to handle all this is to hire someone, perhaps the current health insurance provider, to administer the plan – including advising the School Board on the parameters of the plan.

Done well, a self-insured plan can save an organization a decent amount of money. But we would have to also recognize that it would create more parameters for the employee unions to put on the table when contracts are being negotiated. There would be no cost savings in going self-insured if the money saved on insurance just ends up being negotiated to another component of compensation.

As was the case last year, this meeting spanning nine hours cannot be called a strategic planning session, and I know of no other strategic planning session on the Board's calendar. At best it was a presentation to the Board members of the various achievements and near term plans of the various departments. The notable exception to this was Andy Riggle's curriculum group, who most definitely had a long-term vision (e.g. High School 2020) which is being turned into a well defined set of practices and measurements.

All that stuff is wishful thinking if there is insufficient funding to support it. The conversation our school leaders dread must take place nonetheless, and that's the one about whether it is the desire of the people of this community to continue funding our schools at the levels desired by the unions and the administrators. If nothing changes, I believe that cost to be on the order of 7 mills every two years – the same size as our last levy. I'll explain where that number comes from in the next article…

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Superintendent Who Gets It

The following letter appeared in the Monday, June 22, 2009 version of The Columbus Dispatch. The writer is the Superintendent of Hardin-Houston Local Schools, a school district of about 1,000 kids in Shelby County, west of us. Hardin-Houston Schools serves a region which is mostly agricultural, with local property taxes generating school funding of $2,500 per pupil, compared to $6,500 in our district. The State of Ohio provides 55% of the funding to operate Hardin-Houston, compared to 33% for Hilliard.

In other words, Hardin-Houston is comparable to Northern Local Schools in Perry County, the point of origin of the lawsuit DeRolph vs. State of Ohio that led to Ohio's school funding system to be ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. In spite of this ruling, the school funding methodology in Ohio has remained unchained, although substantially more money has been allocated in the state budget for school funding since them.

The Governor's so-called "Evidence Based Model" is touted as being a solution that solves the problems found by the Supreme Court in DeRolph. This model has incorporated into House Bill 1 - the State's biennial budget. The Ohio Senate has rejected the Governor's Evidence Based Model, and put forward its own bill which is essentially a continuation of the current system.

One would think that a Superintendent of a small school district which struggles for funding would be a strong supporter of the Governor's approach, and hence the House version of the school funding bill. But read what he has to say:

Ohio House Bill 1, which will establish the state's funding and spending priorities in the next biennium, 2010-11, continues to be debated in a joint House-Senate committee. By June 30, this committee must arrive at a balanced budget.

What makes this task so challenging is that the budget shortfall continues to grow -- to the tune of $3.2 billion.

Many more positives for school districts are found in the Senate version. For starters, every public school district will receive minimal increases in the next biennium; the House version actually projects a decrease in state funding for some school districts over this same period.

The Senate version virtually eliminates all the unfunded mandates found in the House version. This includes the "evidence-based" school-funding model, for which the House doesn't explain how it is to be funded. Thus, the Senate version allows school districts to retain local control over how their state money will be spent.

The House version mandates that state dollars pay for staffing positions/programs, such as building managers, social workers, nurses, nurse's aides, lead teachers, noninstructional aides, and also for 20 additional days of school.

The Senate version eliminates these unfunded mandates. It focuses on per-pupil spending instead of funding based on staffing needs. Also, the Senate version provides school districts with permanent replacement of funding losses caused by the elimination of the tangible personal-property tax.

Finally, the Senate version eliminates Jarod's Law, a costly unfunded mandate pertaining to school safety, and it restores the right of school districts to reduce staff for financial reasons.

The Senate's bill is not only more beneficial for school districts but much more fiscally responsible.

Superintendent, Hardin-Houston Local Schools

I don't imagine Mr. Scheu is a popular person in education circles. He understands the underlying motivations of the Governor's approach, and why it is supported by the education community. The current system calculates state support based on the number of students in the school district, but then allows the local school leadership to figure out how to best apply the money in their own district. The Governor's model starts with the number of students, but then goes on to dictate the minimum number of teachers, administrators and staff in several categories. The Governor's systems isn't a 'fund the child' approach – it's 'fund the employees.'

Hilliard Superintendent Dale McVey says "the current funding system doesn't work, and never will." Superintendent Scheu seems to disagree.

I have long believed Mr. McVey's issue with the current school funding system is that local voters have tremendous voice in the amount of funding the school district receives. The only way for the school leaders to get more funding from our community is to put an operating levy on the ballot, and have a simple majority of the voters in our community approve it.

That isn't easy. The history in Hilliard Schools is that operating levies aren't likely to pass the first time on the ballot. The school board then adjusts the millage, and the administrators publish lists of all the services that will be cut if the levy doesn't pass the next time. A "Do You Love Your Kids" emotional appeal campaign is mounted, and eventually a levy squeaks by.

Many school leaders, including ours, prefer a system where local voters don't have so much control. They want the control of funding of our school districts to be turned over to politicians who can be swayed with campaign contributions and promises of voting blocs. It's much easier to 'sell' a Governor and a few hundred members of the General Assembly than it is a community of 80,000.

As is so often the case in American politics, we of the public are the audience to a great performance of sleight-of-hand misdirection. The politicians supporting the Governor's Evidence Based Model want us to think its beneficiaries are our kids, when it's really the educators. Mr. Scheu is calling them out on this, and it's not the first time. He has the support of his School Board, who voted in March of this year to withdraw from the Ohio School Boards Association and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators – the large associations (and lobbying groups) representing school boards and school treasurers (HCSD is a member of both).

Good for him. I hope there are more in the education community who think like him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


In April, I wrote an article discussing the fact that two new administrative contracts were signed at the same time two teachers were laid off. The administrative jobs are called Student Services Coordinators – a job title I was not familiar with. So I asked for a copy of the job description. Here it is (my comments in italics):

  • Establishes and maintains positive public relations program with local community groups and individuals to foster understanding and support for overall school objectives and programs. Don't we have a central public relations department? Does each school need a PR person too?
  • Works to create a sense of community among staff, students and parents which allows for open communications. Seems like a duty of the Principal.
  • Responsible for the Student Attendance Program. Job for a good secretary.
  • Coordinates the Student Parking Program. Why not let a student group handle this?
  • Works with Juvenile Court, Hilliard Police Department and Children's Services on the filing of reports, etc. Is there a lot of that going on?
  • Maintains the Student Locker Program and Audio-Visual Program for the building. Another possible student-run process?
  • Supervises the In-School Suspension, Saturday School, and Peer Mediation Program.
  • Coordinates the Student Assistance Program. What's this?
  • Enforces discipline policies. Isn't this traditionally what Vice-Principals do?
  • Other duties as assigned by the principal related to the job.

Okay, so what kind of qualifications do you think there should be for such a position? How much should it pay? I was quite surprised:

  • Education: Masters degree or higher in Educational Administration (same as a Principal)
  • Certification: Secondary principal, superintendent, supervisor, other administrative certificates
  • Experience: minimum of three years of teaching, three years of administrative or supervisory experience

So at Hilliard Davidson (and I expect Darby as well), we have…

  • 1 "Head" Principal.
  • 4 Class Principals
  • 2 Student Services Coordinators

… for a student body of say 2,000 students (more last year, less next year with Bradley opening). That's one 'principal-like' person for every 285 students. This group of seven administrators costs us at least $1 million/yr in salary and benefits.

The Governor's Evidence Based Model would fund one 'principal-like' person for every 733 high school kids. In other words, we have 2.6 times as many 'principal-like' persons on staff as EBM requires. People often complain that Hilliard Schools is "top-heavy with administrators." I think of the Central Office (and Support Service Facility) when that is said, but here is a strong suggestion that the individual school buildings, notably the high schools, may indeed be so.

There is more than one way to compensate an employee. One is the obvious way – more money. To a lesser effect, increasing benefits can feel like compensation, but the effect is usually short-lived.

Then there are the intangible things. Nicer office, better view, newer furniture, or a closer parking spot.

A more subtle way to improve the effort/reward situation for an employee is to reduce the effort – to take away parts of the job that aren't fun or no longer interesting or just an absolute pain. You can take the duties of two people and split them over three – giving the scut tasks to the new hire.

Is that what goes on with these administrative jobs? I know it's been a while since I was in high school, but our 3 year school of 1,000 students was administered by one principal and one assistant principal. They shared one secretary. The only other folks in the central office were the two guidance counselors. There wasn't a principal for every grade, or anything like these Student Services Coordinators.

The head football coach was also the Calculus teacher (and good at both). The head basketball coach taught History. All the coaches were teachers in fact. There was no such thing as an Athletic Director. Today, our high schools have an Athletic Director, an Assistant Athletic Director, and an Athletic Administrative Assistant. We have paid coaches for sports I didn't know existed when I was in high school. My high school had just one Band Director (marching over 100) and one Choral Director. They taught all the instrumental and vocal music classes – neither had paid assistants of any kind.

None of this stuff we here in Hilliard have is free. Nor is it mandatory. We pay a substantial premium in our property taxes to give our kids the opportunity to go to Hilliard City Schools and enjoy all these premium services.

In 2010, we will again be given the chance to say whether we think it's worth the cost. The Treasurer has already said that it looks like another operating levy will be needed in 2010, and the current School Board agrees.

But that's true only if we in the community agree that we want to keep spending this kind of money for all these employees. Programs = employees. The equation is that simple. I think our choices will be something like this:

  1. Keep all the programs we have, and continue giving the employees 7% raises – and pay for it by adding $200+ per $100,000 to our property taxes every two years;

  2. Keep all the programs we have and all the employees, but demand a much lower growth rate for compensation and benefits. We still might need to increase our property taxes every 2-3 years, but the amount would be much less – maybe half?

  3. Keep giving the employees extraordinary raises, but reduce the headcount significantly by cutting programs and consolidating job responsibilities (ie cutting the number of 'principal-like' administrators in the high schools in half).

  4. Really dial things back by reducing the rate of compensation growth, cutting programs and headcount, and consolidating jobs. We might be able to avoid an additional levy for several years if this approach is taken. Would we be happy with the school district that results?

There is a school board election this November in which three of the five seats will be up for vote (Bobbitt, Teater & Whiting). This Board has shown that it believes the only answer is #1. If you don't agree, then you need to do your part to see that others get those seats.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Evidence Based Spending

There is a great deal of dialog these days about the battle in progress between the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate, pitting the Governor's so-called Evidence Based Funding model against the funding model which has been in use in Ohio for decades.

Lots of folks are caught up in the mythology of what it is that the Ohio Supreme Court said about our current funding system. Most focus on simple declarations such as "the Supreme Court ruled property taxes to be unconstitutional." That is a gross simplification of what the court said in the first case to come before it (often called DeRolph I), and fails to convey what the Court said in subsequent cases on this same matter (here is an excellent analysis, from which I took the bulk of my data used below).

The real problem was – and is – that regardless of the theory and method used to calculate how much should be spent to educate our kids, the State of Ohio didn't collect enough in taxes to pay fully for any of them. The basic theory is simple: poor districts get lots of money from the State and rich districts not so much. It doesn't matter whether you apply the calculations of the modified "Augenblick method" now in use, or the Governor's highly touted "Evidence Based Model," if there's not enough enough money – there's not enough money.

And by the way, the differences between the two methods are not really that significant.

The Augenblick method, devised by a consultant hired by the State of Ohio who is named Dr. John Augenblick, was designed to work this way:

  1. Make a list of all the school districts in the state which pass seventeen of eighteen standards, similar to those used to create the State Report Cards. This resulted in 169 school districts the first time around.
  2. Throw out the 5% of the school districts with the highest property values, as well as the 5% with the lowest property values, as well as those with significantly unusual spending patterns. This left 102 districts.
  3. Divide the total amount of money spent by these 102 districts by the total number of pupils across all those districts. The result is an average of the per-pupil spending across all districts which we would call successful.
In FY2004, that number worked out to be $4,901 per student. In other words, every school district in the state should be able to educate its kids for $4,901 per kid per year. Each local district is required to contribute whatever funding is generated by 23 mills of local property taxes, and the rest of the $4,901 would be provided by the State. Poor districts get a lot, rich districts not so much. Local school districts are free to tax themselves more than 23 mills if higher funding is desired. We certainly do that here in Hilliard, as we spend over $10,000 per kid.

The problem is that the State doesn't have enough money to fund this method to the full dollar amount required – at least not without cutting back other State-funded programs or raising taxes. So they tweaked Augenblick's method, resulting in a lower number: $4,665 per student. That didn't satisfy the folks who brought the DeRolph I lawsuit (which was just about every school district in Ohio at this point), so back to Court again they went. When DeRolph II made it to the Supreme Court, the justices said the tweaks made by the State didn't make sense, and besides, it looked like they were starting with the answer (how much they had to spend) and modifying the formula to come up with that answer. I tend to agree with the Court in that assessment.

So the State went back to the drawing board, but ended up just making more tweaks to the Augenblick method. But this time, in DeRolph III, the Supreme Court said the method used was constitutional, provided some additional adjustments were made.

Then there was Derolph IV. The Court vacated its DeRolph III decision, restoring its DeRolph II position that Ohio's school funding system was unconstitutional. Talk about schizophrenic.

But the problem remains – the State of Ohio doesn't have the money to fund education at the level empirically arrived at via the Augenblick method.

Does the Governor's Evidence Based Funding Model fix that? Not really. I have a copy of the calculations proposed for the Model, and they seem no more scientifically valid than the Augenblick system. Augenblick's approach is this: school districts are so different across the state, with so many different moving parts, that it's all but impossible to figure out which elements are "must-haves" and which are "nice-to-haves." So you just smash up all the numbers from all the districts and crank out one big average. Seems pragmatic to me.

However, the Evidence Based Model does attempt to break it down into the component parts. It dictates how many people in various roles a school district should have based on its individual profile of students (notably the total number of students, and the number in various Special Ed categories), and how much teachers, administrators and staff in those roles should be paid, on average. Here are some examples of the calculations (all salaries are for FY11):

  • There should be one "Elementary Organizational Unit" for every 418 kids in K-5. That implies a Principal, which should be paid $91,297. There should be a "core teacher" for every 15 students in grade K-3 and one for every 25 for grades 4-5, at an average total cost (compensation & benefits) of $52,402.
  • There is one "Middle School Organizational Unit" for every 557 kids in grades 6-8. Again, one principal at the same pay rate, and one teacher for every 25 kids. Remember that in our school district, we segregate the 6th graders from the 7-8 kids, meaning more principals and more support staff than the state funds. In other words, our choice to organize our schools in this manner is our burden to fund, not the State's.
  • There is one "High School Organizational Unit" for every 733 students in grades 9-12. Since we have around 4,400 kids in this grade range, we should have about 6 high school principals for the whole district, each being paid $91,000. In reality, we have 5 principals each at Davidson and Darby, and three at Bradley, for a total of 13 – double what the State is willing to fund under the Governor's plan. And I very much doubt that those 13 administrators are being paid an average of $91,000.
  • The State would fund $110,864 for one Superintendent and $79,937 for one Treasurer. We have one Superintendent and three Asst Superintendents.
So does this Evidence Based Model produce much different in the way of results? I don't think so. Both methods come up with base numbers, then apply tweaks to adjust for various factors. The Augenblick method doesn't try to break out numbers of people in each role, or how much they should get paid; it just says "you should be able run a good district with the same amount per pupil as any other good district."
The so-called Evidence Based Model is portrayed as a more sophisticated approach, but I think it's like me saying you get green by mixing blue and yellow while you say, no, you get green when you mix yellow and blue.
The real – unspoken – issues are these:

  1. The education community doesn't care whether or not the State has the money to fund either of these approaches. It expects taxes to be raised, other programs to be scaled back or dropped, and whatever else it takes to give educators the first slurp at the money trough. Because after all, education funding is really about educator compensation, which consumes nearly 90% of all operating funds.

  2. Having local school districts significantly funded by local taxes approved directly by local voters is a huge source of consternation to the education community. They don't want to have to convince you and me that they're doing a good job and deserve a raise. They want those decisions to be made by professional politicians in the Statehouse who will set their pay scales and benefigts based on how much campaign support they deliver from the unions and associations, not on how well kids are being educated.
The only way to stop this nonsense is to get informed and get involved. I hope this blog and the companion website help folks get informed. The best way to get involved is to get up off the couch and starting talking about this stuff with your neighbors, then collectively telling the School Board, your State Representative and Senator, and the Governor that you've had enough.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Board Retreat: 2009

As is their custom, the Hilliard School Board will be gathering at 6:30pm on Thursday, June 18 at the Central Office Annex for their annual retreat, which will continue into the next day, starting at 8am.

I hope they do better this year. The retreat last year was useful as a time for the Board to to receive staff reports, but had almost no value as a strategic planning exercise. They have some significant long-range issues to address, such as:

  • Approximately 40% of our funding comes from the State of Ohio, and at this moment it is anything but clear how that funding may change in the next few years. Our leaders must prepare contingency plans that assume at least a couple levels of state funding. I recommend scenarios for a 5% cut, no change in funding, and a 5% increase.
  • Regardless of what happens with state funding, it is clear that the leadership has come to believe that another operating levy will need to appear on the ballot in 2010. This thought was reinforced in the presentation by the Audit & Accountability Committee at the last Board meeting. And to be fair, the Board gave hints that this would be the case at their meeting last year when they voted to put the last 6.9 mill operating levy on the ballot (following the failure of the 9.5 mill levy). Of course, this declaration was conspicuously absent from the levy campaign message.
  • The "elephant in the room" remains the same as it has always been – the rate of growth in the cost of compensation and benefits for the employees of the school district. This is the insatiable mouth that always needs to be fed. At nearly 90% of our total operating cost, no other category of spending has significant impact on the size and frequency of operating levies. We need to initiate a respectful but firm dialog with the teachers' union about recalibrating their pay scales to reflect current economic conditions. There is no way that another contract with 3% base pay raises and 4.15% step increases can be offered. The Board, the Administration, and the union leaders need to begin a dialog with the objective of minimizing the size of the next levy. Everything should be on the table, including the step increase structure which has been sacrosanct for decades.
  • After nearly a decade of asking, we still have no effective community education effort, meaning our voters will continue to make decisions based on emotions. This is a dangerous position to be in when the dominant emotion right now is one of anxiety over personal economic survival, as our economy continues to spiral into deeper recession.

I hope many of you will plan to attend some or all of this meeting, especially the first part on Thursday evening. Last year, the only outsiders at the meeting were me and Cathy Wogan from Hilliard This Week. If we want our school board to be more communicative with the people of our district, we need to show that we care enough to listen.