Friday, October 23, 2009

When Less is... just Less.

At their May 26, 2009 meeting, the School Board had item F3 on the agenda, a resolution giving the Treasurer the authority to issue and sell $10 million worth of Bond Anticipation Notes. The resolution was spelled out in its entirety, occupying more than four pages of the agenda.

I attended that Board meeting, and made comments to the Board expressing my concern about the apparently high interest rates we taxpayers were being obligated to pay. I also brought up a recurring theme – that the Board needed to talk about this stuff in public. Public discussion is required under the Sunshine Laws, and as voters we demand to hear how they process such decisions.

I learned after the meeting that the language in the resolution was just boilerplate that did not reflect what the actual borrowing rates would likely be, which Treasurer Brian Wilson expected to be less than 1%. I can understand granting the Treasurer a little negotiating latitude when he actually sits down to the do the bond underwriting deal, but this boilerplate language gave him a great deal more latitude than that.

The Board, the Superintendent and the Treasurer were clearly annoyed at my questioning of the language of the resolution. I suspect that some members of the Board did not understand it themselves. Of course the resolution passed 5-0 with little discussion.

For the Monday, October 26, 2009 School Board meeting, there are once again resolutions on the agenda to approve the sale of debt instruments – in this case, long term bonds. It seems as though the Board's new strategy is to ward off tough questions by just not publishing the details in the agenda any more.

I can appreciate that the number of pages it would take to include the full text of five separate resolutions is significant. However, there are two easy things the Board could do, either of which would be acceptable:

  • Provide the actual resolution language as an addendum. After all, it's not like they're actually printing paper copies and distributing them to everyone in the community. The cost to put a second PDF on the website with the agenda is about zero. Community members could decide for themselves if it is worth the paper to print it out (I certainly wouldn't).
  • Describe the key parameters of each bond issue: a) issue size (which they did state); b) maximum underwriting costs; c) maximum coupon rate; d) anticipated repayment schedule; and, e) what, if any, change to property taxes should be expected by the residents of our school district. After all, since this is a refinancing, there is a chance that property tax collections could actually go down if the long-term bonds are sold at a lower interest rate than the short-term notes they replace.

Not everyone understands the mechanics of bonds, but there are plenty of people in our community who do. I have no doubt that should copies of the full resolutions and eventual underwriting contracts be requested by a member of the public, they would be provided.

But we shouldn't have to keep individually asking for disclosure of stuff of this magnitude. It's trivial for the Board to provide this information. Their behavior suggests that they don't want to be questioned by the public. That was certainly the case in regard to the easement deal they signed with Homewood Homes as Bradley High School was being constructed.

Justin Gardner, Don Roberts, and I have committed that if we are elected to the School Board on Nov 3, we will see to it that this kind of documentation will be included in the agenda and minutes, and that meetings will be streamed and recorded for viewing by the public.

Please vote for GARDNER, ROBERTS, LAMBERT for Hilliard School Board.


  1. When was the last time a vote from the BOE wasn't 5-0 (or unanimous)?

    Honestly, the one and only time I've ever seen a "nay" vote was when the name for the 3rd high school was voted on. It only passed 4-1! WOW, WAY TO TAKE A STAND ON SUCH AN IMPORTANT ISSUE!

  2. Disappointing that Gardner & Roberts didn't make the cut in yesterday's election. What follows is speculation, but perhaps Teater's win proves that glossy direct mail to Hilliard households works - I know I got some from him and nothing from your team. Money doesn't always win elections but it helps an awful lot. Plus given the success of the women on the Hllliard city council, I'm starting to think that there's a definite advantage to having the name Lisa or Stephanie instead of Don or Justin. I think for whatever reason voters might see women as more reasonable and/or kindler/gentler. But without polling there's no way to know exactly how it is that a truly deserving and highly competent candidate such as yourself didn't run away with it. I'm guessing besides the above thoughts it's the lack of the HEA endorsement. You can have a lot of money, or an endorsement of the HEA, but it's hard to win with neither.

  3. So does having our yard signs stolen, and in some cases replaced by Teater signs.

    Or having Whiting signs put in front of our signs.

    And so does spreading false rumors: e.g. the teachers being told that at the top of our agenda was the intention to implement an across the board $5,000 salary cut.

    And so does having the teachers' PAC raise and spend money to defeat us, but apparently failing to file the financial disclosures required by law.

    There is a dark, juvenile side to school politics in our community. I knew it was there, but not that it was quite so pervasive or intense.

    By the way, I am not blaming Lisa or Andy for any of this. While I don't know Andy very well, I've served with Lisa on a number of school entities, and know her to be a smart, sincere, and honest supporter of our schools. Whatever shenanigans went on were the work of others who somehow got the notion that Justin, Don and I wanted to blow up the District.

    There has never been candidates for Hilliard School Board who were more transparent and sincere about their objectives than the team. I'm proud to have run with Justin and Don, and honored that we had the support of the team.

    More to come soon. Got about three months of stuff to catch up on that were put on hold while this campaign dominated our lives.

  4. When the status quo is questioned
    and challenged they will do anything to circumvent a change.
    So none of the antics suprise me.
    I would not give ANYONE a free pass
    on the rumors and sign stuff. But that is just my opinion.

    I will be curious where all the contributions came from for Mr T.
    After all he voted for the last contract, and was sooooooooo worried about a strike. One would expect him to lead the charge for more huge raises and benefits for his supporters. The arrogance is
    disturbing. The board should be representing the community not the employees.

    A great job by Paul, Don and Justin. Each of you showed tremendous commitment and sacrifice
    Thank you all so very much. !!!

    SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO lots of financial challenges ahead. A new contract to be negotiated and at least we will have some balance
    and hopefully will get some information as a community that was lacking in previous contracts.

    There seems to be this paridigm (sp) that everyone except the public, who are paying the bill, knows what is being offered, negotiated. We find out afterward and get the bill, which I have no issue paying if it is a level playing field

    Two years from now two seats will be up. Candidates needed to run again. More and more money to be raised. More lessons learned on the campaign trail

    Hats of the the Educate Hilliard Leadership and members as well.
    You all deserve a big pat on the back. Hopefully you can attract more new faces to the group to solidify your base.

  5. A good thing about sending mail is that it generally gets to the intended party untampered with, unlike yard signs.

    But you guys should be proud of the campaign you ran because most of us are thirsting for the sort of openness and transparency that your team provided.

  6. I am so glad you won. I am a Fiscal professional within state government, and I am very impressed with your site. My 20 years of governmental accounting concurs with your comments. Please keep questioning everything.

  7. Ranger Rick:

    The Campaign Finance reports are public (except the HEA PAC, which the BOE rep couldn't find until 10 days after it was supposed to be filed), and Andy Teater's pre-election warchest of $5200 was over 60% supplied by two big donors with the last name of "Teater". Doesn't sound like HEA members!

    Add to this the > $2k from HEA for the ads, and the THREE candidates had less than 50% of that amount to spend.

    Finally, I can personally say that no other candidate in the election worked harder than Justin, Don and Paul, from June through the waning hours of light on Tuesday.

  8. Pablo--

    Congratulations, I suppose, are in order. But after reading:

    1) your comments about the bond issue at the last board meeting and

    2) the superintendent's message about a levy being back on the ballot in 2011 (

    I think you've got your work cut out for you.

    Be well and THANKS for your work! ce

  9. Oh, and I DO know Mr. Teater.

    I don't believe he's behind the negative campaigning stuff of which you wrote.

  10. Thanks CE. The work to be done involves the whole community. There's no way that the Board can negotiate a deal with the HEA which is good for the community if the community doesn't support the Board.

    How soon the next levy is needed, and the size it will need to be, will almost entirely be determined by the cost of the next labor agreements. In other words, the time to get involved in the dialog is now - before the labor agreements are negotiated - not after the labor agreements have been signed and the levy is on the ballot.


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  12. Just for the record, as a Hilliard teacher and very active HEA member, I never heard anything about the rumors you mentioned. We were encouraged to look at your blog and website to learn your views. I also think it is disturbing that as our new board member, and therefore one of Hilliard's community leaders now, you are slinging mud by blaming "some militant faction" of the HEA for the sign issue. Unless you have evidence that someone from HEA did this, I would hope you would refrain from such pointless namecalling. If your goal is really for us to work together as a team, you have a long way to go to learn how to accomplish that. As a teacher, parent, and Hilliard community member, I really hope we CAN all work together, and I hope you will think more carefully about future posts. I've been reading your site for two years, and frankly, I'd come to expect more from you.

  13. It is entirely possible, Paul, that YOU won on YOUR merits and Justin and Don lost on their own. Perhaps the Hilliard voters, not entirely stupid ya know, disn't want to give one person 3 votes. Voting for the trio was, perhaps, viewed as giving you too much power. Also, Justin and Don just din't have the credientials or visibility (not that anyone on the current board really has credentials). However, Paul's voice has been heard and actions seen. Justin and Paul were just two unknowns riding on Paul's ticket. The voters saw that, in my opinion, as a bad idea. And even if Paul didn't run a negative campaign (titles of entries on this blog not-with-standing), Justin and Don kind of did. They clearly came at this election from an "us vs them" approach.

    Also, if anyone contributed to the thought that the trio wanted to "blow up the school" it was you. Headings like "Us vs the Teacher's union" on your blog didn't help. I never heard anything from anyone in the district (other board members, administrators, or teachers) say anything negative. However, I've heard YOU be negative lately with regards to the district.

    I really do think Paul won BECAUSE of his dedication to the process and "keeping them honest" approach. However, I don't think the voters were ready to give you 3 votes on the board (which is what many felt the trio would do). I don't like the lock-step approach of the current board.... I wasn't prepared to provide a 3-0 head start to your group.

    I believe Paul will be a refreshing member of the board, but balance is an important thing.

  14. Disappointed:

    Your point is taken, and I have removed the comment in question.

    Nonetheless, I would ask members of the HEA to acknowledge that there was some unethical behavior in this campaign, and to ask who it is who might have perpetrated these acts of theft, and spread false rumors about me and my running mates.

    I say what I have to say in the bright light of day, and have it recorded on this blog for all to judge. I accept criticism when it is sincerely given, and make prompt corrections when I have misspoken, as may well be case with the comment you reference.

    But I will not be silent about this dark underside of our community which exists in the darkness of apathy. I would rather be in error every once in a while, and have to eat my words, than be afraid to talk about things that others would prefer remain unsaid.


  15. Anon, as a parent I heard the same
    vitrol that Paul mentioned. It was disappointing. At no point has there been talk of cuts in compensation, just a reduction, in the amount of increases. So if you want to call getting 2% versus the usual 7% a cut in pay, so be it.

    Our community has consistently supported our school system, look at the facilities, supportive parents, and connected students.
    What we got in the last election from your union and Oapse was
    as usual "we dont get it "

    I would remind you that the us vs them really was started during the last contract negotiation and working to the contract. Perhaps as a teacher you can explain graduating seniors losing out on
    various grants, scholarships,
    college information needed, etc during the last "working to the contract'? And as parents and students there is nothing we could do because of the "contract"

    We are headed down a very rocky road if the disrespect continues toward the community who provides the funds to operate our schools.
    And a community that has consistently done so.

    The current compensation system
    compared to what is happening elsewhere in the public and private sector is very lucrative.
    Significant increases in pay,
    a minimal medical payment, time off
    via lucarative sick and personal days off in addition to the other
    5 to 6 weeks per year
    And by the way, many people in all sectors receive excellent reviews at work, but because of the current economic situation that have taken pay cuts, layoffs,
    double digit medical costs.

    I would submit that your comments view the situation is that only the public, community need to come to the table to compromise.

    There is no doubt that new tax levies will be needed to support our schools. As usual I am sure that the same people you criticize
    will vote yes on new levy.

    Given the economic challenges in the marketplace, including now over 10% unemployment, it is time for a significant adjustment.

    It is time for everyone to compromise not just the community.

  16. First, congratulations to Paul on his selection to the Board. I believe you know it's different on the other side of the table and that there is a microscope on this situation. I'm sure January Board Meetings will be well attended if for no other reason than to watch this transition unfold.

  17. Rick, you hit on some things… perhaps you can clarify per my responses below:

    - I personally didn't hear much of the bantering from any side in this election. Probably because I avoided anyone with a campaign button for the last few weeks. But, that doesn't mean I didn't prepare for my voting session. However, I did have an unfortunate experience with one of the EducateHilliard candidates at a football game... He offered very awkward communication (he just wasn't confident) and was very aggressive in his approach. He definitely had a negative taint to his message. Not that he maybe wasn't right, but he didn't have a good method of delivery and it came across as "we are going to blow it up and start over". When you only have a few moments with a voter to convince them, that isn't a good impression with which to leave them.

    - Yes, I've heard that you had some issues with scholarship paperwork. Not sure where I've heard it, but it rings a bell.

    - Disrespect continues toward the community who provides the funds to operate our schools." - Can you elaborate? Not sure I fully understand your intent with this comment

    - What does time off have to do with the contract value? You have to remember that teacher contracts are based on the number of days in the school calendar. 2 weeks off at Christmas are not “paid” days. Any day the school is closed, we are not paying a dime for teachers.

    3 personal days per employee isn't unreasonable. Sick time? Well, I have my feelings on state standards for public sick time. I can argue that should be reviewed. However, sick days represent short term disability (much like most of us have available to us). I think some progress can be made in this area, but let's remember that sick days are primarily for extended illness/pregnancy. Most of us have that same benefit and I believe it should be available to school employees.

    - Double-digit contributions to insurance: Yes, yes, I am aware that the private sector (for the most part) pays a larger percentage of their insurance premiums than those in education. I'm also aware that the last contract provides for an increase of insurance premium contributions by district teachers/employees. While not yet at 20%, I argue that the last contract was a start in that direction and don't doubt that the next contract will continue that trend. So, you keep banging on a topic that is actually improving. The district is moving in the right direction on this one.

    - Can we stop tying fiscal responsibility to the "current economic times"? To me, that sounds like we are saying if times were better we wouldn't be fighting school expenditures so hard. I believe that is completely wrong! Regardless of economic conditions spending items and amounts are either worth it or they are not. Granted, there are some discretionary items that should be reviewed in light of economic conditions (field trips, "extras", etc), however, when it comes to school funding it's not the current economic times that has my attention but rather the spend curve projections and that ever-increasing gap between what the state pays and what the taxpayer pays. No business or funding entity can support exponential growth forever, regardless of economic times. THAT is what needs changed. There are 2 buttons (to use Paul language): change the rate of increase, and/or change the allocation of funding so that it is more evenly dispersed across the revenue streams (state, taxpayer, business). Well, the state is flat lining and business is not growing at the rate required. So, it comes to the taxpayer. That is a trend that can not be sustained.... regardless of economic times. To constantly tie school taxes to our current economic situation is incorrect....

  18. KJ, I believe that the Educ.Hil group tried to communicate the idea that we cannot sustain substantial increases to our budget. I am sure that each of the candidates would have at one point or another communicated in a different tone or way. Having campaigned myself this is a difficult task. However reactions will happen when nonsense like $5,000 pay cuts, campaign signs miracuolusly missing and other candidates (supported by the HEA)
    signs go up. But that is politics however, it is what we have become.

    Disrespect. Union officials at board meeting stating that the community doesnt get it if they vote no (August 2008) Door to door campaign by HEA stating by voting no you are against the kids when the person at the time was laid off and was struggling.
    The district and HEA supporting working to the contract so that not just one or two but many students losing out on opportunities for grants, scholarships, college apps.
    (Bexley school district parents
    experienced this fear during their last teacher contract. This is becoming a pattern, not an isolated situation) No student
    should be denied this, and it is criminal that this occurred and shows a lack of professionalism from educators who are protected
    by the contract. There is nothing in the current contract that prohibits this shameful activity

    Over the past 10 years I have spoken at board meetings,(asked
    just last Nov. that we try and limit spending increases to 3%)
    and got laughed at. Spoke 8 years ago at Memorial about the pending
    challenge and tax shift related to the loss of the Business taxes that were eliminated that were part of our school funding. Spoke at the legislature about unfunded mandates, just to name a few.
    Now, I have had to eliminate this activity and advocacy in fear of retribution to my last remaining
    student. Others have also experienced this.

    If the current economic situation
    is not a factor, then perhaps you have a suggestion about those who are taking real cuts in wages, benefits, time off. The contract calls for a stated number of school days. $55,000 at 200 days
    still leaves 12 weeks off. Grant
    3 weeks for planning and you still have 9 weeks. ARe you aware that people are going to work in the private sector sick, even with the flu, because they are afraid of losing their jobs if they are out too long.??? The district employees are not underpaid or overpaid but paid well. They just enjoyed another 3 year significant increase plus new expenses for the district in the 2.5% increase in the STRS pension contribution.
    I dont consider 50.00 per month in a medical premium payment much of a sacrifice compared with the private sector.

    The call for adjustments is based on fact. Conservatively we face
    (according to the 5 year forecast)
    a 75 million dollar deficit upcoming. Using some past calculators, given we will not see much help from the state, I think it is safe to say most tax rate increases will be not in the hundreds of dollars but in the thousands.

    Tax increases will continue and I support that as part of the communities investment. However not accepting that adjustments have to be made when we face huge
    deficits is reckless and shows who is more important. and its not the kids, its the contract.

  19. KJ said: Can we stop tying fiscal responsibility to the "current economic times"? To me, that sounds like we are saying if times were better we wouldn't be fighting school expenditures so hard. I believe that is completely wrong! Regardless of economic conditions spending items and amounts are either worth it or they are not.

    KJ: Of course the rate at which compensation increases need to be calibrated to the prevailing economic conditions. That's exactly the point I've been trying to make for a couple of years.

    Are you arguing for example that your house has an intrinsic value that is independent of market conditions? I think anyone who is trying to sell a house right now would beg to differ.

    Compensation is no different. There is no intrinsic value for any job or commodity which is independent of prevailing economic conditions. Things are worth what someone is willing to pay for them.

    We have been in a situation where inflation has been near zero for a while. You can measure this via the CPI, or just by observing the interest rate one can earn on savings these days.

    But the most pertinent measure is how much aggregate household compensation (salary & benefits) has changed in comparison to the rate of change of the aggregate cost of compensation for the school employees.

    I think they should change at about the same rate. That's one of the best reasons for renegotiating the union contracts every three years - to give us the opportunity to adjust the dials as appropriate.

    The gut feeling is that the rate of change for school employee compensation is currently much higher than that of the community as a whole.

    Some folks are fortunate to work for employers who are doing well in this economy, and are passing on some of the fruits of that fortune to their employees. I think yours may be one of them.

    But there are plenty of people who are experiencing something else althogether. At 10% unemployment, a fair number of our households have one or both of the income earners out of work. Even if they are working, some are 'underemployed' working at jobs that paid a fraction of what they earned just a few years ago.

    As we walked many neighborhoods passing out flyers, it wasn't all that rare to run into empty or foreclosed homes - and it wasn't in just the lower price neighborhoods.

    So in this upcoming negotiation, I hope the HEA and OAPSE will work with the Board to give the people of our district a break, and not demand more when so many are making do with less - me included.

  20. Paul: Don't misunderstand. My point was that the rate of spending needs to be reduced, regardless of economic times. 7% cannot be sustained, even in the best of times. If we have more, we can give more (sure I get that), but I argue that even in good economic times we can't continue 7% increases (exponential growth) in residential taxes. Perhaps my post gave the incorrect impression, if so, I apologize for not communicating properly.

    My point is that I don’t believe we are asking the district to cut back only during this time. At least I hope not. I, for one, am not saying “tighten your belt now and when I get more money I’ll pass it on to you”. I’m saying, “Tighten your belt now and KEEP it tight”. I apologize if I didn’t adequately communicate that in my previous post..

    Can we stop tying fiscal responsibility to the "current economic times"? To me, that sounds like we are saying if times were better we wouldn't be fighting school expenditures so hard. I believe that is completely wrong! Regardless of economic conditions spending items and amounts are either worth it or they are not. Granted, there are some discretionary items that should be reviewed in light of economic conditions (field trips, "extras", etc), however, when it comes to school funding it's not the current economic times that has my attention but rather the spend curve projections and that ever-increasing gap between what the state pays and what the taxpayer pays. No business or funding entity can support exponential growth forever, regardless of economic times.

  21. KJ:

    Thanks for the clarification - I think we substantially agree.

    At one of the 'Meet the Candidates' nights, we were asked what we proposed would be done with the money saved if the teachers are paid less. In trying to reinforce the point that we weren't advocating a cut to teacher pay, only a reduction in the rate of increase, I fumbled the question.

    The correct answer is of course that any money not spent by the school district for any reason is money the taxpayers keep in their pockets.


  22. Rick,

    We moderately disagree with what is deamed disrespectful. I agree, working to the contract is stupid. I've never understood union concepts that "being difficult and stubborn" was a negotiation tactic. My stance on unions is well known and I believe tactics used by the organized labor unions to be completely short-sighted and counter-productive. However, I will argue that many (can't say all) of the school employess who spoke at the August meeting on behalf of the levy did so with convicted hearts. Discussing the merits of the "other side" of an issue is not a show of disrespect.

    Retribution for standing up... Admittedly, I tend to be naive in that I don't always consider retribution for stating my opinions, so there may be a day when I have a story similar to yours. It's entirely possible that those in the district that I've argue with may try to retaliate against my spouse or kids, but I haven't seen it yet. To date that hasn't happened, but I won't chance fate by arguing the point.

    My point with "time off" was that you can aruge that employess have a favotable work schedule (max time off) but not that time off is a considerable cost to the district. Contracts are paid based on days worked, not days missed. Christmas break costs taxpayers nothing. But, I'll be sure to tell my kid's teachers to please be sure to come to school with the swine flu and effect the entire school because I don't want to pay for a sub and I don't want them to feel too cushy in their job.

  23. KJ, obviously one does not support teachers coming to school with the flu. The point made was there are lots of days to take care of issues like that compared to many in the private sector. Time off has been reduced, just like wages, significant increases in medical

    The next contract negotiation hopefully will not be like the last one. Will 1 to 2% fly for increases ? If the garbage like
    $5,000 pay cuts is allready starting one has to wonder.

    I am anxious to hear the Audit committees next report which should be coming up shortly. I hope that the district fully publishes this report so each community member can see it.

    It is a critical juncture, the huge deficit projection is an issue. I believe the community will step up and continue to pass
    levies. However if the same attitude comes through like the last time, well........ lets hope

  24. Disappointed...As a teacher, parent, and Hilliard community member, I really hope we CAN all work together, and I hope you will think more carefully about future posts. I've been reading your site for two years, and frankly, I'd come to expect more from you.

    Just wondering if working together
    applies equally to all parties not just the taxpayer,board. Will the contract negotiations be kept out of the buildings, classes and not affect the students

  25. Anonymous:

    To answer your question, all I can tell you is that I am absolutely confident that the negotiations last time did NOT impact the students in my building in any way. I am not denying that it may have happened in other buildings; I can't speak for places I do not know. But I know it did not happen in mine. And personally, when I turn in for the night, I go to sleep knowing I have done the absolute best I could each day to provide students with a quality education. I can't control what others do.

  26. Anon says, so I one can surmise we will face the same challenges as last time. So much for working together.

  27. Disappointed, you acknowledge that
    some actions "may" have taken place but not in your building. While I dont have children in school my neighbors filled me in which was

    The HEA is coming off quite a nice deal, plus without any input or control of the community , the newest extra tax is contributing
    an additional 2.5% to your pension
    Employees dont pay much toward their medical costs. So how much more do you want, given the way
    people are out of work, and even state employees have taken pay cuts

    Before you criticize anyone about
    "not working together" perhaps your union and its members should take a look in the mirror.

    Glad I dont have children who
    will have to put up with the next contract negotiation.