Thursday, November 19, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

Although I won't be sworn in as a member of the School Board until January, the transition from 'outsider' to 'insider' has already begun. It will necessarily bring change to the subject matter and content of what I write here.

By far, the biggest change is that as an 'outsider,' I was free to gather information (often via public document requests), do analysis to try to 'fill in the holes,' then write about what I believed was going on.

As a Board member, some of those things I tried to deduce in the past will be revealed to me in the course of discussions that must remain confidential, either by rule of law or contractual agreements.

I understand the situation. I have served on the Boards of Directors of public corporations, and was an officer of CompuServe. There are a number of restrictions placed on so-called 'insiders' by the securities laws, especially during those times when insiders are dealing with information that has not yet been released to the general public. Violations of these laws carry stiff penalties. Many of you will recall the case of OSU professor Roger Blackwell, who after being convicted of 'insider trading' while serving on the Board of Directors of Worthington Foods, went from being one of the stars of the OSU faculty to a felon, now serving out his sentence in a Federal prison.

My commitment to those who voted for me is that I will do all I can to increase the flow of information from the School District to the people of the HCSD community. I hope that the other Board members will join with me in ramping up the level of intra-Board discussion at the meetings. One way this could be achieved by adding various strategic discussions to the agenda, in addition to all the routine matters that the law requires must come before the Board for approval. Perhaps one Board meeting each month could be about routine matters only, but the other meeting would have a significant topic on the agenda which would lead to a long discussion, potentially with public comment.

The idea is that if the public knows that, for example, that the first Board meeting of every month will have at least one strategic topic on the agenda, and that in February the topic will be land development policy, in March it will be transportation, in April it will be some other topic, and so on – maybe more folks will come to the Board meetings and interact with the Board and the other school leaders.

I believe that the people of our community must be informed and engaged about the strategic issues facing our School District if we are to have a sustainable future. With your support, I'll endeavor to do my part from the Board's side of the table.

But you need to do your part as well. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Here are some ideas:

  • A good way to get started is to visit the website of and read through the information that group has compiled. And lest you think these economic issues apply to Hilliard alone, check out the work of similar groups in other schools districts: EducateWorthington, LevyFacts (Westerville) and Responsible Olentangy Citizens to name a few.
  • Read the agenda of the upcoming Board meeting, which is posted here the Friday before each meeting. The minutes of prior meetings are posted here as well.
  • Justin Gardner will soon be bringing up a website where he will post video recordings of the Board meetings. Watch those to learn about how the Board goes about its business.
  • Time is allocated at every meeting for public participation. Use it to tell the Board about matters that are important to you.

This is your school district, whether you have kids in school or not. We all benefit from having a highly respected and desirable school district, and we are all invested - quite literally - in its success.

Don't be passive investors - get involved!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Time Bomb: Beginning to Understand

I have already written a couple of articles about the ticking time bomb which is the State Teachers Retirement System (see Time Bomb and Still Ticking). More specifically, the problem is that the STRS Retirement Fund is fatally underfunded right now, given the losses they took in the stock market, and the rate in which benefits are being paid out.
After going through a period of asking for the heads of their own investment managers on a platter, some STRS retirees seem to be coming to understand the reality of their situation. This recent post on the blog of Kathy Bracy, a retired Ohio teacher, records a conversation between a retired STRS member and an STRS official.
Something has to be adjusted – either more money needs to be put in, or benefits need to be reduced. Up to now, Ms. Bracy and her readers have been calling for more money to be put in, specifically by teachers who are currently working, and by taxpayers via increased employer contributions.
The most profound statement in that dialog was the acknowledgement by the retired teacher that the everyday taxpayer has little appetite for propping up a retirement system which has been poorly managed when the taxpayer has seen his/her own prospects of having a financially secure retirement all but disappear. After all, the taxpayers have already contributed their employer share to STRS once through their school taxes. If STRS allowed themselves to get greedy and lose a bundle in the stock and real estate markets, that's on them, not the taxpayers.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank you!

To the voters of the Hilliard Schools community, I am humbled and honored to be entrusted with a seat on your Board of Education.

Congratulations to Lisa Whiting and Andy Teater for being returned to the Board for another term.

Thank you to Terri Botsko and Chris Courtney for your commitment to the community, expressed by your willingness to serve.

To my running mates, Justin Gardner and Don Roberts: Our mission to educate and engage the people of our community on the issues which control the economic sustainability of our schools was advanced significantly by the wisdom and integrity you brought to this election. You were tireless campaigners, and I am proud to have been on the ballot with you.

And to the team: In the few months since our team was formed, you have built a voice which has been noticed and is being heard. More people are visiting your website and joining your emailing list every day, seeking a more comprehensive and independent information source about our school economics than has ever before been available to the people of our community.

Our key campaign message was that the size and frequency of operating levies are directly coupled to whatever terms are negotiated into the collective bargaining agreements with the unions representing our teachers and staff. It is by design an adversarial process. For the School Board to be effective in representing the position of our community, the people must be engaged in the process - not when a levy is placed on the ballot, but when the union contracts are being negotiated. This will take place next year.

Please get informed and be engaged - for the sake of our kids, our schools and our community.