Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fee or Tax?

This article was prompted by a recent posting by Colleen Grady of the State of Ohio Education blog.

It won't be long now before school opens for the 2010-2011 school year. Of the many traditions which will be carried out in the first few days, one troubles me: the imposition of fees on our students and their families.

At the May 24, 2010 Regular Meeting of the Board of Education, resolution 64-10 was passed unanimously, authorizing the Administration to collect a long list of fees for various academic courses. I voted in favor of this resolution not because I think these fees are a good thing, but rather because I couldn't see any way before the start of the school year to replace the approximately $1 million that is collected through the fee program. However, during the discussion time for this resolution, I made the comment that I wish such fees didn't exist, and that I would like to see the Board and Administration explore a budget that does not require such fees.

No student in our school district escapes fees. The PreSchoolers each pay $15/yr, and Kindergarten through 6th grade kids pay $30/yr. At 7th grade it bumps up quite a bit, to $73, adding on fees for Arts, Social Studies and Physical Education uniforms. The 8th grade fees aren't so much, but kid have to pay to take foreign languages (from $14 for French to $22 for German).

At the high school level, the fees a student pays are directly related to the courses scheduled. The fee amounts range from $4 for Astronomy to $120 for a course called "Liberal Democracy in America" (see High School Program of Studies, page 58, and the Kenyon College syllabus for the course).

Across a population of 15,000+ students, to collect $1 million/yr in fees means about $60/kid. But about 70% of our students are in kindergarten to 8th grade, where the fees are $30-40/yr. This means the high schoolers are each paying on the average somewhere around $140/yr in fees.

Here's my problem with these fees: We're either a public school system, or we're not.

I'm not so sure our current system of organizing and funding public schools is the best we can do, but it's the system we have right now. It goes pretty much like this:
  • Public school districts are granted an exclusive service territory by the State government. Every square inch of Ohio is part of some public school district. Where you live determines which school district you are a part of. The only way you can change your assigned public school district is to move.

    This is my first point of concern. Elizabeth Warren once said that one of the reasons Americans have pushed themselves so much into debt is that the price of admission to a good school district is an expensive house. I think this is a profound observation, and more people need to hear and understand it.

    It is no longer legal in America to segregate or discriminate based on race, creed, color, age or gender, but we can and do certainly discriminate based on wealth. By the way, before you hang any particular pejorative labels on me because of that statement, please understand that I believe that appropriately regulated free market capitalism is the best way to address most economic questions. Less government, not more.
  • If you have a child of compulsory school age, you are required by law to send that child to the public school or a chartered nonpublic school (e.g. parochial schools).
  • However, only the public school districts have the authority to levy taxes to fund their operations. Public charter schools are eligible to receive State funding. Chartered nonpublic schools receive no tax-originated funding.

    If you own property, you pay property taxes to the public school district. If you are a renter, your landlord pays property taxes on the property you live in and passes the cost on to you. A number of public school districts also levy income taxes on its residences. You can't opt out of these taxes by claiming you don't have kids, or that your kids attend a chartered nonpublic school.
  • The State of Ohio collects income taxes, sales taxes, commercial activity taxes, etc a redistributes some of that money to all the public school districts in Ohio.

    This topic is substantial by itself. For the purposes of this article, let's leave it that this money is redistributed from districts with high recognized land values to districts with low recognized land values.
The net of this is that everyone lives in a public school district and everyone pays taxes to operate them. Like it or not, that's what we've got right now.

So I don't understand the purpose of these fees which are levied on students. It seems to me that they are just an additional tax levied on only those with kids. So which is it: everyone chips to operate our public schools, or only folks with kids? Seems like we have a little of each. We collectively allowed this tax to sneak into the system, misdirected perhaps by having them labeled as "fees" instead of "usage taxes."

Here's my point: if a primary argument for having a public school system is to ensure that all kids get an equal opportunity based on ability, then doesn't the levying of these fees/taxes violate that objective? It seems that if there is just one case of a kid being denied the opportunity to take a class or participate in an activity because of inability to pay the fee/tax, then we have failed to live up to this core principle. This must be an actual – not hypothetical – concern: in the December 2009 issue of the Hilliard Bradley Bulletin, the Bradley PTO announces the creation of a "Benevolent Fund" with the following mission:
"The Benevolent Fund has been put in place to offer financial assistance to Bradley students in need. These funds will be made available when no other community resources are obtainable. Our goal is to help our students whose needs have fallen through the crack." Specifically, it says that money from the Fund may be used to: "help pay other fees that may prevent a student from an opportunity for success here at Bradley High School."
The bottom line is that I think we should end the practice of collecting academic, athletic and activity fees, and instead fold these expenses into those which are paid via our normal tax-supported revenue sources. If the current fees total $1 million per year, we would have to raise our taxes by four tenths of a mill to cover the amount ($13/yr per $100,000 of home value). Or we could reduce other expenses by $1 million (remember that 88% of our expenses are compensation and benefits).

What are your thoughts? You can let me know via comments here, or you are welcome to send an email.


  1. Paul -

    I'm somewhat torn on this. I agree in principal that when you start collecting mandatory fees, you really cease to be publicly-funded. If there's a way to bring costs in line so that families don't have to bear that additional burden, then I certainly agree that this would be a good thing.

    However, the other half of my dilemma is that I'm a Hilliard homeowner, paying property taxes that have gone up very noticeably over the years. I've been sending my son to charter schools for the last several years because the Hilliard school system wouldn't meet the needs of my child, and I'm really tired of tax increases in a floundering economic climate - especially when I don't receive any benefit from those tax increases.

    I know that sounds a bit harsh, and it may be tangential to the question at hand, but the bottom line is that if the only solution to the problem of additional fees is a tax increase, then I'm afraid I'd have to be in favor of the fees.

  2. DL - Your comment is certainly pertinent to the question I raise, and your position is likely to be shared by many. Thanks for weighing in.

  3. Paul, I'd like to clarify something you wrote as well as offer a comment.

    Chartered nonpublic schools do receive public-funded aid. These schools receive state funds for axillary services and administrative reimbursement. These two items are paid for through Ohio's general revenue fund. Students attending chartered nonpublic schools are entitled by law to the same level of transportation services (under certain conditions) as public school students. Transportation services are funded through a combination of local revenues and state GRF funding. Ohio is actually a leader in aid to nonpublic education.

    Paul, I think the conversation regarding fees is made more difficult because there is no agreement as to what should be part of a publicly funded education and what are reasonable or adequate funding levels to support components. Are athletics and extra-curricular activities a necessary component even though not all children can or do participate?

    Should taxpayers pay an unlimited amount of money to support anything and everything? Have districts prioritized spending sufficiently in order to place students' needs first or is it more about adults and institutions?

    What should taxpayers pay for? There's no clear answer. And then there's the issue of how much is enough . . .

    We've also seen a shift in how education is viewed. For most of the last two centuries, education and educational attainment were seen as a "public good." In the last two decades that view has shifted toward seeing education as a private good -- benefiting the individual more than society. If education is of greater value to the individual, then is it unreasonable to see more of the funding burden carried by those (or in this case their parents) who benefit most?

    There is also a difference, at least in my mind, between fees related to academic costs and those that are extra-curricular in nature.

    It's a tough issue that's not likely to disappear soon.

  4. Paul,
    I may be wrong, but I thought that those who received free/reduced lunch benefits also received free/reduced fees. This would mean that the district is paying some of these costs out of its budget. I have two children in elementary school, and I am able to support the fees. The lower we can keep a millage increase, the better off we would be, since it is hard enough to pass a levy as it is. In an ideal world I agree that we should fully support all costs associated with education at all levels, however times are going to get worse not better regarding the schools ability to provide a quality education within its budget.

  5. Thanks for the comment.

    Here's what district policy JN says about this: "The District does not charge students eligible for free lunch under the National School Lunch Act or Child Nutrition Act a fee for any materials needed to participate fully in a course of instruction. This exception only applies to recipients of free lunch, not students who receive reduced-price lunch. This provision does not apply to extracurricular activities and student enrichment programs that are not courses of instruction."

    So reduced lunch kids still have to pay user fees (for classroom consumables), and all kids still have to pay activity fees for extracurricular, cocurricular, athletic and music programming, as well as student enrichment programs.

    However, policy IGD goes on to say: "The expenses involved in participating in any school activity and in the total program for a school year should be set so that a majority of the students may participate without financial strain. Special consideration may be given in cases in which the expense of participating would result in exclusion."

    I think I'd like to be convinced that there's not even one kid who, because of an inability to pay a fee, is denied an opportunity to participate in an activity sponsored by the public school district. However, I know that's not true. There are 6th grade (or is it 8th grade) kids who don't make the annual trip to Washington DC because they can't afford it.

    If Ohio's school funding mess doesn't get straightened out, We might have to consider dropping certain "extracurricular, cocurricular, athletic and music" from the programming offered by the public schools. I think I would favor that over further raising fees, and risk cutting more kids out these opportunities.

    Not that making such things "club" activities would make them any more accessible to most financially limited kids in our district - but it would get the public school district out of the business of fostering economic discrimination.

    Let's face it: there is no "extracurricular, cocurricular, athletic and music" activity sponsored by our school district which in which every single student participates. Therefore, some kids get more money spent on them than others for non-academic activities, and this is funded by the taxpayers, most of whom have no kids whatsoeven in any of these programs.

    So why not go all the way and drop all "extracurricular, cocurricular, athletic and music" from the public school programming, and let them become privately funded activities operated outside the purview of the public school system?

  6. I don't like the fees and have made an issue regarding them as a back door tax for several years now. However, I do somewhat understand the reasons behind them and I try to look at them as a "consumption tax". I do object to added fees for core curriculum subjects that are pretty much required if kids are going to go on to higher education but for optional type courses, why should everyone pay for something that only a few are using? As long as the opportunity is there for all to take the class, then a relatively small fee is not objectionable. By the way, sports, unless there is no mandatory "cut", does not fall into the core curriculum; unless everyone who tries out gets to participate then the cost must be born by the participants exclusively.
    I also have a problem with Ms Warrens point regarding the cost of attending a quality school district, as least as far as Hilliard is concerned. There are many housing opportunities in Hilliard and the kids get the same education benefits whether they live in a $120,000 home or a half million dollar home. Her statement may have merit in some of the really exclusive suburbs but not here in the HCSD.
    Paul, I must say I find this topic to be quite interesting, coming as it does from one who in the past, has focused almost exclusively on the biggest ticket items in the budget. At the same time, I really appreciate the fact that you are writing about it, as it has always been my thought that we need to pay attention to every item in the budget, however small. Sure, give the larger expenses the most play but ask any business owner - you have to look at every line in the budget when times are tough.

  7. Thanks as always for your thoughts Hillirdite.

    I think Warren is right, and will offer this argument:

    When, in the late 1970s, a Federal court ordered intra-district busing to correct racial segregation in the Columbus school district, it created a immediate housing boom in the suburbs. The homebuilders first concentrated on starter/middle class houses in the suburbs - I know because we built our first house in Golfview Woods in 1979, paying $69K for it (its current appraised value is $148K).

    It took every dime we could muster to buy that house, and that was true for pretty much all of our neighbors. We literally mortgaged ourselves to the hilt in order to live in that school district (vs a more affordable home in say Clintonville). Back then, everyone assumed that the value of your home would go up 5%/yr, as would your income.

    As we've seen in the past couple of years, that's not necessarily true. Hilliard has its fair share of homes in foreclosure right now, in both the starter neighborhoods as well as the high-end ones.

    But the point is that the price of the house is the price of admission. If you want to step up to what are perceived to be "better schools," such as Upper Arlington or Bexley, you must buy a more expensive house (or downsize) because there is higher demand for housing in those districts, and a relatively fixed inventory.

    Put another way, what do you think your house would be worth if your neighborhood were transferred to Columbus City Schools?

  8. Oh, and I agree that we do have a broad spectrum of housing in Hilliard, and that's a good thing when properly managed. In other words, we should have an sustainable mix of rental, low income, middle income, high income and commercial property in our portfolio.

    The challenge is that incremental home values need to average about $350,000 to generate enough property taxes to fully fund the 0.8 school age kids who will arrive with each new dwelling.

    Homewood Homes is starting to prep the ground they own next to Bradley High School. Mayor Schonhardt has been telling the community for a long time that the homes that will be built on this recently annexed land west of Alton-Darby Rd would be in that kind of price range, developed at a density of one house/acre, with 50% open space.

    That segment of the housing market is pretty much dead as I understand it. Homewood doesn't build for that market anyway. The homes they're currently offering in Pickerington are $200K or less.

    My guess is that Homewood is working behind the scenes to get the zoning for this parcel changed so they can build a ton of 1500sqft homes on 1/4 acre lots, just like they do everywhere else.

    And the economics of our school district will get further screwed up.

  9. Paul,
    First, I think that some of these fee costs could be offset by adjusting the supplemental contracts
    downward. It seems we as well as other districts are paying a lot of money to staff members who are reaping a lot of extra compensation, and then we hear how much time not compensated they put in. !
    This is part of the contract and this is one place to save a little bit of money.

    Example: Recently the board approved 5 $1200
    compensation for weight room supervisors at Bradley
    Why are not the coaches in charge of this.
    When I coached that was part of your job description. I have looked everywhere and where were these jobs posted and when. I think this has become part of the buddy system and who you know. Are these people certified ? What are
    the experience requirements.

    I think we have a lot of positions to look at in this district without eliminating programs,

    I think the academic fees should be eliminated
    Athletics, music, band etc can have a fee system for the participants that make the squad, choir
    band, not for tryouts.

    There is a meeting tommorrow evening about the new housing project going up on Renner. UMC
    at 7pm As described as Section 8 housing I would only assume that this will add to our costs. I have no particular issue with Section
    8 housing personnally, but the powers to be must understand that this has a huge impact on the schools and increased costs to the school district.

    Unless there is a hold the line on spending for the next 2 years with the next contract all of the above are moot points. The HEA endorsed
    board members have been strangely silent about
    the "unsustainable" spending growth.

    Every line item needs are second and third look
    to maximize our investment

  10. Just an FYI, the 2009-2010 Elementary Handbook states that students who pay reduced lunch fees only pay $15 of the $30 user fee. I don't know whether their are tiered fees in upper grades, but it is the case in the elementary schools.

    Also, students in the elementary schools also pay for required Scholastic News subscriptions (something like $5/year) and for 3rd through 5th grades, additional amounts for required calendars/planners ($4/year). At our school, usually the PTO picks up the amount for the families that can't pay, or teachers pay this themselves, or other families make donations to cover those costs.

    These items are in addition to the money spent on other designated school supplies that must be purchased before school starts. In my experience, these average $20 per child IF you shop for the absolute lowest prices. No doubt, supplies run more for upper grades as fancy calculators, etc. enter the picture (can't wait for that).

    So, my point is, there is a lot asked of us beyond "user fees" for those who can afford to pay it, and a lot supplemented for those who can not. In my view, this is still preferable to wrapping these costs into additional taxes. However, it does lead me to wonder why school districts can't manage to afford to supply pencils anymore (most school districts require families to purchase these necessities now).

  11. As a follow up to my prior entry, I just noticed that the 2010-2011 elementary handbook has been posted on the website, and the entire section regarding user fees has been removed entirely - so perhaps the reduced fee lunch children will be expected to pay the entire fee.

  12. Thanks for the followup. I would have been surprised if the handbooks were in conflict with very specific wording in the policy.

  13. Rick:

    I can't make it to the meeting about the Renner Rd project. The Board has already expressed its concerns about this project. My personal concern is not so much that this might be affordable housing as it is that our community seems unwilling to hold municipal officials accountable for doing their part to keep our school district economically viable.

  14. Paul,

    Not sure where to start. I'll readily say that I'm a bit concerned with the fees, but what really caught my eye was your post about Homewood Homes. I noticed the clearing that was happening on the NW corner of Roberts & Alton Darby. Like you, I was aware that Homewood was not typically a builder of homes $250K & up. I knew that they had built/were building in Pickerington (IMO, a community VERY similar to Hilliard), but wasn't sure what to expect here in Hilliard.

    I'm not as concerned about the small-scale development going on near Hilliard Darby HS around the YMCA & Darby Town Center, nor the build-out of Ballantrae as I am with this potentially large-scale development.

    I don't want to muddy this thread with a different topic than the original post had, but if you can give any more info. on the Homewood development, it would be much appreciated.

  15. STJ:

    I've learned that this may be a project of the Franklin County Engineer - the long-awaited alignment of Roberts Rd. I've got some feelers out.


  16. Not sure I buy the Clintonville comparison, as I work there and can't afford to live there, at least not in a house with the size and amenities I have in Hilliard. I do however get your point only I see it as a matter of priorities, at least to some extent. I could easily buy a 3 BR house in another part of the HCSD for less money than my current home; heck I could have stayed in Cross Creek where I started 20 years ago. Yes, I would be giving up the overall size and amenities I have living in the northern part of Hilliard proper but if that is what I needed to do in order to have my kids not attend, say Columbus City Schools, then I would be Ok with it. Now you may think I am validating your point but I still maintain it is about priorities and choices, looking at the big picture. Call it a split decision.
    And very interesting note on the Homewood project. Would not happen to have any references to our wonderful mayor's previous statements, would you? Not that I doubt them in the least - I know where the priorities lie with the city administration, and lets just say they conflict strongly with the desire for an affordable school district.

  17. In 1979, right after the desegregation ruling, houses in Clintonville weren't in such demand.

    It's always a supply/demand question, and better school districts create demand for housing which in turn drives up the prices of houses in highly sought after school districts.

    Ask the developers who built all those houses and condos north of Hayden Run Rd, land formerly in our school district but shifted to Columbus due to the terms of the Win-Win Agreement. Those properties would have sold for substantially more had the developer been able to finagle a way to keep it in Hilliard Schools.

    But in a tough market, builders build what buyers will buy. That's why all this open land just annexed by Hilliard scares me. Some still think it's going to be homes like Ballantrae or Heritage Lakes. I just don't see how the current market will support that.

  18. I have two thoughts to share. Paul, you wrote the following: "So why not go all the way and drop all 'extracurricular, cocurricular, athletic and music' from the public school programming, and let them become privately funded activities operated outside the purview of the public school system?"

    As a teacher and parent, I cringed when I read this. Making all of those activities private will just further reduce opportunities for lower SES kids (and really all kids) to participate. With both parents working in most families these days, so many of our students depend on school transportation to athletic and band events, not to mention the fact that private activity programs are typically WAY more expensive than our school ones, which in my experience are typically well-supervised and coached. Most parents I know feel that the fees are a relatively good deal for school extracurriculars, which is not to say these fees still don't exclude some people. I'm sure they do, and we should always be looking for ways to make opportunities possible for each kid, through fundraising, write-offs, or donations. Moreover, although I teach an "academic" subject, I know all too well that it's the extracurriculars that keep some kids coming to high school. This is not a bad thing; we all suffer if they give up on education at such a tender age, so it should be worth it to us all to keep them coming.

    And Rick, in response to your point about reducing/eliminating supplementals, I just want to point out that the coaches I have observed spend significantly more time working with the kids today than I'm guessing coaches did when you coached. My own father coached three high school sports for 30 years and readily admits he could never do that today. My kids have had coaches who are consistently at the school by 5:00 a.m. each day, then up late viewing films. Most high school sports meet for practice or competitions six days a week during the season, with coaches continuing to put in long hours year-round anymore. The demands in the weight room are unparalleled, with our kids (and coaches) expected to invest WAY more time in there now than they did even three years ago. I'm not saying that's necessarily a good fact, I'm personally very ambivalent about it, as these increased time expectations have made it all but impossible for my kids to participate in multiple sports. But that seems to be the reality of activities in a large suburban district.

  19. Keeping the Faith:

    Thanks for commenting. I very much appreciate the opportunity to have teachers engage in the dialog. You're on the front lines of this kind of thing every day.

    I absolutely agree with you that converting all extracurricular activities to club activities would probably further restrict access and participation for the very kids our public school system is supposed to serve. That's why I believe it should go the other way - having all such activities be fully tax supported so as to be accessible based on interest, ability and commitment - not wealth.

    What we have is a little of this and a little of that. A school system which is mostly supported by taxes, but which also collects a million dollars in additional fees from the families of students. Most families can afford it, and those with the greatest need get their fees waived.

    It seems like this philosophy sticks it to the working poor, as is often the case. Families who just barely stay above water - not too different from where I come from. They make a little too much to qualify for assistance, and not enough to have the kind of disposable income many Hilliard families enjoy.

    We've gotten a little off track here, in that my original concern was about academic fees, not extracurricular activity fees. I would be very alarmed if there has been even one kid who very much wanted to take some subject in high school, but chose not to because the family needed the money for something else.

    It would also be of concern if there were any kids for whom participation in an extracurricular activity was out of economic reach.

    Are these just hypothetical concerns, or have there been real cases of this?

  20. Keeping the faith

    The point made is that I question, in time of
    "Unsustainability" that is well documented expenditures like 5 contracts, for a short period of time for $1200 is something that needs to be looked at and I am sure there are similar opportunities to make adjustments, not totally cut out by the way,to supplemental contracts.
    If anyone questions, just take a look at
    the meeting agendas that detail each one.
    It simply would be the proper thing to do to make a proper financial anaylsis. Everything should be on the table, otherwise we are faced with levy increases ( and yes there will be one and supported ) that for many are going to cause
    financial issues. All of us do not benefit from a very favorable increase after increase compensation plan, and 45.00 per month for medical contributions

    Its simply about a spending trajectory that
    requires looking at each line item. And also as a teacher you know that the upcoming contra ct will add significant further costs to the budget.

    All of us have continually voted to support the district financially. Why is it such a big deal to examine some cost savings.... somewhere.

    Coaching time ? Working with student athletes from the City of Detroit was rewarding, successful, challenging, and among the best
    rewarding time of my life, that was at best
    a 7 day a week guidance, coaching, babysitting, finding homes to stay in for them. And many of us volunteered to assist in coaching other sports ie Basketball.

    The alternative to not looking at some cost containment will mean huge levies that many will not be able to afford as they have endured
    their own pay cuts, increases in medical costs
    layoffs, and yes foreclosure.

    It continues to amaze me that the financial sacrifice is only supposed to come from one side.
    The HCsd has benefitted from outstanding community financial support. This can be jeopardized by the continued upward spiral in increases that cannot realistically be supported
    by the community who pays the bill.

  21. I completely agree about the academic fee concerns and that once again, the working poor take the worse of it. I only commented about the extracurriculars because you had suggested dropping all activities and making them private. And I'm afraid I just don't know the answer to your last question in terms of any hard data. It is really hard to tell as most kids in secondary school are not very likely to say "I can't do this sport, go on this field trip, or take this class because we can't afford it." Instead, they are much more likely to say, "I don't want to play that sport anymore; it takes too much time," or "I don't like to bowl or swim (or whatever the field trip is)." When I personally collect fees for an activity (which is maybe once a year), I always mention that anyone with a financial concern can talk to me privately or write me a note and we will waive the cost because we want everyone to go. It's very rare, though, that any kid ever takes me up on this offer, yet I know there are kids in the class whose families struggle financially. Perhaps teachers of younger kids, who might theoretically not try to hide their circumstances as much, are more aware of this. I definitely think this issue is worth examining, though, so I'm glad you are looking into it.

  22. It's the engineering training - strip a problem down to its simplest components and understand the basic relationships before moving on to the complexities. Like when you first start studying physics, they tell you to ignore friction.

    So I pose the question: "Why not turn all extracurricular activities into club activities?" not because I believe it's the correct solution, but rather because stripping away complexity often reveals more basic, raw issues.

    In the case of extracurriculars, I think a community like ours pours a significant amount of money into programming that benefits a relatively small number of kids (out of the population of 15,000 students). Much of it is capital costs (athletic facilities and performing arts centers), but there is also a good chunk of money that goes into compensation of staff and maintenance of facilities.

    Those things also are the pawns of levy campaigns, and we're going to have one pretty soon. Once the union contracts are settled, the only things determined by a levy vote is whether or not optional programs and services will be cut, and if some of our youngest teachers will get laid off. The salary increases and other personnel costs will have been already determined in the union negotiations.

    When it is said during a levy campaign that if the levy doesn't pass, things like extracurriculars will be cut, I think it makes people believe that the levy is to pay for the increased cost of those programs.

    The truth is that 90% or more of the new money raised with a levy will be used to fund increases in compensation and/or benefits for our employee team. That's not a bad thing if the people of the community clearly understand this dynamic and are willing to pony up more tax dollars to fund such increases.

    But it's not ethical, in my opinion, to foster the misconception that new levies are primarily needed to continue funding optional programs and services. The costs of those programs and service and services are simply what gets squeezed out of the budget by growing compensation costs when a levy doesn't pass.

  23. (i)But it's not ethical, in my opinion, to foster the misconception that new levies are primarily needed to continue funding optional programs and services.(/i)
    And that, Paul, is the crux of the problem. I still don't understand how, with all the publicity about failed levies in Central Ohio, that people have not caught on that it is the programs for the kids that get held hostage by the levy votes, especially here in Hilliard where the last contract was agreed to with the Board fully knowing that the money wasn't there for it. I don't understand how school boards, who are supposed to be the stewards of the public's money, can be as unethical as they have been in denying that. I blame the Boards way more than I fault the teachers and/or the unions. No different than spoiled children - most kids are going to take whatever their parents give them and not see anything wrong with it. Granted, the teachers are not children and should hold their unions to a higher standard but it is still up to the Boards to say yea or nay. And when they say yea to an unreasonable contract, they stick us with both higher taxes and more/higher fees. Again, I would love to see no fees passed on to the parents but there is no such thing as a free lunch - it if comes out of the budget, it comes out of our pockets, just in a less direct manner.

  24. STJ and others interested:

    There has been conjecture by me and others about what was going on with all the earthmoving equipment at the northwest corner at Alton-Darby Rd and Roberts Rd. I thought it was Homewood Homes starting the site prep for building houses. A neighbor heard that it was the project to take the 'jog' out of Roberts Rd.

    Turns out that it's a little both, plus something else.

    The work going on now is a "stream restoration" of a similar ilk to the one going on over at Clover Groff Creek, between Alton-Darby Rd. and Spindler Rd.

    However, in the process, they are also doing the site prep for the Roberts Rd realignment and for the commencement of homebuilding by Homewood (Homewood is contributing to the cost of the current project). The Roberts Rd realignment will likely take place next year when funding is secured, which I think is tied up in the TIF the City of Hilliard is considering for Schottenstein homes.

    More on this later.

  25. Paul,

    Have you heard anything about the price point of the potential Homewood development? From what I've seen, it seems that most of the homes built by Homewood are more of the variety from $150K-$240K. My guess is that Hilliard CSD would fetch toward the upper-middle portion of that range (probably similar or maybe slightly more than Pickerington LSD). Still, that is nowhere near the $350K needed to 'tread water' without some serious commercial development to offset it. So, were not talking Heritage Lakes or Ballantrae. For that matter, we're not even talking an Estates at Hoffman Farms or Hampton Reserve (near YMCA & Darby Town Center) type of development that is currently underway.

    Of course, it is possible that Homewood is using Hilliard to foray into the trade-up ($250K-$400K) market. Now that you mention it, I thought I remember seeing something awhile ago from the mayor and/or City of Hilliard awhile ago indicating that the homes were going to be more of the mid-to-upscale price range. Of course, I think that was before the economy tanked. Again, just wondering...

  26. "The truth is that 90% or more of the new money raised with a levy will be used to fund increases in compensation and/or benefits for our employee team. That's not a bad thing if the people of the community clearly understand this dynamic and are willing to pony up more tax dollars to fund such increases."

    Paul, then why isn't a breakdown of where operational costs are properly communicated to the voters? I know the data is hidden somewhere in the budget reports, but it would be very constructive to see the following categories:

    - Base salaries (Administrative, Classroom, Support staff, Classified, Substitutes)
    - Benefits (same breakdown)
    - Supplemental salaries
    - Supplemental benefits
    - Other Extra-curricular costs (e.g. equipment, fees, transportation,..)
    - Transportation
    - Facility Maintenance
    - Utilities
    - Educational Materials
    - Misc (am I missing any broad buckets?)

    Unfortunately, my guess is the information is not presented this way because it would be too detrimental to efforts to raise revenue.

    Has the Audit and Accountability Committee done any of this work?

  27. 1. Homewood Homes is the larger parent company of Trinity Homes and Ambassador Homes, both of which offer houses in the 'luxury' price range of $300,000+. 'Homewood' the company owning the land does not indicate the 'Homewood' the builder will build there. In fact, when looking at Trinity Homes this past winter we were told Trinity would have some additional sites in Hilliard, including the site at Davidson Rd. and Leap Rd. A trip to visit Clarence Mingo shows me that field is owned by Homewood Corp.

    2. The talk that we eliminate all extra/co-curriculars (because they serve so few) is frightening because:
    -Paul did not respond to it until a teacher called the individual out. I'd like my board members to JUMP at the opportunity to educate the public about the importance of those activites when presented with the chance.

    -We as a public don't seem to recognize the value of these activities in the development of the child, often to a larger extent then the 'academic' core we are so focused on. Think of a world without those extras and co's, and ask yourself if you want to live in that world.

    -When we say they serve few, we are looking at them on an individual basis. When you look at ALL of them together, isn't almost EVERY student participating in MORE than one extra or co?? In fact, I bet the average student participates in 3 or 4 of them, largely because they are so available at the public school they attend.

    It really scares me when we talk about throwing these important things away, because it is the parents job. It is OUR job, and we should provide them. I also agree with Paul though, the compensation structure is what squeezes these things to the chopping block come levy time.

  28. Mark:

    I think the most honest answer to your question is: "Because the people haven't indicated that they care."

    I'm not talking about readers of this blog of course. But there is simply no effort expended whatsoever to hold the public officials in our community accountable for anything. I mean how many years have I been at this? Look at all the effort expended by you and the rest of the EducateHilliard team. Very little response.

    The Audit & Accountability Committee has been doing wonderful work, and has a slate of important things they're considering for their next report. How many people have bothered to read their reports? Darn few. I imagine it's pretty frustrating for them.

    I'll continue to work hard to get information out because that's what I committed to do. But it sure would be nice if more people cared....

  29. MM:

    1. Thanks for the info on Homewood. It would indeed be nice if they decided to build $350K homes on this tract. I'd be more than happy to sing their praises publicly if this happens.

    2. I've never questioned the value of extracurricular activities. But I don't think it's necessary for them to be school sponsored.

    I think the Boy Scouts are pretty important too, and they receive no public funding. If there was no school sponsored athletics, music, drama, etc, those things could still exist.

    There's no such thing as a school sponsored 5th grade soccer team, but there sure are tons of 5th graders playing soccer. If our taxpayers were relieved of the burden of funding all these things with taxes, they could still pool their money voluntarily and form clubs.

    Extracurricular activities have a degree of support and community engagement that doesn't need any help from me. We may not have anyone at school board meetings now, but if even a rumor emerged that the Board was considering a scale back of extracurriculars (and there is NO such conversation going on), you can bet that the Board meetings would be packed. Heck one of longest conversations that was had at the last Coffee With the Board was about scheduling conflicts for a middle school gym.

    Too bad we don't see the same kind of engagement when the Audit & Accountability Committee rendered their opinion that our current financial situation is unsustainable.

    You've asked the question before whether I want to live in a world without the arts and other kinds of programming. The answer is of course not. With just a little more talent (and a lot more discipline), I might have been a music major. Gee, I even met Mrs. Lambert at band camp.

    But I don't feel such things have to be funded with money taken from the taxpayers. I'm pretty sure Rembrandt and Mozart were funded without tax money.

    And before soccer, lacrosse, and softball were school sponsored varsity sports, they were played as club sports. There was no orchestra in my high school, but there were certainly kids who took string lessons and played in the city youth orchestra.

    The public school system can be a wonderful place to equalize opportunity. But it's not necessarily the only way to get there. As the economics get more and more challenging, these programs might have to be turned over to the private sector.

    I think I'd rather see that happen than have the fees charged by public schools get oppressive or exclusionary. It doesn't feel like a public school anymore once that's the case.

    And that was my original point.

  30. Mark,

    Great questions as usual.

    The real problem even more so than the lack
    of attention by the electorate, is that our own school board, except for Paul, has been publicly silent about the last Audit committees report.

    I admit to be totally stupid but the report speaks volumes and our own board wont comment about anything. It seems this paradigm that this and many other boards have is they wont
    speak up and talk about the real challenges
    coming forth financially because they are afraid of the what the employees will think.

    Simple questions like making adjustments to supplemental contracts get treated like the schools programs are going to be gutted !
    In an economic time that is fraught with people losing jobs, homes, increases in medical etc. the best we get back is you dont care, you have to pay, they put in long hours, and onward.

    We are reaching another "Unsustainable" moment is that we cannot even seem to suggest ANY way
    to save any type of expenditure.

    The supplemental contracts would be a good place to start and Marks ideas are absolutely right on.

    Interesting, no one who doesnt want adjustments
    hasany idea on how we afford to pay more and more. The small items to be cut could down the road SAVE programs. So what is left for many people to cut out so we can have upteem numbers of weight coaches, just as an example. 2 instead of 5

    Some of these items are nice to have or would like to have but just how many Opportunities are we paying for that could be adjusted.

    Again, thank you Paul for doing your job as a School Board member. Thank you for bringing up tough issues and situations and at least coming up with ideas.

    Suggestion. Perhaps a group, (Educate Hilliard possibly) or any other group could delve line by line into the budget, supplementals etc and make suggestions to the board on adjustments.

    Paul, would you have access or submit a request that a group or individual could get a paper copy of the budget.

    As a starter, each meeting agenda has tons of
    spending approval items. Might be a good starter to save some operating dollars.

  31. I still believe it would be a huge mistake to separate extra- and co-curriculars from the schools. I also want to point out that I did not mention music or drama in my previous posts because I do not even consider those "extra" and capable of being separated, though I know this happens all too often. The truth is that ironically, these classes or activities are, in many ways, "super-academic subjects," blending disciplines in ways no other subject does and reinforcing a variety of key academic skills. You are right that the Rembrandts and Mozarts will still develop with school support, but creating professional-quality musicians or artists is not really the goal of having music, drama, and art in the schools anyway, as far as I can see. Imagine a school day filled with nothing but "traditional academics." As it is, we have dramatically increased the academic time demands on students in the middle schools, moving from a 9-period day a few years back that allowed MS students to sample a variety of electives in addition to the standard courses to a 7-period day that matches the high schools' time spent on academic subjects. Consequently, students have to choose certain paths and ignore others at even younger ages than before. Industrial technology is no longer even a course option in our middle schools, and Family and Consumer Science has changed in many ways, for example replacing an excellent unit on laundry basics with a unit on career planning. I am not saying a parent cannot teach kids to do laundry and that career planning is not important, but once again, in such a move we have switched from a primarily kinesthetic (or hands-on, practical) activity to a more standard academic one. Ask students what their favorite classes in MS or HS are, and you are likely to hear responses like "Ceramics," "Choir," or "Fitness for Life." What if the creative and physical energy expended in those "non-academic" courses enables students to be more focused when they do have to sit still and take a math test next period? I know difficult choices will have to be made in the future, but we have to keep the whole child in mind when we do so.

    Coming back to strictly academic fees, I wanted to add that students in upper-level HS math courses (Alg. 2 and beyond) are required to having graphing calculators that cost anywhere from $90-$115. I was glad to see this note emailed to parents two days ago:

    "If your family may not be able to afford a graphing calculator at this time, please contact your child's math teacher during the first week of school and we can work with you."

    Still, I wonder how many families find this calculator expense, which is significant, to be a hardship. Is it not just another type of fee? At what point do supplies expenses become excessive? (I am not saying kids don't need such calculators to do the work--I'm sure they do.) Just more food for thought on the fee issue.

  32. Rick:

    The official budget is available online on the District's website. It is 121 pages of information, including much of the kind of detail Mark suggests.


  33. To start charging all these fees is a scam. It's a particular insidious governmental trend; it reminds me of all the little taxes and fees that were added under Gov. Taft's administration in order to get revenues outside of the usual tax system. It also reminds me of Obama's plan to charge those who don't get health insurance.

    I'm tired of government sneaking around and trying to inflict ever new revenue sources. Either we choose to pay for it or we don't, but I don't like the way we split taxes up a million ways so that no one really knows how much they're paying.