Saturday, January 22, 2011

Levy Step 2.0 - Resolution to Put Levy on the Ballot

The agenda for the Jan 24, 2011 regular meeting of the School Board includes a resolution to direct the Franklin County Board of Elections to place a levy issue before the voters for the May 2011 election.

As I wrote earlier, I voted against the Resolution of Necessity when it came up at the Jan 10 meeting, and explained that I did so because I felt there had been insufficient discussion of our financial picture - not enough due diligence - prior to that vote. I had hoped the Board would postpone the vote on the Resolution of Necessity for a few days until that discussion could be had. The Board instead chose to go ahead with the vote, but agreed to schedule a special meeting to have the discussion I requested.

That meeting took place yesterday.

Treasurer Brian Wilson reviewed the assumptions that he had used to build the current Five Year Forecast, and I presented the latest set of scenarios I had prepared.  The Board then entered into a time of discussion, much as I hoped would happen. That discussion hopefully made it clear to all in the room that:
  • A 6.9 mill levy if passed this May will still not provide sufficient money to fully fund the assumptions given in the latest Five Year Forecast, accepted by the Board in Oct 2010. We are spending more than we take in now, and will continue to do so even if this levy passes. All that will be achieved with this levy is to slow the rate in which we are draining our cash reserves.
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  • Therefore, if the spending plan is not changed, another levy will be needed no later than two years from now. If we continue to increase our rate of spending at this rate, our property taxes will have to double every 10 years to keep up (see chart below).
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  • As I have been saying for years, and am now joined by the Audit & Accountability Committee, our rate of spending increases cannot be materially changed without dealing with the cost of compensation of benefits, which is projected to consume 90% of our budget by FY15.
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Our community needs to understand that it is unlikely that our Board, in its current composition, will ever fully agree on the actions needed to find a solution to our fiscal challenges. We simply see some things differently, and the folks who voted us into office supposedly know that.

I see our primary fiscal issue being the compensation and benefits structure for the teachers, staff and administrators. I seek to recalibrate our personnel spending practices in order to dramatically slow down the rate in which these costs are growing. My pitch today was designed to draw attention to this area, and hopefully convince the other Board members that this is where we need to concentrate our efforts.

Not everyone on the Board agrees with me on this. Nonetheless, they are the duly elected representatives of the people of our district. I may not agree with their viewpoint, but I respect them for being true to their philosophy and faithful to the people who elected them.  I hope they respect me for the same reason.

There was agreement that we need to look more deeply into a couple of areas. One was a request by Dave Lundregan that the Treasurer prepare some additional scenarios built on a variety of changes to his current assumptions. Things like changes in the compensation structure, but also a variety of other factors.

Another is that we talk to experts on early retirement incentive programs to see if our current configuration of employees lends itself to a buyout program that makes economic sense for both the employees and the District.

Unless something quite unforeseen happens between now and Monday evening, I will be voting in favor of putting a 6.9 mill levy question to the voters in May. I am satisfied that the whole Board understands the challenges before us, even if we disagree on the solutions.

It is now time for the public to have its say.

Some will vote 'yes' without any regard to the financial situation. They may be employees of the district, or the friends and family of employees. They may be parents of school age kids who fear having the school district come apart before their kids graduate. They may be property owners who worry about a further erosion of their home values if the school district falls into fiscal crisis.

Others will similarly vote 'no' without reasoned analysis. Maybe they're just tired of their taxes going up. Without question, every time property taxes are raised, there is hardship created, especially for the retired senior citizens and now the large number of unemployed. Others who could easily absorb the tax increase will vote 'no' on philosophical grounds, unswayed by any arguments to the contrary.

My hope is that the remaining voters will use this levy question to engage in the dialog about where their school district is headed. If you think the school district is spending too much money on something, please come forward at a School Board meeting and say so. A 'no' on the ballot is nowhere near as effective as your direct feedback to the School Board. Just don't make it about lights left on at night or empty school buses that pass your house. That lemon has been squeezed pretty hard over the past several years, and there's not a lot left there.

I think the dialog has to be about the future of our compensation and benefits program. But I may be missing something...


  1. Paul, thanks for a great presentation. As far as speaking at board meetings, there is a risk
    in speaking up for the effects on your school age children or soon to be. It is unfortunate that the district supports teachers free speech but not the

  2. Paul, you know you are NOT missing something. Most here fully realize what is driving the budget increases - we don't "hate" teachers and we don't "hate" what they earn - we just realize that in order to continue the trend we are going to be bled more and more. I am consistently irritated that the rest of the Board simply ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I am concerned that the levy vote is going to come before the next contract is decided. I am concerned that the Board will not discuss what is going to be cut, regardless of the levy vote since a 6.9 mil levy will not fund the current 5 Year Forecast. I am concerned that they did not answer Mike's question at the previous meeting regarding what would be cut should the levy fail, other than Ms Whiting mentioning busing and one other member making brief mention of "tough negotiations" (paraphrasing here) during the next contract talks. I am concerned that I posed those questions/concerns to each Board member via an e-mail letter, and got no response other than one reply thanking me for my input. I am concerned that the Audit and Accountability Committee seems to have focused, at least to a large degree, on the compensation issue and the Board has not sought their "official" input into the levy proposal. I certainly do not envy the Board having to deal with flat revenues but they are the only ones who can control the expenses and I don't think they want to be in the position of having to make an unpopular stance with the HEA, the OAPSE, and the admins. That concerns me most of all - if you can't handle the tough issues you should not be serving to begin with. I am concerned that if I vote Yes on the levy in May I am going to see contracts that have no basis on the revenue side. I am just as concerned that I will see the same things even with a No outcome on the levy (which I fully expect to occur since no levy ever passes on the first go-around). I guess I have simply lost faith that school boards in general have a clue on how to deal with the current funding situation in today's economy. I have gone on record as saying that if the Board doesn't fully disclose where the increased money, from any levy, is going to be spent I will vote No and I will politic my friends and neighbors to do the same. The ball is in the Boards court as far as I am concerned.