Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Comments in Regard to the "Cut List"

Below are the comments I made at the School Board meeting last night in regard to item D1 on the agenda, the list of things that would be cut in the event the 6.9 mill Permanent Operating Levy is not approved by voters on May 3.

I have some reservations about this resolution:

The premise of the opening sentence of this resolution seems to be that we are in the position of impending cash shortfalls solely because of what we have been so far told about the proposed biennial State budget.

This seems more a political viewpoint than a statement of fact.

Our pace of spending growth has been, and is projected to continue to be such that levies are going to be required ever more frequently (please refer to this chart). This was true before this state budget was proposed, and it was true before the gubernatorial election took place. It’s not just me who has been saying this – the Audit & Accountability Committee appointed by this Board warned us in their June 2010 report that “the rate of growth in costs is simply not sustainable nor supported by current economic factors.”

The $3m in state funding reductions being proposed by the Governor associated with the Tangible Personal Property Tax reimbursement could be covered with a levy of no more than 1.3 mills. We are asking the voters of our community to consider a levy five times that size. In other words, we can hang 1.3 mills of blame on the state government, but the other 5.6 mills is the consequence of decisions made within our District, as well as the municipal governments we overlay. The one-time Federal Stimulus money we received – along with the one year compensation freezes contributed by the teachers, staff and administrators  – allowed this levy vote to be delayed for a year, but did not change the fundamental economics of our district.

Secondly, a parent made a comment to me that I thought was particularly poignant: If we are in the business of educating kids, why in the process of selecting what to cut from our substantial list of optional programming, would we choose to eliminate the gifted services to our brightest students while maintaining an extraordinarily rich and expensive set of high school extracurricular programs?   Is there some sort of formula for weighing the relative worth of extracurricular activities versus educational services to kids who would benefit from those services, be they gifted or have learning disabilities (which are not mutually exclusive conditions).

It would undoubtedly be a difficult and uncomfortable process to pick and choose which extracurricular activities to drop or scale back in order to free resources for the gifted programs. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done – with appropriate community input.

Lastly, I have a concern about the use of the word “automatic” in the second paragraph of the resolution.  We don’t yet know what the final State budget will look like, and whether the changes in our state funding will be more or less than portrayed to this point. It could be that some of these cuts are not necessary if the levy doesn't pass, and it could be true that some of these cuts will be necessary even after passage of the levy.

I understand not wanting to leave our most junior teachers and staff – who are the first to get laid off in most cases - “on the bubble,” not knowing whether they have a job next year or not.  But passing this resolution now does not help that much – their fate will not be known until after the May 3 election regardless.

I THEREFORE MAKE THE SUBSIDIARY MOTION TO POSTPONE INDEFINITELY THE ACTION ON THIS RESOLUTION UNTIL WE HAVE MORE DEFINITE INFORMATION AS TO THE FUNDING WE WILL RECEIVE IN THE UPCOMING BIENNIAL BUDGET.

My motion died for the lack of a second.

A long discussion followed, which by itself is a victory for the governance process. I respect the opinions of my fellow Board members, as I hope they respect mine. The vote was 4-1 to adopt the resolution, with me casting the sole NO vote.

My concern is that if the new State Budget whacks us even harder than has been revealed so far, we could end up in a situation where the people pass this levy, and then some or all of these cuts have to be made anyway. That may be understandable to the growing number of folks in our community who are paying more attention to public school economics and politics, but I expect that most of the voters would feel betrayed. The recovery from that could take years.

And this is still only nibbling at the edge of the real strategic issue - the unsustainable rate of growth of our spending on compensation and benefits.

click to enlarge
The Audit & Accountability Committee picked up on this very early in their discovery process, as one should expect would happen when a smart and experienced set of financial professionals examined the numbers. When Dave Lundregan said that it's time that the people of our community engage in the "hard decisions," this is what I believe he was talking about. He's exactly right.

Thanks to Justin Gardner (his comments here, as well as video) and Mike Harrold for coming forward to address the Board. Community input is crucial during the process, and the School Board meetings are an important place to make your feelings known. Even if you don't get an immediate response, your comments can influence future considerations and decisions.

The informal meetings are another important venue for dialog. A Coffee with the Board is being scheduled, and it's looking like the evening of April 20 will be it. If you haven't already cast your levy vote by then, this is a great time to ask questions that might help you make your decision.

16 comments:

  1. Thanks again Paul. I and I know many others appreciate your diligence on trying to get control of the spending. I also appreciate that you listen to our questions and concerns and attempted to ask why academic cuts are being made before many possible extracurricular cuts.

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  2. Thanks Paul for trying. You were right on the mark last night. I feel like someone on this board has it right.

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  3. I wasn't sure what to make of last night, other than "business as usual" from 4 board members.

    Oh, a number of exasperated audience members after watching the board's inaction.

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  4. This was my very first meeting ever attended and it was very clear to me that the majority of the Board did not want to listen to the facts. They simply wanted to blame their budget shortfalls on the current State Admin. At one point they said that the Governor's office has been coming out every day with different information about the new budget. And in the very next satement they say they already know what the forecast is and that the cut list is accurate.

    Facial expressions body language from certain Board members during the meeting as the two gentlemen and and Paul spoke were quite obvious. I am a neutral observer and not swayed by any political party, but it is clear to me what party the majority of these people lean toward.

    I will remain anonymous for the fact that I do have children in the system and have heard of stories of intimidation.

    And one last thing, I don't appreciate people calling me without identifying themselves and asking me how I plan to vote on May 3.

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  5. To all concerned citizens in Hilliard City Schools

    This is going to be a low key stealth campaign by the district. They will turn out employees
    and friends and hope everyone stays home.

    Beginning today, each person who knows that we can maintain what we have by showing some proper financial planning and adjustments need to engage everyone you know who is a registered voter in the district. This levy needs to go down to send a message. By actions over the last few years the majority of this board could care less about the financial challenges facing
    the community, who has consistently supported the schools.

    In addition two new board members will be elected and it is vastly important that we get get two new board members who will LISTEN to the community instead of blowing them off.

    Take a few minutes each day to engage a voter and insure they take the time to get to the polls in May.

    Thank you to Paul for his courage, his sincere efforts to bring significant information to the table.

    Please mark your calendars to vote NOin May on this important levy. Thank you

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  6. I think, that I would be able to vote for the levy if I knew NOW that the next contract had another pay freeze in it. I realize that everyone just took a pay freeze, but I think another pay freeze is appropriate given these economic times. Paul, has there been talk of this that you know of?

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  7. I just read on the Hilliard schools website that one of the things that will be cut if the levy fails is transportation to daycare centers. Is this correct? How could this possibly save ANY money. This will only eliminate a few stops, but it will impact many parents in a very negative way.

    How can eliminating a single stop that picks up multiple children save any money? I know they only pick up at daycares in the attendance area for that school. Are they also going to refuse to pick up at home care sitters, who live in the same school attendance boundary area as the student, but are not the student's residence "on file".

    Again, this will have an enormous impact on working parents and save the district NO money. (And I personally have no children in Hilliard schools..no impact on me.) But this seems very punitive and unnecessarily harsh, if I'm reading it the right way.

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  8. Yes, the cut list that was submitted by the Superintendent and approved 4-1 by the Board does automatically end transportation to/from day care centers if the levy doesn't pass.

    As always, I encourage folks to come to school board meetings and let their opinions be known.

    Feedback Works
    Elections Matter
    Votes Count

    Everyone has to participate in the process to get the outcome they want...

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  9. Wake up everyone. The list of cuts is specifically designed to rile up as many people as it can who might decide suddenly to support the levy.

    This is all calculated, and it's a disgrace.

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  10. "My motion died for the lack of a second."

    Is that the first time?

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  11. Nope. It also happened when the levy "Resolution of Necessity" was on the agenda, and I moved that we postpone the vote until we actually had a discussion about it.

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  12. Thank you for sharing the graph on the break down of property taxes. I am amazed that I am paying about 64% of my property taxes to the Hilliard City Schools. I have two children, so that works out to be less than $2,000 per child per year. This is less than I spent on full time day care before they were old enough for school. Daycare was at least 300 wk for both...or 1200/month. I view Hilliard Schools as a great service at an unbelievable value....and just divide it out further if your family has 3, 4. or 5 children....What a bargain!! These families are paying less than $1,000 per student per year. I paid more than that per month for daycare. Maybe we could vote to change the tax calculation to include the number of children per household. Again, I'm amazed that my family lives in such a wonderful community with great schools. I know there are things that need to change and improve, but I am voting for the levy to continue services, educational oppurtunites and extra curricular activities for all of our children to enjoy. But I do want to thank you for watching out for our tax dollars.

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  13. It may be true that it costs you $2,000/yr per child to send them to our schools, but the full cost is a bit more than $11,000/yr per. You're paying a little more than the $2,000 because part (about half) of your state income taxes, state sales taxes, etc come back to us as "state aid." But the bulk of the remaining $9,000/kid is being paid by your neighbors and the businesses of our community.

    That's the way public school funding works, and I don't in general have a problem with it.

    But please have some empathy for the retired folks and others in our community who have no kids in the school district, but are seeing their taxes increase at a rate far in excess of the rate in which their income is increasing.

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  14. Anon @ 11:05 on April 5-
    To put Paul's response in another way:
    YOU are not paying $2000 per child- WE are paying.
    Your idea of charging a property owner would be great for me - I don't have ANY kids in the schools. So I would pay $0, or at least considerably less than I do now? Then YOUR bill might go to $12,000 - about $6000 per child or what us local taxpayers contribute per student (rough guesstimate there merely for the sake of argument)Don't get me wrong - I am NOT in favor of that. I am willing to pay a fair share, just as I did before I had kids in the schools (my two attended HCSD K-12)Our schools can continue to be great without raising 88% of the budget 5-6% per year, year in and year out. Many other schools rank as high as ours do while paying far lower salaries. The pro-levy folks NEVER mention the unsustainable growth in compensation; they would have us believe that the money is going strictly to the kids, and the plain and simple truth is that it is not. Their refusal to even broach the subject of compensation gives folks like me all the muscle I need to argue against the levy, and I have swayed many voters who totally missed the fact that 3 years ago, the voters said No to a levy, raises averaging 5-6% were handed out, and the same cuts announced last week were imposed. So you tell me - how did THAT help with your kid's excellent education? I repeatedly ask that question, and I have yet to get an answer - not here, not anywhere. Just like the compensation issue, it gets totally ignored. In the subsequent levy vote, I voted Yes so the cuts would be restored, and I hoped for change. Ha! Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. To quote Roger Daltry - "won't get fooled again!" I'm voting No.

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  15. Now that HB 5 has passed, it is within the power of the Board to compensate based on merit, while eliminating the costly step increases. It is time for the Board to address compensation and let the market decide how much a teacher should be paid. For each teacher in the system, there are five more waiting for that job. We should consider testing that market, while simultaneously increasing pay to those best teachers and weeding out the poor teachers. We could easily cut compensation costs by 20% by simply letting the markets set the wages, not the union contracts. Vote NO on any additional levies until compensation is addressed in a rational manner

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