Saturday, April 9, 2011

Budget Knobs - Which Ones Do We Turn?

Early voting has already begun for Issue 7, the question asking the voters in the Hilliard City School District to approve a Permanent Operating Levy of 6.9 mills.

There has already been a list generated by the Administration and approved by the School Board which shows what will be automatically cut from programs and services if the levy should fail.

It seems like we should also be talking about what will happen if the levy issue should pass.

First, it might be worth reviewing what drives the size and frequencies of levies. I hope this diagram helps:

click to enlarge
As you can see, there are four primary 'control knobs' in this system:
  • Size of the Next Levy:  This has come to be viewed as the first knob that gets adjusted. Current thinking among those who advise on levy campaign strategy is that 6.9 mills is the largest amount that can put on the ballot and passed by a majority of the voters. This is pretty much the reason our current levy is 6.9 mills.
  • Time Interval until the Next Levy:  In other words, do we plan for the next levy to be in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?  The Time Interval and the Levy Size are directly related, meaning that - all other things being equal - the larger the levy, the longer it can be before the next levy has to be put on the ballot.
  • Rate of Spending Growth (or Funding Cuts):  As I have related many times in this blog, our rate of spending growth is virtually the same thing as the rate in which the costs of compensation and benefits increase, with compensation and benefits comprising nearly 90% of our budget.

    click to enlarge

    This year, we finally have to face the fact that the State of Ohio is going to take significant funding away from the perceived affluent suburban districts, and it's going to happen pretty quickly, as I described in The Other Shoe Has Dropped.  From the perspective of the bottom line (ie "Excess of Revenue over Expenditures" in school budget language), a one dollar reduction in funding is the same thing as a one dollar increase in spending - they both reduce the cash reserves by one dollar. It means you have to find that dollar somewhere else in the budget.
  • Amount of Cash Reserves:  It doesn't matter whether you are driving a Ferrari or a Yugo, when your car runs out of gas, it goes at one speed: ZERO.  Cash is like the gas for any organization. When it runs out, the organization comes to a grinding halt, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about the doughnut shop on the corner or General Motors (although the Federal Govt seems immune to this!).

    So we need to make sure our outstanding school system with a $170 million annual budget doesn't run out of cash. When the payroll is more than $12 million per month, it can happen in a hurry.

    That's one of the reasons why our School Board enacted Policy DBDA, which states "The Board believes that maintaining a cash reserve balance of 10% of operating expenses is necessary in the interest of sound fiscal management."  This policy was adopted in August 2006, and was obeyed in FY07-FY10.

    However, if it were not for the one-time Federal Stimulus grant of $4.3 million, we would have run out of cash this fiscal year (an observation I made in 2009). We are certainly below the 10% cash reserve target. It was this one-time money and the decision to draw down the cash reservese that allowed the current levy interval to be stretched to three years, not because our spending went down (acknowledging that the teacher's union, support staff union, and non-union employees all agreed to work in calendar 2011 without base pay increases or step increases).

    It's not so much the size of the cash reserves that determines the levy size, it's whether we are drawing down or building up the cash reserves. By drawing down the cash reserves, as we have been doing this year (and would have last year without the Federal stimulus money), then the next levy can be delayed. However, to rebuild the cash reserves takes revenue above and beyond the normal operating expenses, and someday we're going to need to deal with that.

Okay, now that we understand the controls available to us, what would the situation look like after passage of a 6.9 mill levy in May 2011?

click to enlarge
The chart above, derived from the Oct 2010 Five Year Forecast, depicts where I believe we would be if the levy is passed and no changes are made to spending other than backing out the $1 million/yr budgeted for All Day Kindergarten starting FY13, which looks to be no longer a State requirement.

However I have made some significant changes to the Revenue projections used in the Oct 2010 Five Year Forecast:
  • The Franklin County Auditor will reduce property valuations by 8%, meaning that a 6.9 mill levy will raise $15.4 million/yr rather than the $16.7 million/yr that has been reported in the newspapers (by law, the Five Year Forecast cannot show revenue from levies which have not yet passed).
  • The impact of the change in Personal Property Tax Reimbursement will be a total of $17.6 million between FY12 and FY15, distributed as follows: $3 million in FY12, $6 million in FY13, $3.5 million in FY14 and $5 million in FY15. Note that this is above and beyond the reduction in PPT reimbursement already built into the Forecast.
The yellow blob in the chart shows the gap between funding and spending, and it's still pretty big. That means we still have some knob-twisting to do. So let's look at some scenarios (all assume passage of the May 2011 levy):

  1. Next levy no earlier than 2015 (four years):  In order to end FY15 with a zero cash balance, we would need to cut the growth in spending to no more than $2.2 million/yr. To put that in perspective, the Oct 2010 Five Year Forecast shows spending growing $4.7 million from FY11 to FY12, $9.3m in FY13, $7.3 million in FY14, and $8 million in FY15.

    No Earlier than 2015 - click to enlarge

  2. Next levy no earlier than 2014 (three years): This doesn't help much, as calendar years and school fiscal years are offset by 6 months, meaning that a new levy contributes only half its annual value in the first year, which is the following Fiscal Year. In other words, the May 2011 levy, if passed, will not contribute any revenue until January 2012, which is in last half of FY12.

  3. Next levy no earlier than 2013 (2 years), and let's keep spending as planned in the Five Year Forecast:  This is simply not possible. If we want to commit to waiting until 2013 before the next levy is put on the ballot, there must be spending cuts a reduction in the rate which spending is forecasted to increase.

    Why? Because if we don't cut spending, we'll run out of cash in FY13.

  4. So if we want to wait until 2013 to next put a levy on the ballot, and we don't want that levy to be any larger than 7 mills, how much do we have to cut spending?  This is the key point I'm trying to bring to light - that we'll have to reduce the rate of spending growth to about $4.5 million per year - about half the rate dialed into the Five Year Forecast - in order to survive for two years until an additional 7 mill levy would have to be put on the ballot. It would look something like this:
click to enlarge
There are many more ways we could twist these knobs to generate other scenarios. All of them will tell the same story - regardless of whether or not the May 2011 passes, we have a lot more hard work to do. We simply cannot sustain the rate of spending growth at which we have indulged ourselves over the past decade or so.

60 comments:

  1. Thank you, Paul, for your well reasoned, insightful and cogent discussion. I really appreciate all your time and effort to provide this information. The unsaid question, though, is what's next? Will there ever be a discussion of how to end this trajectory of spending?

    Completely aside from any discussion of step raises or merit raises, the question now is even the base pay schedule, as well. Is there ever going to be a ceiling for teacher salaries? Why not? Will the board, in a public forum with it's limited time for questions and discussions, ever address spending issues at length? I'm sure they will site reasons not to.

    My best hope for future recourse is to help elect Justin Gardner. I hope others will read about him on the EducateHilliard web site, or through his own blog, "Inform Hilliard", and encourage others to do so as well. Elections have consequences. Let's make the next one for school board memebers really count.

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  2. Oops....make that "cite" reasons to not have a lengthy public discussion..

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  3. One can hope that this Board will be willing to have that discussion. Perhaps a good comment to make at the next Coffee with the Board, which is to be Apr 20th the last I heard?

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  4. The RED Knob must be tuned..and hard. I was just wondering if anyone else got a extra special flyer with the Sunday morning Dispatch. Mine was neatly hand-placed and gently tucked under the plastic wrapped edition. It went on and on about the need for Levy #7, but never mentioned how 90% of the budget is for the Comp. and Benefits. This Pro levy push is ON... I could not help but to notice this morning as I dropped my child off at Brown, WOW !! , It was like a new car dealership parking Lot !! I'am talking Lexus , Audi , BMW , at least 2 brand new Enclaves, These were not parents just doing the drop-off either. The past spending spree has created a very comfortable lifestyle for most of our teachers. I don't think our fixed income folks should be milked dry by a continuous stream of Levy after Levy. The rate of spending (RED KNOB) is in need of a good ratcheting.

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  5. I couldn't agree more that it is the rate of spending growth (ie our staffing and compensation strategy) that needs our attention.

    But I'm gonna need your help convincing the whole of the School Board!

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  6. Anon-

    Trust me on this one, I am on your side. But I offer one point of constructive critcism: what kind of car a teacher drives is irrelevant to this debate. Take the high road and stick to facts and reasoned arguments.

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  7. To Anonymous at 1:56 p.m.:

    So now we are going to start judging our teachers by the kind of cars they drive? Wow, no wonder none of my colleagues want nothing to do with the "dialogue and cooperation" of this website. I am a Hilliard teacher who drives a 2003 vehicle with 136,00 miles on it. But hey, I do live in a $200,00 house. My husband is in the business field, though, and earns far more than I do. I can tell you that none of my colleagues drive luxury cars unless they are also married to doctors, lawyers, or business executives. I freely admit we need some spending adjustments to make our financial situation sustainable, but please let's keep it civil and not indulge in the kind of petty critique of each other's lifestyles that I see in your comment. And Paul, I'm disappointed that you didn't point that out to Anonymous. I expect better from you. If you really want teachers to participate as partners in this process, you need to stop making supportive comments to those who simply want to bash teachers. By condoning remarks like Anon's, you are simply fueling an "us" versus "them" mentality that is so divisive. I'd love to see REAL dialogue and cooperation here rather than sweeping generalizations and assumptions.

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  8. Hilliard Teacher: I appreciate your comment, and as you can see I was thanking T for making the a similar point at the same time you were writing.

    My response to the Anon was meant to be agreement with his statement that the rate of spending growth is what needs to be addressed, and I failed to rebuke his shot at the teachers.

    Please continue to speak up, and let me know when things veer out of the realm of civility.

    PL

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  9. Hilliard Teacher. I believe Paul has been very forthright about calling out, deleting posts,
    communications that are inappropriate or perhaps inflamatory. He has in fact taken some of my posts and spoken so publicly. He has been at the forefront begging for real dialogue with the district and its employees for a very long time now, not just in the past few years.

    I agree that the car comments and what is driven is beside the point. However the failure
    of you and your fellow teachers and your union
    to keep our kids of contract negotiations, affecting their college plans, scholarships grants is one of the big reason there are many upset parents. I have practically begged in various media and in person to tell this district and its employees to leave the kids out of this process. And that YOUR union and needs to stop harassing students whose parents speak up to give their opionion. The response is LAME excuses of we have no control. Again this year it happenend, and basically I had to threaten legal personal actions to get it to stop.

    So until you respect our students and parents, and stop hurting the college seniors who missed
    out on grants and scholarships due to your
    "work to the contract" do not expect a big mea culpa with open arms.

    The teachers started this over a selfish we dont want to contribute one nickel to our health care contract action back in 2008
    It is time for the district and its teachers to own up to this disaster and financial hardship on great students who were forced to take out loans rather than accessing grants and scholarships because of a minimal payment to a health care cost that every private sector person pays significant amounts into.

    The trust was broken not by the community as it has consistently supported this district by voting for premium tax dollars in support of
    not only compensation but a top level infrastructure.

    As noted on the Facebook pro levy page, comments like if we dont pass this levy we will
    be at bare bones education, shows the contempt for the community who has anted up every single time to provide top level funding. And sadly
    this is a teacher who made this comment and should frankly know better.

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  10. Thank you, Paul and T!

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  11. Not at all trying to pile on Anonymous, but the obvious implication is that teachers don't DESERVE to drive cars like that. We've got two issues at play here:

    -Figuring out how to actually SOLVE the funding problem.

    -Figuring out what level of VALUE this community wants to place on its' teachers.

    How CAN we have real discussions when so many folks are forming opinions after driving by a parking lot? This individual has made up his mind in part based on pointless observations, and is now using YOUR blog, Paul, as a justification for his viewpoint. I've seen/heard this time and time again on this board. One poster constantly brings up one negative occurrence he encountered several years ago, yet uses it as a broad paintbrush to paint ALL teachers. Others have called teachers selfish, and pointed out individual teachers as support for the argument that ALL teachers are corrupt.

    Paul, you've used this blog for so much good, and I also feel like you've done great things while on the board to expose issues that others have chosen to ignore. However, I don't feel like you use this blog nearly enough to enlighten the other side. There are many on here who use YOUR statistics to support THEIR erroneous claims/points of view, and I think they may listen to you if you chose to speak out.

    Back to the issue at hand:
    One way to turn the "RED" knob would be to figure out how to get rid of the small percentage of teachers who are not getting the job done in our district. If anything, SB5 MAY give districts and teachers the chance to change how teachers are evaluated and retained. As a teacher, I'm all for that change.

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  12. Another thought, Paul.

    Any idea how much it would save to make base and/or step pay increases occur every OTHER year, instead of every year?

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  13. MM:

    Not sure I understand who the "other side" is that you're referring to.

    As for the your other idea, applying steps every other years is close to being the same as halving the percentage applied every year. For example, 4% compounded every other year is pretty close to being the same thing as 2% every year, at least over a time period of say 10 years (the difference widens over time).

    If we end up staying with a step/base regime for compensation, I'd generally like to see the steps diminished in importance and the base pay increased. I think this makes the compensation program easier to keep aligned with general economic conditions.

    It might also make some sense to make the step schedule non-linear. For example, make the step increases in the first five years smaller, but 'make it up' in years 5-10. This recognizes the large fallout during the first 5 years -- in many cases by young folks who have figured out that they've made a career selection error -- and rewards teachers who survive. I suspect that years 5-15 might be the most productive in a teacher's career, although I don't have any data to back that up. After spending many days in a classroom, I don't discount the importance of stamina!

    In other words, we would turn the 'hockey stick' around so that instead having pay accelerate in the last years of a teacher's career, it would ramp up more quickly in years 5-10, then afterward grow more modestly. I really think this might be more reflective of performance, and would also make the actuarial numbers of STRS work better.

    But we might end up in a merit pay regime, and I think that's even better -- provided we have fair and trusted evaluation policies and processes.

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  14. Although I frequently read your information that teacher and other staff salaries are the primary costs to our district, are you suggesting that staff cuts are the best choice to assist with our cash flow? If so, what is your scenario for how that would begin and with which educators/staff? And if you could make a list, in order, of which other cuts could or should be made this coming year, what are your suggestions? Call me an idealist, but I believe that if we held open meetings to create a body of people sincerely interested in creating a new budget, we as the tax paying public could probably come up with a very workable plan. I understand that at some point we need to trust those elected officials, but all I have seen are the "threat talk" pieces that say what will be cut if the levy fails. Where are the conversations that indicate some real and creative ways to save and spend our money?

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  15. No, I'm not advocating any cuts at all. I think we go a long way to restoring fiscal health just by curtailing the rate in which spending grows.

    However, there's only two factors we can adjust: 1) the number of people employed; and, b) what they're paid, and how much the compensation increases.

    You're singing my song. I've been writing for several years that if we would all engage in the conversation, and quit allowing the hired gun negotiators to speak for the two key groups of stakeholders (taxpayers and employees), we could come to a reasonable plan for going forward.

    We aren't going to get there by taking jabs at each other, and claiming 'divine rights' for various opinions.

    As I've said, this is a negotiation. Let's grow up and treat it as such.

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  16. By the way, I've corrected the text of the main article to make it clear that I'm advocating a reduction in the rate in which spending is forecasted to increase, not absolute spending cuts.

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  17. Paul: The most simple solution is to simply cut compensation expense by 10%. All personnel should take a 10% cut (plus no step increases) and the budget balances. The same thing any business would do. If staff believes they can make more elsewhere, they can simply take another teaching job at another school district.

    The fact is that for every teacher and administrator on staff, there are multiples of them waiting in line for their jobs, at lower pay levels. The market should decide their worth, not union contracts which are based on comparison to other union contracts at other school districts. It is a scam on the taxpayer public.

    Remember Teachers: "It's for the Children"

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  18. I don't think a 10% cut in compensation cost is simple at all, especially if the method to get this is a 10% across-the-board pay cut.

    Remember, we didn't get were we are because the teachers are evil people. While I'm not a big fan of the OEA or the NEA, the local teachers are - as I've said - often our neighbors, fellow parents, and taxpayers. Restoring fiscal health to our district is in their best interest as well.

    Our teachers and staff have the contracts they have because they were effective negotiators (although I abhor the involvement of the kids in the process), and the School Boards you and I have elected over the years settled on and signed the contracts we're all living with today.

    So how about instead we start by on agreeing to a new rate of spending growth to be achieved without cutting programs and services. I propose 2% or less, which is 40% of the rate we've been growing for the past five years, and half the rate depicted in the current Five Year Forecast.

    This will still put us in the position of needing a 9.6 mill levy in three years, or a 3.2 mill levy in two. But believe me, it's a better path than we're on right now.

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  19. Paul,

    The 'other side' being the irrational voters who sometimes use your factual information to fuel their factless biases. It seems like there is all this talk of how to convince the teachers and administration of this, that, or the other, but I'd like to see you take a more prominent stance on what YOU feel is right, which coincidentally you did a GREAT job of in the subsequent posts!!

    As for step increases, I think I'd like to see them look something like this:
    Year O: Base
    Year 1: Base + X%
    Year 2: Year 1 + X%
    Year 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 25

    I DO feel that I get better at teaching the more I do it, and so many of the older teachers I know are so much better at it than I am. This rewards those experience teachers, while significantly reducing the number of steps.

    I also still feel additional salary should be earned for completing advanced educational degrees, NBCT status, Lead teacher, etc...

    A question about controlling spending growth:
    If the teachers were to agree to keeping rate of growth at 2%, what's to stop the board from saying?:
    "Sorry, we spent more on maintenance, buses, gas, toilets, lunch meat, etc..., and do not have money for pay increases this year. Additonally, we actually overspent a little, so we need to increase insurance as well."

    Seems like it COULD be dangerous ground,in an SB5 union-less world, where basically the school district has complete control.

    I also keep reading about how merit pay has failed in public school systems, have any research/data that supports your contention that it works? Would be interested in reading...

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  20. Music Man, your concerns about the "what if" scenario of lmitited spending increases, in light of also having to consider increased expenses for maintenance, buses, etc. implys the fear that it would then mean no salary increases for teachers. Your concern, also for SB5 giving school board complete control in a "union-less" world implys teachers having limited input in work rules and conditions.

    These two points both show how out of touch with the real world you are. Only in the rarified world of education is there no concept of limited salary growth and no understanding the concept of employer-employee relationships as far as who sets the rules. What you fear, is the real world.

    Don't you read the paper? Don't you have any concept of the financial difficulties so many in our community are facing? Can you never accept the idea of an end of salary increases? Don't you know anyone in their mid-50's who has lost a job and has been unemployed for the better part of a year? How can these people even begin to be expected to continue to sustain accelerating growth of expenses in HCSD. I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a good job. I even got a raise this year. But I'm supposed to give 45% of my raise BEFORE TAXES to the schools??? Where is your sympathy for the taxpayers??

    You make the funding issues all about the teachers' needs. What about the taxpayers needs? Where is a sense of appreciation for what you have--a history of extraordinary support from this community. And don't go there with "we earned it". It's a whole new world now. People I know who are desperate for a job in architecture, engineering and construction, were hard workers who earned their pay, too. They are caught up in the whirlwind of today's economy, through no fault of their own. Be thankful for what you have and don't expect the rest of us to make yet ever more sacifices for you.

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  21. MusicMan, history shows that the spending growth is far over the 2% figure noted. Had we even held to 3% we would not need this levy right now
    given the very challenging financial situations.

    As our compensation structure in Hilliard is approaching 90% versus 10% to the other items you mentioned, history is that the adjustments have come soley from the 10 to 15% of the budget. The programs and support have grown and grown in the district and from the community.

    I certainly would not see a 10% cut as viable nor would support such activity. A cut of 1 or 2% would be preferable, so that more people who are financially challenged, (having taken cuts
    and have seen double digit medical increasese,more taxes etc) are not in serious trouble. It is funny no one from the District or its employees measure the effect on seniors,
    and those who have been layed off. The extra taxes are going to go on a credit card or worse.
    We dont need additional foreclosures.

    When things were good, money was granted both for bond issues, and compensation increases.
    Now that things a challenging, cutting back 2% or so, would help balance things out. And not one employee would have to be layed off.

    To your comments on one incident 3 years ago, more incidents have occured just this year.
    No teacher should be cornering students about their parents stated opinions. that should be directed if anything toward the parent via email or phone call or meeting. This activity continues and there is no concern on the part of the district, the HEA or the teachers.

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  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  23. The only way the board will listen is if the May vote fails, and fails by a substantial margin. A small loss will just result in a "we'll go back to the ballot again" mentality.

    The real change will only come when were can get 2 more people like Paul on the board this November.

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  24. @mm - I am not in favor at all of rewarding teachers for additional degrees. Firstly, it creates a compensation system that is different for the three different types of district employees. Secondly, there is zero evidence that those additional qualifications have any impact on that person's ability to teach.

    People aren't rewarded based on how many degrees they have but how well they do the job. Show me empirical evidence that two masters makes you a better teacher and I'll change my mind, but right now all it proves is that you're a good student.

    And don't take all this the wrong way, but the current system is a joke. Teachers are given higher compensation for taking extra classes because it "gives them a better skillset". In the private sector, they'd be taking those classes simply to keep their jobs over the kids fresh out of college who have whatever the new-fangled skillset is.

    Hopefully I'm making my point? :)

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  25. Although I have rarely exercised my prerogative to delete comments I find offensive, I did so in the case of one today which made an attack on handicapped kids. However, I will repeat the closing sentences of the comment here.

    ... I expect my comment will not be published, because Paul has now become one of them. Elected by those of use who want change, and betrayed by the one we elected.

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  26. MM:

    I think there are plenty of examples of merit pay working in education, but I don't have details at the moment.

    For example, my daughter teaches music in the Catholic schools, and she negotiates her pay individually. If she doesn't like the pay, she can ask for more, and has - successfully. Her boss gets to decide whether she's worth it or not, and she gets to decide whether stay there or look for a new job.

    She had to face that situation as well. As the economy worsened (and it turned much worse in the manufacturing area where she lives), fewer parents in their blue-collar community could afford to both pay school property taxes and send their kids to the parochial schools. As enrollment went down, so did their revenue. Spending had to be cut. So they asked her if she could reduce the number of days she teaches with commensurate reduction in salary. She weighed that option, and chose to stay for a number of reasons - among them being that the public school districts in her area are in a much worse condition. She augments her income with private lessons.

    I suspect the pay in most private education institutions, from primary school through college, is negotiated individually between the faculty member and the administration. Presumably the administration determines what it is willing to pay based on the performance of the educator and the availability of funding, and the faculty member can decide whether to stay or look for a new job in the competitive market.

    I don't know what the basis for measurement should be for a teacher evaluation system. Many want to hang it all on student test scores. I know that cannot be the sole basis of evaluation, because there are too many variables outside the teacher's control, not the least of which is the level of support a student gets from his/her parents.

    Test scores might be an appropriate measure if they could be coupled with some kind of "degree of difficulty" factor which reflects how much the kid's parents are engaged in the academic process (not just extracurriculars), as well as the capabilities of the kid. But then maybe parents should pay extra if they just dump their kids in the public schools and expect the teachers to take on the full burden of turning their kids into productive citizens.

    One of the basic processes in the scientific method is figuring out which experimental variables influence the outcome, versus those which are just noise. I always think of the (somewhat gruesome) tale a physics professor once told a bunch of us in the lab: "A researcher trains a frog to jump on voice command. He cuts off one of the frogs legs, and notes that the frog still tries to jump when commanded. After cutting off all four legs, the researcher notes that the frog no longer jumps on command. His conclusion? Frogs must hear with their legs."

    Right now, we're afraid to run the experiments. Part of that is because there is legitimate distrust that proponents of a merit-based system have already come to false conclusions, like the frog researcher. That doesn't mean that there isn't good research out there somewhere, and valid experiments being run. I'm particularly interested in an experiment taking place in a neighborhood of Manhattan called Washington Heights.

    I think that right now, we're like a couple of railroad giants in 1960 fighting over who gets the passenger business between Chicago and New York. The answer ended up being quite different than either imagined...

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  27. I have 3 advanced degrees and highly value education. I want to support the school levy but I really cannot. I could support a levy if the schools make more significant cuts in expenses BEFORE pursuing a levy and if the "Its for the children" campaign is cut. It is not about the children, it is about the FINANCES. We received a postcard detailing the cuts that would be made if the levy fails and I support those cuts being made BEFORE we seek a levy. We have a great school district but the realities of 2011 are that we CANNOT AFFORD to continue spending at this level. Will that mean that our school district is severely affected? Yes. In times of adversity, we get more creative, we learn to live on less and we learn to let go of the luxuries that we thought were so essential. Everyone loves diamonds and they sparkle and are beautiful, but we can't afford diamonds anymore. Cuts would mean lots of very difficult adjustments for administrators, teachers, parents and students. We have to change the spending to match the realities of 2011. I don't know anyone besides school personnel, who is not dealing with less pay or an increase in paying for health care or working harder for the less money. Those are the realities of 2011 and when we seek more money as the answer to the problem we are in severe denial of reality.

    Paul,I appreciate your reasonable and understandable explanations of a complex financial picture.

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  28. Paul - those of us who "subscribe" to the posts got to see the deleted post in our in-box (unfortunately, I might add) and I, for one, want to thank you for deleting it. As far as the last sentence, it indicates to me that the post came from someone who is new to this blog and does not realize the enormity of the problems in the district, and not just our district but pretty much everywhere. Nor do they appreciate your efforts, not just with this blog but with your service on the board. Me thinks they need to read a bit deeper, or maybe drop in on a board meeting.
    All students must be served and the costs for each will vary depending on ability and need. The problem as I see it is that that the needs of the students have been subjugated by the wants of the employees. They might be effective negotiators but that is only an excuse for the past failures of the board and administrators to sign a contract that takes all sides into consideration - the employees, the students, and the taxpayers. When a board member mentions the 5/7/10% employee contribution to healthcare premiums enacted in the last contract and how that represented "tough negotiations" and then fails to mention the 3% base and 4.15% step raises in that same contract, well, that is not representing anyone but the employees, and it is not accepting responsibility for the fiscal situation we find ourselves in. Since that contract, the economy has only worsened yet the spending has increased in each of the 3 years, mostly due to that contract. It must stop - I don't see how anything more than a 1-2% base, and no steps, can be funded. What aggravates me is the levy backers, just like the majority of the board, refuse to even mention compensation when it is that which is driving our deficit spending. As well, they use the word "cuts" as if our spending is going down! Propaganda, or lies? Seems to be a lot of that going around our district.

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  29. Sue,

    Your expectations are too low. Just like the Board, you are presenting a false dilemma between more taxes and cuts in services. That is not good enough for me and there are other options.

    What we need to figure out is how to maintain our current levels of service without increasing costs. This is do-able, but will take an unprecedented level of cooperation.

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  30. @Hilldrite - plus you forgot to mention that those 5/7/10% employee contributions only came after the teachers decided to 'work the rule' and threatened to strike. Really thinking of the kids.

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  31. It also passed by a fairly small majority, as I recall. Those who thought they deserved even better, in spite of the fact that we had just voted down a levy, is one of the reasons I am voting No on the May ballot. Again, I WISH we could pay them more, but we simply cannot, especially in the face of the cuts which were announced. The trends must be broken.

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  32. In the interest of accuracy, the contributions to the healthcare premiums were 6%/8%/10% across the three years of the last contract, but with caps.

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  33. I stand corrected! Thanks - I hate to disseminate bad facts.

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  34. I will keep it civil and stick to the facts. First Pickerington next Hilliard !!! Paul is right help is needed from all. The RED KNOB is going to turn like it or not... I say 3% and no steps. It not coming , its HERE !!

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  35. @Hillirdite - the "margin" was NEVER announced so make sure you spread "facts" instead of innuendo. It won't ever be announced. All that is ever announced is a pass or fail.Paul, again - please make sure that your readers are at least receiving (and spreading) correct information. Otherwise your blog will turn into Topix in a hurry.

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  36. To the best of my knowledge, the HEA never released final tallies for the last contract vote. Thanks for making that point.

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  37. I will attempt to locate my source for that - for now I will leave it at the FACT that they authorized both a "working the rule" and a strike vote and will let everyone draw their own conclusions. I'm pretty sure they did not go from that stance to any type of overwhelming majority. As well, at least one teacher responded in print that she was actually taking a pay cut by having to pay that 6/8/10%. Since it caps out at around $150.00 per month (possibly less in the first 2 years????), that would have been impossible.
    And a suggestion to Anonymous, and all of the other Anonymous' here - please pick a screen name so we can know who we are responding to?

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  38. Anon - I do not make things up:
    http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2008/05/14/Hillteach.ART_ART_05-14-08_B4_4VA6OV1.html?print=yes&sid=101

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  39. Annon,.The "vote" to work to the contract is what it is.
    Despite the investment by the community year after year this what the students and parents got.

    No innuendo to work to the contract, put the seniors in 2008 at peril, not wanting to pay anything in medical, stating they took pay cuts with medical contribution, and last but not least a good chuckle that the education in Hiliard will be bare bones if this levy does not pass.
    Facebook page comment from a district employee

    The side issue to the funding challenge is that
    the District and its employees dont want to own
    up to the transgressions and kids getting caught in the middle of strike and work to the contract is not a fantasy.

    Hillirdite at least has a true grasp on what ails the district.

    There will be a return at some point to a growing economy. AT this point, the facts and not innuendo is that we have hundreds of foreclosures in this community, seniors grasping
    to stay afloat, people layed off, or still about to be, pay cuts and huge medical premiums
    and lost pensions.

    Perhaps when it is "really about the kids" and not somebodies pay raise, cheap medical cost
    and keeping the kids out of contract negotiations and having negative effects on their well being, just perhaps things may
    get better. This could be fixed tommorrow if the District, majority of the board, and teachers decided to set things straight once and for all. In the meantime some have allready gotten rid of their cable, a few minutes for phone, calls, cut back on food and utilities, that a poster suggested they do.

    So now who's turn is it. This is a solid board
    with solid information disseminated. Sorry you cannot comprehend the "facts" that we have overspent our welcome, and the "fact" is we will need new levies including at least one double digit one, to pay for the forecasted spending.

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  40. Hillirdite:

    Thanks for doing the research. The article you cited from The Dispatch indeed said the vote was close, confirmed by a quote from HEA President Rick Strater:

    Strater said teachers ratified the contract by a narrow margin. "Never in the (union's) history have we been this close," he said. "There were a lot of teachers that weren't happy with the contract and accepted it out of respect for the children and the community that they serve."

    On your point about the health insurance, the caps negotiated into the 2008-2010 HEA contract - and this was one of the final sticking points - is that the employee's share of the health insurance premium would be no more than $50.19/mo for single coverage and $135.52/mo for family coverage.

    Neither of these cap amounts have been reached.

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  41. You're welcome Paul - and thanks for the hyperlink - I am a bit challenged on that! I realize that my passion sometimes results in me "wearing it on my shirtsleeves" but I really try to be as accurate as I can be with facts. I must admit to feeling a bit bent out of shape when accused of posting innuendo, but at the same time, both sides are passionate regarding our schools and I can appreciate that too. Thanks to you, I don't this will ever turn into a Topix cesspool - it is just a good place for some honest debate between the two (or more) sides and I appreciate the forum for doing so.

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  42. Quick note: In commenting what dynamics allowed the current levy interval to be three years, I cited two causes: 1) the influx of one-time Federal stimulus money; and, 2) the decision to draw down our cash balance.

    There was of course an important third component - the willingness of our team of teachers and support staff to extend their 2008-2010 contract for one year with no base pay increase and a 6 month delay in step increases. Administrators also agreed to work in 2011 with no pay increases.

    Thanks for that contribution, and my apology to the our team.

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  43. Paul, is the board going to have a community mtg where questions can be asked.? You would think that our District would want to hear from its residents, not just those in school.

    How does the board reach seniors, singles, and those who dont have children in school. Are the non school residents being left out.

    Would it not make sense for the Distr. Board, HEA, teachers, Oapse not want to answer the tough questions on future spending increases
    They may sway some voters to their way of thinking.

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  44. Rick: There was supposed to be a Coffee with the Board this coming Weds evening, but I haven't heard anything more about it, and suspect it has been abandoned.

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  45. Well, that is very short-sighted! Guess they are leaving it up to the levy committee and that Facebook page where dissent is not allowed? I really feel as if they have no answers to the tough question - how do we rein in compensation? They just don't want to discuss it so they cloud the financial picture with other things. Again, seems short-sighted to me.

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  46. Thanks Paul for the update.

    This is disappointing but not suprising. Apparently only certain segments of our community have a voice at the table.

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  47. Paul - I am guessing they picked that date knowing full well that the Chamber of Commerce would be holding its Meet-The-Candidates night at the same time, so they could then abandon the coffee meeting because of the conflict.

    We wouldn't put anything past these people.

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  48. Anybody else get a "push poll" from the school district? (Push polls are "surveys" done to solicit your opinion in the guise of giving only one side of the argument. Example might be something like, "Would knowing Politician X hit his wife make you more or less willing to vote for him?"

    They insulted my intelligence by not admitting it was a push poll. I told them that this call will make me LESS likely to vote for the levy.

    Of course they wouldn't tell me who funded this "survey" but gave me a number to call, a Marvin Saperstein at 261-0655.

    I think a push poll is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

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  49. Erie: It's Martin Saperstein of Saperstein Associates.

    I had the same reaction as you when I was polled in 2008. Perhaps it was you who made a similar comment then.

    The law which makes it illegal for a school district to spend taxpayer money on levy campaigns also, by that rule, creates a firewall behind which a campaign committee can keep confidential all they learn, out of the reach of the Sunshine Laws.

    However, that firewall is breached - in my opinion - if any of the information is disclosed to any School Board member or any member of the Administration. Once disclosed to a school district official, I believe that information becomes public information, and must be disclosed if demanded.

    However, the practical truth is that it's tough to substantiate that information has been conveyed to a public official unless that information has been presented in a document, recording, or other physical medium, and the public official retains possession of the document.

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  50. Thanks Paul. I thought I'd recalled you'd talked about surveys like this on your blog and figured you'd have the skinny on it.

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  51. The silence on this blog is deafening! I guess everyone has either voted early, or picked a side and dug-in for Election Day. Get ready for a big push this week by Pro-Levy folks. I do hope there is an equal and opposite reaction ( or push-back) , just to keep things on a level playing field . I hope the kids are not used as pawns this week... yeah right. Passage or No Passage the "RED" Knob will be getting a good ratcheting !!

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  52. @Anonymous -- please visit www.forhilliardkids.org to see how you can help.

    Also, please join us TUESDAY evening from 6:30-8:30pm at Jeds Fireballs & Brew in Hilliard where you'll be able to pick up yard signs, literature to distribute to your neighbors, etc.

    Sorry you think it's a bit quiet on here, but some of us are working to send the district and board of education a strong message on May 3rd.

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  53. @ForHilliardKids -- Thanks for all your efforts. I will try to be at Jeds tonight, as I hope for a strong turn-out and comradery. I will also be voting a week from today : VOTE NO on ISSUE 7 !!! Save a few yard signs for me ...

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  54. Hilliard Mom FOR Issue 7April 27, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    If you are still undecided about the levy, please consider the fact that the Hilliard Chamber of Commerce has examined the issue and concluded that Hilliard City Schools is operating on sound financial principles. The Chamber has therefore decided to endorse Issue 7 because they believe it is a good investment for the community. Vote YES on May 3 to continue HCSD's tradition of excellence. We do not want to see our teachers and staff lose jobs and our kids lose valuable educational programming! We also want to protect our property values!

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  55. With a new permanent levy every two years, our property values are not going to matter - taxes will be so high compared to our neighbors to the east and north that folks will look there first. The Chamber would be much better served working with the City on more commercial development so that the schools get the benefit of taxes without more students. If the Chamber truly believes that sound financial principals consists of keeping everything "flat" except for 5% average annual compensation hikes, then they need to go back to Econ 101. Guess they think they know more about finances than the Audit & Accountability Committee. Are you aware of their reports?

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  56. ***off topic*** It's hard to believe someone at Worthington schools thought this would be a good idea. And now we have to pay the price.

    http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/04/28/westboro-baptist-church-plans-hilliard-darby-protest.html?sid=101

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  57. @Hilliard Mom

    Hey... you do realize that the Chamber is run by former school board members, right?

    Is it any surprise they're endorsing it?

    Meanwhile, if you're a business owner and member of the chamber and you disagree with the endorsement, speak out like other members are doing.

    After all, Issue 7 is a tax hike. Since when do business organizations advocate for tax hikes?

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  58. T - in my opinion we should all ignore the WBC protest. They are simply looking for publicity and the bigger the crowd of counter-protesters, the more pub they get. Just stay away. You cannot argue with loons - well, you can't change their minds anyway.....

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