Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pleasing Everyone

You'd have to be living under the proverbial rock to not know that there is a battle royale going on in our nation's capital in regard to raising the Federal debt limit. And I'll go on record as being one of those who believes that if the US Treasury defaults on its obligations, it would put our country on a path with known and completely unexpected consequences that will negatively impact us for a long time - maybe a generation or two. Maybe forever.

Nonetheless, the resolution to this situation is not in our hands. It will or will not be settled by our elected representatives - all we can do is watch and decide whether or not we'll vote for their re-election next time they're on the ballot.

We can be confident that each and every one of the 535 members of Congress, as well as the President, are looking for ways to collect favors and make side deals that don't often get put on the table except in a high stakes situation such as this one. I'm not particularly surprised that they're waiting to the last possible second to close their deal-making, because some the of side deals will get better the closer to the deadline we get.

I'm highly confident they'll figure something out before a financial meltdown. Otherwise I'd be buying all the gold I could afford right now.

In a little more than three months, we'll be in an analogous situation in our community - trying to deal with the tough issue of a school tax levy. But the process is different in a significant way:  you - the members of the community - get the last vote.

Within two weeks, the Hilliard School Board needs to submit the resolutions necessary to put a levy on the November ballot, with the first step taking place at the special August 1 meeting, followed by the resolution to place the issue on the ballot, which is planned to be on the agenda for the regular August 8 meeting. At that point, the "knob-turning" debates will be over, and the levy size will have been selected. In terms of formal process, at that point the School Board is out of the levy game for this cycle.

Then it will be up to you - the voters of our community - to decide whether or not the right number has been nominated by the Board. Or more precisely, we'll find out whether the 50%+1 of the voters who bother to show up can live with the levy size the School Board has settled on. The rest of the community will have to live with their decision.

It's too bad it comes down to this set of YES/NO decisions, first by the School Board, and then by the community.  Whatever number the School Board nominates will be too much for some, not enough for others, and about right for the rest.

But the levy either passes or it fails.

Wouldn't it be interesting if Ohio law allowed for multiple-choice levy options. We could for example make the choices 0, 4, 8 and 12 mills, and each voter picks the levy size acceptable to her/him. Then the levy put in place would be the one with the most votes.  Or perhaps better would be to use a weighted average - if 10% voted for 0 mills, 50% for 4, 30% for 8 and 10% for 12, the levy that gets enacted would be 5.6 mills.

The best thing about that kind of approach is that the matter is settled on election day. A levy of some size will be enacted, allowing the Board and Administration build a budget where spending fits the revenue.

But that's not the way it works. On election day, the voters will have one choice, and the levy passes or it fails depending on tally. Either the full amount of new funding is provided, or none at all. If it fails, cuts are made, and the whole process starts over.

That's not to say the Board and Administration still doesn't have work to do. The cost of compensation and benefits will always drive the economics of our school district, and this the product of the salary and benefits cost times the number of employees.

Using the data published in the 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the number of students per full-time employee equivalent* has dropped from 10.28 in FY01 to 9.79 in FY10 (however, the relationship between students and Regular Classroom Teachers has remained fairly constant at 20 to 1 during that whole decade).

The change from 10.28 to 9.79 may not sound like much, but if the 10.28 for FY01 were kept constant through FY10, the total number of FTEs* employed today would be 75 less (23 fewer teachers/tutors and 52 fewer in other roles). If the average cost of an employee is about $80,000 (per FY10 numbers), then 75 people cost $6 million/yr.

As I have said, the new union agreements go a long way toward holding down our spending growth, and the I'm thankful for that. That was a "big knob," and the most important knob to turn in this process. Now we have to start looking into finer detail.

And the community needs to tell the School Board how much more it is willing to contribute to funding its public school district, recognizing that the State of Ohio has reduced its funding to us by the equivalent of 3.3 mills.**   In other words, a 5.9 mill levy would replace the 3.3 mills the State has taken away from us, and provide 2.6 mills of new funding.

That seems pretty reasonable to me.

* Because the method for counting Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) for bus drivers changed dramatically in the past few years, bus drivers have been excluded from this analysis.

** In FY09, our state funding was primarily made up of $37m in Unrestricted Grants, $18m of reimbursement for state mandated property tax rollbacks and the phase-out of Personal Property Tax (PPT). Actual PPT collection in FY09 was $8.5 million, making the total state funding approx $64m.

For FY12, the Unrestricted Grants will be $34m, reimbursement will be $19m, and actual PPT collection will be $3.8m, making the total $56.7m, or $7.5m less than in FY09.

Since each 1 mill of property taxes will generate approximately $2.3m/yr, the loss of state funding is equivalent to 3.3 mills of local funding.


  1. Only half our FTEs are actually classroom teachers? That seems low...

  2. @T

    It's not that only half the FTEs are classroom teachers, it's that they are *regular* classroom teachers. That doesn't include the ESL Teachers, the Speech Specialists, the Intervention Specialists, the Gifted Instructors, the ED Teachers, all of whom are classroom teachers just not "home room" teachers to apply the high school paradigm across the spectrum.


    Is there still a special meeting scheduled on 8/5 @ 1pm? It's still on the list of meeting notices but not on the meeting schedule (and not mentioned in your post).

  3. In FY10, 998 of the 1700 FTEs, or 59% were classified as "Teaching Staff" (p103 of the 2010 CAFR). There were another 110.75 FTEs of Teaching Aids, who are not required to hold a teacher's license, and are for that reason classified separately.

    The big break downs are as follows:

    Teaching Staff: 59%

    Support Staff: 29% (e.g. Secretaries, Bus Drivers, Custodians)

    Auxiliary Staff: 9% (e.g. Nurses, Psychologists, Counselors, Librarians, Accounting)

    Administrators: 4%

    The major job groups are:
    -Regular Ed Teachers: 45%
    -Special Ed Teachers: 7%
    -Teaching Aids: 7%
    -Bus Drivers: 7%
    -Tutors: 5%
    -Secretarial: 5%
    -Custodial: 5%
    -Administration: 4%

  4. Lee: Yep, it's listed on the top page of the district website:

  5. I too am thankful for the union agreements that helps hold down the spending growth and make it a point to let them know. The question people seem to have is what is the administration doing to help reduce costs? Westerville's superintendent didn't take a pay raise this year. Is our superintendent doing the same? I've heard they've taken pay freezes. If that is the case most people I've talked to do not realize that. What about taking a temporary pay cut? What other cuts have been done to reduce spending? I'm sure there have been plenty but that information isn't getting out. If you want people to vote for a levy you've got to convince them that everyone is doing their part by reducing costs. It seems that the perception is that the teachers and students are bearing the burden of cost cutting.

  6. 5.9 mill levy to replace loss of state funding of the equivalent of 3.3 mills. So a net 2.6mills of new funding, bringing in about 2.3 million per year per mill, would give the district $5.98 million per year of NEW funding. This is in additions to the 3.3mill x 2.3million, or $7.59million generated to replace loss of of state funding.

    So with state money lost being replaced, and $5.98million/year of NEW revenue, and teacher salaries frozen, WHAT will that additional revenue be spent on? I can guarantee you, that if this administration and school board promise to put every penney that they reasonably can into savings, for when the teacher contracts will next be open for raises, this levy would pass.

    If this money is spent on frills, just because it can, and doesn't save for next contract raises, the faith and support of this community will be ruined. Can and will the board and administration do the right thing and save what they can for the future?? You know that support for this levy would skyrocket if pledges are made that can be believed.

    The old way of levys that must be passed to fund already promised spending must end. Let's do it the right way. Fund the future, save ahead of time. Can this be done??

  7. This is a persistent chicken-and-egg question in our community (and in most communities): which comes first, the levy or the union contracts? I wrote about this a couple of years ago.

    One complication is that we don't have very much clarity right now about what future State funding will look like. It will depend greatly on how quickly Ohio's economy recovers. I don't see that happening in the next couple of years.

    Another is that we don't know what's going to happen with SB5 or other similar legislation during this Governor's term, or what happens in the 2014 gubernatorial election, which is within our current planning horizon. The balance of power between the School Boards and the unions is in flux, and it's not clear how things are going to look just a couple of years from now, much less in the long term.

    So all of us - not just the Board - have to make decisions based on a combination of what we know, and our best guesses of the future. Regrettably, all that consideration must be distilled to a vote on a specific millage rate.

    It will either pass or fail, and the Board will have to react.

  8. Paul -- I think in all honesty that if a millage amount is set tonight based on "need", then it will be too high, and it fail in November. That will had a severe negative effect immediately because of the cash balance situation.

    I think the board and the administration need to swallow a dose of reality and understand what is "needed" cannot pass the ballot box, and that it is time to figure out what is "acceptable" to the voters, and the for the district to figure out what adjustments need to be made to live with that.

    Because the alternative is what you said: failure at the ballot box and a reaction from the board. For once, it would be nice to see the board be proactive, rather than reactive.

  9. It will indeed be an interesting discussion tonight. The points you make are valid, but not the whole picture. More after the meeting.

  10. I have a suggestion for the "cut list"...

    Nothing that has a recent history of excellence.

    Personally, I think our country's obesession with football is odd. But there is no arguing that the OHSAA D1 football championship is the most competitive extracurricular prize in Ohio.

    What you don't do is cut middle school football after winning two state titles. That's ridiculous. The community won't allow it. Better come up with a more realistic list.

  11. It is a valid comparison. The difference is that there are two major political parties playing the game of chicken with the debt ceiling. Here in Hilliard it's the voters/property owners versus the school board/administration.

    If my experience reading between the lines with the Athletics Sustainability Committee is any indication, we'll do the same thing we've done in the past with the levy and expect different results.

    Thanks for your continued work for HCSD and us!

  12. @T

    With respect, I think the community already voiced its opinion on cutting middle school football. I believe 57% of the voters were OK with doing just that.

    So I am not really sure what "[t]he community won't allow it" is really supposed to mean...

  13. Kicking the can just saying ...

    I know all about the freeze and thank you ... but more cuts must come !! I say it again- THE LEVY WILL NOT PASS !! The past is here to haunt our current situation. Proaction in the meeting tonight- Please .

  14. M -- actually it was 57% of the third of the registered voters who bothered to show up. The turnout in Nov is likely to be greater, given the emotions that are going to get whipped up by all the SB5 campaigning.

  15. M- You dont seem to understand that our school district is very much a reflection of the community. That is why we spend so much on it. That's why people move here. Because we are a community that values education and knowledge.

    But I do think the cost has reached a tipping point. And the events I saw unfold around the last levy and cut list told me this: the community is tapped out, and there is no way in hell you are going to take away certain things for what we are paying.

    What people shouldnt do is stand at the fringes of this discussion predicting "the end" and not appreciate what we have.

  16. What I would like to see are some matters turned over to the A&A Committee for "binding arbitration".

  17. Paul,

    With great respect I have to say I am very disappointed in your stance on this issue.

    If I use your logic, does that mean we can role back all the property tax increases to date since not a single one of them were approved by a majority of all the voters in the district?

    I didn't think so.

    This levy will not pass. The people that will show up will not be voting to raise their taxes. If you guys are counting on that, then I am even more disappointed.

    For what it's worth, the district does have a compelling argument. Unfortunately, there is no one involved with the process or the levy campaign that has the faintest clue how to get that message across.

    I predict a 10 percentage point loss for the levy today.

    But if the board reinstates middle school athletics, I expect that loss to be far greater.

    And, while you point to the whole SB5 thing, you must also realize that there is an opportunity this year for the voters to replace 2 members of the board with candidates that will actually listen to the voters, like you do (even though we don't always agree).

    That will be the driving factor in this election, and I don't see many of the people voting for those new board members also voting in favor of the levy.

    Remember, no matter how much you promote the value of the schools, two thirds or more of the voters in the HCSD are not parents with kids in those schools. The board and the levy campaign would be wise to remember that.

  18. Interesting how there are so many comments about being so thankful that the wonderful union employees froze their pays! Do you realize that they froze their pays after getting year over year over year 3% +/- pay increases and not having to fund their own retirements or pay for health insurance. While the rest of us where either taking pay cuts or losing our jobs.

    It is probably about time we do a zero base analysis rather than an analysis from where we are today. The reality of life today is, people are not making as much in income, savings and retirement vehicles are not what they used to be, and we can't really see when property values are going to get back to break even let alone make enough money to pay our dear realtor's commission.

    Has anyone figured out where we would be if win/win was eliminated and we begin closing buildings that are not needed? I don't know what our student population would be if we consider only Hilliard residents, but I have to believe that it would be much less than what it is today...there would have to be savings there.

  19. M - Let's not jump to hyperbole. I'm not one of those who says Kasich isn't really the Governor because he got less than 50% of the vote. Nor do I question the validity of the May levy vote in our community.

    I'm just observing that we can't presume to know what the community thinks based on that vote, in which fewer than a third of the active registered voters turned out. With greater turnout, the proportions might have been very different - we just don't know which way. And with the SB5 repeal resolution on the ballot, I think the turnout in November will be much greater.

    I think the probability is high, but not certain, that middle school athletics will be restored if the levy passes. However, the economic structure of all extracurriculars in our district is also likely to change, regrettably with a higher fee structure. That's the next tough decision before the Board.

    Setting a levy size is an interesting exercise. We all know that there are some who will always vote for a school levy, and that there are some who never will. So the decision is partly based on the relative turnout of those two camps.

    But it's also influenced by the swing voters in the middle. They will make some kind of value decision based on the levy size vs what they perceive the benefits are that they derive from the school system. So the objective is to figure out what levy size will get enough of the swing voters to click YES on the ballot.

    But it seems inconceivable to me that a Board would ever fail a resolution to put a levy on the ballot (which requires at least 4 votes). They might argue a little, or a lot, about what size the levy should be, but since the final decision is in the hands of the voters, why would a Board deny the community the opportunity to make that decision? That's the point of this article.

    On a personal level, our kids are long out of school, and none of these decisions about programming and services will have any direct effect on my family.

    But I have a house and some acreage within a few hundred yards of two of our schools (Brown and Bradley), and I'm pretty sure that some day we'll decide to downsize and maybe move to one of those nice condo communities that are springing up.

    I have no doubt that the selling price for my home will be higher if there are folks seeking to have a nice little spread close to these schools. It certainly won't help the selling effort if Hilliard Schools are in a time of strife and cutbacks. A friend of mine had a bone fide offer on his house (they've moved to a bigger place in Hilliard) withdrawn when the levy failed, because the offerer was scared that the school district was entering a time of turmoil. I'd like that not to happen when our FOR SALE sign goes up.

    I know you want a healthy school district as well. We just have some slightly different ideas as to how to get there. The good thing is that we talk about it a lot, and I think influence each other a little. That's the way things should work in a community of free citizens in a democratic society.

    So my goal is the same as it has always been: to better inform folks how school economics works, to get them engaged in the process, and by doing so, better align the rate of spending growth to the general state of the local economy.

    You're absolutely right that the direction of the school board can be influenced by who gets elected to the two open seats this November. Only one incumbent is running, Doug Maggied, so we will certainly have at least one new member on the Board. There are apparently four, and perhaps five, candidates - we'll find out on Aug 10, which is the deadline for filing nominating petitions.

  20. Anonymous:

    Let's not forget that the unions are receiving comp and benefits which they negotiated through the legal process, and which were agreed to by the School Board that was elected by the people of the community.

    If you think the process is flawed, or that the School Board yielded too much, then I'll suggest that you need to put some energy into getting different people elected to the General Assembly and the School Board.

    We can't just eliminate the Win-Win Agreement. By the way, ours has never been the school district of the City of Hilliard. In fact, the majority of kids in our district have never come from the City of Hilliard. I've been in this school district for 32 years, and have never lived in the City of Hilliard.

    But I'll suggest to you that the City of Hilliard has been more guilty than any municipality in our district of allowing thousands of new houses to be built without a corresponding amount of commercial development. Most of the commercial development in our school district has been in the City of Columbus, notably the whole retail corridor along Rome-Hilliard Rd (see this article).

    If residential development had been restricted to the pace of commercial development, we could spending the same amount per kid, but paying half the taxes. That's how important commercial development is to a school district.

    Anyway, the Win-Win Agreement was fought for by the people of the suburban districts when the homes they had newly built were in jeopardy of being pulled into Columbus Schools (the developers were a power behind the Win-Win as well). There was never any land transferred INTO Hilliard Schools as a result of the Win-Win. It only protected developed property on land that had always been in the Hilliard school district.

    The decision by the Board in 1982 to change the name from "Scioto Darby City Schools" has promoted this confusion. "Hilliard City Schools" may sell better, but it's not an accurate name.

  21. M-

    By no means am I claiming to be a sage. But I have been hanging around this blog for a couple years now BS'ing with Paul. My thinking has changed alot in the last few years, due mostly to evolutions in my personal and professional life.

    I think you are in the early stages of forming your opinion on this matter. Your analysis and approach hasn't properly accounted for all of the human factors.

    "Alot" of money isn't the same amount as it was two years ago. I've more fully considered deferred compensation techniques. I've explored the history labor organizations....

    ...there is so much to consider. But then at somepoint you say to yourself, "All in all, things are pretty good around here, let's keep it that way".

    Some things are worth keeping at all costs. Good schools are one of them. We know things can be done better. That's why we are here.

    The incredulous criticisms are invalid for the remainder of this discourse.

  22. And Paul brings up what I consider to be our biggest difference- I've also lived within 5 miles of my current home for 30 years. I know the community. But I still have at least two kids that havent even started school.

    My timeline in longer. I am probably more willing to accept short term damage if it secures the future....

  23. M- you are right about the levy, though. I think anything over 4 doesnt stand a chance.

    Paul, you guys should take what you can get.

  24. T -- Indeed. The trick is figuring out what that is.

    BTW - We don't plan on leaving the school district if and when we sell our house, so we're in this for the long haul as well. There's too much to like about our community. I'm just tired of mowing all that grass.

  25. @T

    I too have kids both in the system and yet to start, so I too am in this for the long haul, and I am too yet to take a hit now so that we don't find ourselves with a problem so large down the road that it becomes insurmountable without devastating cuts.

    For what it's worth, my point to Paul on the voters is because the board is having its cake and eating it too. Their entire campaign in May was predicated upon getting the "yes" voters out and hoping the "no" voters wouldn't realize there was a levy on the ballot. When it failed, they claimed it was due to a "low turnout". Hah. Now I find it a bit weird that board members (and not just Paul) seem to think a larger turnout will help them.

    Regardless of what we as individuals may think the turnout will do, it is VERY clear that those in charge of the campaign are utterly clueless since apparently both a low and a high turnout help them.

    Am I the only one scratching their head over this?

    And yes, T is right -- you aren't passing 5.9mils even with a 3 year promise. (Here's a hint: those voters looking for "promises" for intervals to the next levy are looking for intervals much larger than 3 years...)

    This is why I get so frustrated. I would work to help pass a 3.9 mil levy. The money IS needed, even though my real hope is that we can get some new board members on their alongside Paul who'll actually openly debate and discuss things, and therefore start directing some downward adjustments in spending -- where appropriate.

    But working to pass a 5.9 mil levy is, to quote another board member, "an exercise in futility". I really don't believe most of the board realizes just how bad things are out here.

    The real disconnect is the board thinking the voters will "support the schools" when some of them are having problems keeping a roof over their heads. We ALL love our schools (at least I hope we do). And when the pro-levy people accuse me (again) of hating kids because I wont support the levy, it will just prove (again) that it's business as usual.

    And I am disappointed that we will need to institute cuts because the board and the administration (again) shot too high with the levy millage.

    Worse, it may take severe cuts to wake enough people up around here that the process and the system must change in order for their to be a positive resolution to the problems we face.

  26. One other thing. A word of caution that I hope Paul conveys back to the rest of the board: promising to reinstate middle school athletics if the levy passes will do more to draw "no" voters to the polls than it will to draw "yes" voters.

    You guys need to stop listening to the people who have personal skin in the game and start talking to the people who vote instead. You'll be surprised what you hear.

  27. I don't know that we can at this point accurate project who is going to show up for the November election. I suspect it will have a lot to do with the "cut list," and who feels threatened by whatever is on it.

    I'm hoping the process is very different this time. For one thing, we have an early retirement incentive package in place that might induce a pretty significant number of teachers to retire. That means there is an important opportunity before us to reconfigure the teaching staff without the pain of layoff. We simply can't let that window of opportunity go by without exploring the options.

    We also have to acknowledge that it's the richness of offerings that make people want to send their kids to Hilliard schools, and be willing to pay a premium for doing so.

    Otherwise you could move to the Hamilton Local school district - which is rated Excellent - and get a pretty good dose of the 3Rs but not extra. Their property tax rate is 57% of ours.

    So we're having a community negotiation about value, and the question is "will at least 50%+1 of the voters who bother to show up decide that their current taxes, plus 5.9 mills, is a good value for what they get, whatever that might be for them?"

    All we know for sure is that for the small fraction that showed up in May, the answer was NO.

    Who's going to show up in November? I don't really know. But isn't it a shame that that's the important question?

  28. So Paul, can I assume that you will take a position of being in favor of this levy? Will you be taking an active part in the campaign?

  29. Paul, I am beginning to suspect you've spent too much time around other board members. ;-)

    You should re-read your last comment. You keep talking about value in the schools. Over 60% of the voters (give or take) aren't connected to the schools.

    Usually those voters look at things like improving property values as the justification. Well... not any more!

    If you're going to pass the levy, you either have to drive all the non-tax paying voters to the polls, or convince those property owners that there's a value to increasing their taxes.

    Remember, these are the people that have had to cut back and make do in order to pay bills. You have to convince them that the district has done the same. (It hasn't; Doug Maggied's comment last night about $10m in cuts since 2008 is laughable; it's D.C.-style cutting, not REAL cuts.)

    Now, maybe, you see the uphill struggle.

    When things are good, those voters respond positively. When things are bad, those same voters expect the district to do more with less, just like they, the voters, the ones that pay the bills, have had to do.

    THAT is who you have to convince, and I have zero confidence that this administration has the faintest idea how to make that argument.

  30. ABM & M:

    The process isn't complete yet - the "cut list" still needs to be developed, and my take is that this needs to be a different kind of exercise than we've seen for past levies.

    All I've done so far is agree to put a 5.9 mill levy on the ballot. To not put any levy on the ballot denies folks the opportunity to say YES. Voters still have a choice in November, and I don't presume to know how it will come out, again because I think it depends on turnout.

    As I said in the main article, it's regrettable that this has to be a binary decision, and that the outcome of the election is a YES/NO rather than a weighted average of several choices.

    As of the prior Board meeting, there were three members who stated that they were prepared to support a 6.9 mill levy again. I said 6.9 only if we committed to 4 years, else 5.9 was my number. Dave Lundregan said he wanted to think about it some more, which was a powerful answer, as it take 4 votes to put a levy on the ballot.

    We ended up with 5.9 mills. I think the process worked about as well as it could have, and in fact have congratulated Andy Teater for taking the initiative and serving as the "whip" leading up to Monday's vote.

    I could have dug in at 3 or 4 mills, and I'm reasonably confident that we would have had a 4-1 vote for something closer to 6.9 mills - but that would have depended on Dave's position, and I won't presume to speak for him.

    So I'll ask you to remain attentive through the process of developing the "cut list." As I said, it should be a different exercise this time.

  31. Don't you think, Paul, that equally important to communicating to the community what cuts will be made if the levy doesn't pass, is to explain clearly what the NEW money will be spent on if the levy does pass? Salaries are virtually frozen for now. A firm committment of how the board and administration will be good stewards of this new money is essential.

    Don't just say it can't be determined because you don't know what future issues and funding from the state will be. No one knows the future. But some of this new money should be saved to fund future raises.

  32. M,

    You have absolutely hit the nail on the head:

    "If you're going to pass the levy, you either have to drive all the non-tax paying voters to the polls, or convince those property owners that there's a value to increasing their taxes."

    I immediately began to think about my neighbor's perspective and how it contrasts with that of his stay-at-home pto mom. Not disparaging, just observing.

    You have precisely defined what I call the "tipping point".

    And we're passed it....

  33. And then you have people like me that say, with or without the levy, I am still paying through the ears. I continue to expect the same services regardless of whether or not the levy passes.

    M, that why I got on your case a little bit for favoring cuts. That's the easy way out. And for me, it's absolutely unacceptable.

    You hear a lot about "doing more with less". I suggest we "do the same with same".

  34. That is also why I initially didnt like the contract. We have painted ourselves in a corner.

    We have to pass a levy. That's the tension you've been feeling in your shoulder, the arm twisting.

  35. Paul,
    "and I don't presume to know how it will come out,"

    I know you dont like this position. B/c ideally, you would like to see the school and community agree on a number, the vote being just a formality.

    But I can help you on this one. This levy loses 54-46. I would charaterize that as realisticly optimistic based on the last result.

  36. And what is with the X.9 mills? It's like we are buying mills at the dollar store....

    You guys should make it 5.99999999. Dont want to leave anything on the table.

  37. Paul,

    Did the upcoming triennial update by the Franklin County Auditor's office also play a role in determining the millage? Brian Wilson had estimated that appraised housing values in Hilliard CSD would fall by 8%, but it seems that it will be closer to a 5% decrease.

  38. Olde Hilliard:

    Probably the best answer to your question as to how the money will be spent is to suggest that you read the assumptions that accompany the Five Year Forecast (note that this is an unofficial version of the forecast, but it is the one on which the Board based its decision).

    And to STJ's point, since it's looking like the Auditor is going to cut valuations 5% rather than the 8% we assumed in May, a 5.9% levy will raise $13.6m/yr rather than $13.2m/yr. There were also changes to the PPT Reimbursement phase out that keep it at $6m/yr after FY13, rather than going to zero as was the indication in the Spring. So the revenue cuts aren't as deep as we feared, but still are equivalent to 3.3 mills.

    This new Forecast holds the FY13-FY16 annual growth rate to 3.5%, which was my target all along.

    Some think I've caved in. I suggest that you go back and reread what I've written over the years. I've never taken a "no new taxes" stance. I've said that we need to slow down the growth in spending. So what's happened in the past couple of years (and, no, I'm not taking credit for all this)?

    1. We have new 3 year union agreements with no base pay increases and delayed steps (one step eliminated altogether).

    2. We have a new spending forecast with the rate of annual spending growth lowered from 4.8%, where it was just a few months ago, to 3.5%.

    3. We have a clear commitment from the Board to not put another levy on the ballot for 3 years.

    4. We are giving the community a 5.9 mill levy to vote on, the lowest amount nominated since 2000 (remember that in the spring of 2008, the Board requested 9.5 mills!).

    5. The teachers have been offered an early retirement incentive package, which I suggested earlier this year while most Board members opposed, giving us a unique opportunity to reconfigure our teaching staff and lower the average salary.

    I'm not campaigning here - my term runs to 12/31/13 - just pointing out that things are different this time around.

    Others would like things to change more dramatically. If that is the case, then pay attention to the candidates running for the two Board seats this November, and support the one who thinks the most like you.

  39. @T - The only reason I advocate cuts is because I see how the spending grew since 2008, and a lot of it was on creating unnecessary new positions. These aren't classroom teachers, they're teachers "aides" or whatever the correct term is. They're not needed, and they're costing us several million a year. They've never been accounted for publicly, no one is willing to talk about them. (Paul might like to chime in here about bus drivers at this point.)

    This is what really annoys me. The district adds these positions, but then the cut list doesn't include any of them, and instead they go after music, gifted education, etc.

    I'm all for doing the same with the same, after we've gotten rid of the fluff we added the past 3 years...

  40. OMG!

    Have you guys seen the election results from around the state from last Tuesday?


    Strongsville, Cuyahoga County, which has an "Excellent" rating, but if you read the district report card, meets all the same things Hilliard does, has better test scores, a higher percentage of kids doing AP course, etc. etc... (they must hate disabled kids up there or something to not have that "awesome" 'with distinction' bit at the end...), and appears to be just like Hilliard except about 1/2 the size, lost their 6.9 mil levy by...


  41. Paul,

    Was any research done to see what size of levy the community would be amenable to? Just curious.

  42. M-

    "Teacher Aide" translates to "Cheaper Teacher" in my language.

    There is probably a cost savings strategy at play here to avoid paying a premium for superfluous degrees and certs.

    Might want to think about who the fluff is. Or at least which part of their pay is.

  43. Mr. Kasich,

    Incentive pay works for sales "stars". But we're talking 6 figures here minimum. And you better be doing something like steering institutional cash to an investment bank. You know, producing real value in the economy by funneling wealth accumulated in Ohio so that it can be gambled by New Yorkers on a tidy comission...

    Here's what can happen when you tie teacher performacne to test scores:

    Need to rethink our approach. How about what has worked since the beginning of time? Your boss decides...

    Fraud happens all the time, a lot of it legally. I do think this is an interesting example, though, b/c of the amount of people that colluded. 2 can keep a secret....

    This one just so happens to involve teachers. Something like this could never happen in Hilliard or else I wouldnt live here.

  44. I keep hearing about teaching positions, aides, etc., but I would like to know how many positions are staffed in Central Office, and what exactly do they do? I've heard from numerous people that it is a large staff, but there doesn't seem to be any accountability of their positions and duties.

  45. Kicking the can says:

    Thanks to our great leaders on Capital Hill ... I'am thinking that it has moved back to an 8% ( instead of 5%) home devaluation. Someone please tell me why someone would want to move to Hilliard ? where's is the big draw... ? Our home values are going down, and the price of public education ever increasing. Hey.. I got it !! let's build some more apartments and empty strip malls. We must somehow get the tiger by the tail here, and passing another Levy is kicking at that can once again !!

  46. M,

    Indeed, Strongsville's Performance Index (102.1) is slightly higher than Hilliard's (101.9) on the '09-'10 report card. I didn't see any data for AP scores on the most recent report card. Looks like the most recent year for AP data is on the '08-'09 report card. Strongsville (33.9%) does have a slightly higher percentage of graduates than Hilliard (30.6%) to achieve an AP score of 3 or above. Pretty similar though, wouldn't you agree?

    While Strongsville's levy failed, I thought I should mention that Pickerington's levy passed.

    Just trying to provide a little balance.

  47. T - It's not necessarily true that only "6 figure" sales folks have incentive pay. It was the practice of my employer (CompuServe) to have incentive pay plans for folks in all job classifications.

    But I think one problem we're having is this myoptic viewpoint that incentive pay plans lead to improved performance. What I think you are saying is true - incentive pay does not necessarily motivate.

    The trick is to quit thinking about "incentive pay" and to start thinking about "rewards." If a person is not particularly rewarded by a little more money, then an incentive pay system ends up being both expensive and ineffective.

    But if you know you team well, you'll know what really motivates them. With many professionals, it isn't money. It's things like the opportunity to do interesting projects, to travel (my hot button for many years), to have independence, and to eliminate some cause of aggravation (e.g. yet another meaningless report to write or form to fill out).

    In exit interviews, when people are asked why they quit - they often cite better pay elsewhere. But usually the thing that caused them to look at opportunities in the first place was some frustration that might be solved by their boss, and maybe even improve the efficiency of the organization. But it's easy to say "the other guy offered me more money," and let everyone walk away thinking it wasn't their fault that the relationship fell apart.

    One of the things I find most bizarre about the education world is all the professional associations. We know about the unions, but there are also associations for school board members (OSBA), Administrators (BASA), Treasurers (OASBO), Public Relations officials (OSPRA), and so on. I have no problem with folks having a network of their peers, but most of these groups also retain lobbyists to champion their position in the Statehouse.

    It seems like all these associations foster argument over the wrong stuff. For example, we should not be arguing about merit pay. We should be talking about how we get effective teachers in the classroom (an ineffective teachers out), and what we can do to take advantage of their skills in the education of our kids, and quit trying to make them (and the kids) conform to some cookie-cutter norm using measurement and reward systems that don't work

  48. What would happen if all voters were asked to pick an amount that they would vote yes on and then put that amount on the ballot?

  49. K: Yeah, that's what I'm saying - I wish it were something like that. But it's not, so we have to figure out how to make things work with the system we have.

  50. @STJ

    Yes, Pickerington did pass their levy.

    But look at what they did:

    * 8 mills reduced to 5.5 mills

    * $13m in cuts to the budget (which is about $100m, so about 60% the size of ours; i.e., we'd require about $21m in cuts to equate...)

    * They would have required another $7m in cuts had it failed.

    I think they did what was necessary to lessen the burden on the tax payers. I'm glad they passed it because they did what was necessary.

  51. @T

    The aides aren't simply cheaper teachers because they aren't replacing anyone, they're being added to the existing staff. They weren't needed 3 years ago; my guess is the vast majority of them are not needed now either...

  52. M,

    So what will it take for you to be glad that Hilliard passes a levy? How much from the budget do you want cut and what do you want the levy millage to be?

  53. What will it take to be glad about a levy? I like the way you put that....

    If the teachers would agree to elevate the conversation, I would agree to raise the stakes.

    I would be glad to pass a 10 mill levy that gave "management"absoulute discretion on hiring and firing.

    Paul said it like this:

    We should be talking about how we get effective teachers in the classroom (an ineffective teachers out), and what we can do to take advantage of their skills in the education of our kids

  54. @STJ

    My view on levies is a little different to most people. For one, I think the district must move away from property-tax funded education. The bulk of property owners are older, and therefore more likely to be on fixed incomes. When you increase the expenses of those people for schools, you remove money from those people that they would otherwise spend in the community (e.g., at local businesses). I am a strong advocate for the district to EXPLORE an income tax so that property taxes can be frozen in place.

    Please note: EXPLORE -- I don't know if this is feasible or not, but I do know that the current system is unsustainable as property tax increases will continue to roar ahead of inflation.

    As far as where we are right now though, my concern isn't what is needed; it's what can pass. It is pointless trying to raise money via a levy if the community isn't going to support it. As noted above, there was no community engagement in determining the levy amount. It is only 5.9 mils (vs 6.9 mils) because of "good news" from the county auditor. In other words it would have still been 6.9 mils without that "good news" which means the district didn't learn a thing from May's result.

    What they don't realize is how that irks voters. 5.9 mils will fail, and it wont be the voters' fault, it will be the district's fault for asking for too much.

    I also want to see accountability for what we spend. The district is NOT providing financial breakdown of its spending when asked, which to me means there is information that they don't want the public to see, which should concern everyone, even those who loyally vote "yes" on every levy. There are many different things it could be so I speculate further. What I do know is that I'm not about to support further increases in spending until they can demonstrate (a) accountability for current spending, and (b) an ability to manage tax dollars efficiently.

    Doug Maggied again said they've made $10m in spending reductions since 2008. Bull. The budget has gone up every year. This is D.C.-style "cuts". He also conveniently omits that some of those cuts were subsequently reinstated later, so they're not even D.C.-style cuts.

    As far as real cuts? How can I possibly give an answer to your question when the district refuses to provide us with the necessary information to make an informed decision?

  55. M, how would you know how many aides are needed now? Just curious because as a district employee, even I do not know that. What I can tell you is that aides work nearly exclusively with special-needs students, from what I see. Have you analyzed our special populations numbers to know whereof you speak? I want to see hard numbers with insightful analysis to support your claims. The aides I see are used only with children who could not survive public school without them. If you want to change federal law, by all means go for it. But be sure you understand how the system works first. Right now, those kids have a legal right to a free, appropriate public education.

  56. P.S. To M: Aren't you the one who ran the ant-levy campaign last spring? Sure hope you are working from better info than "guesses"!

  57. @Curious

    This is where the conversation breaks down. I don't have to prove they're not needed; the district needs to account for why they're needed.

    As soon as they do that, or provide sufficient information for taxpayers to review, then we can make a determination as to how many of them are needed.

    And I mean needed, not "nice to have". A Lexus is "nice to have" but none of us "need" one. If we can afford one, then yes, we can go buy one.

    Since the district is asking for more tax dollars, it's clear that HCSD cannot afford one right now...

  58. M, why don't you come visit for a day and watch the aides work with the special needs kids? Then you can let us all know whether they are needed or not. I think you would realize pretty quickly they are not a Lexus!

    And you are right...I am annoyed with the levy system for funding public education too. I often wish I worked in a business where I didn't have to justify myself to people who have little idea what it's like to work in my field. But this is the choice I made, so I guess the best I can hope for is that someone who is not preoccupied with preparing lessons and a classroom for the new school year will step forward and provide the level of accountability it would take to get enough people to vote YES in November!

  59. T,

    The phrase I used was "glad that Hilliard PASSES a levy", not "glad ABOUT a levy". Those are two very different phrases. I don't know anyone excited about paying more taxes, per se. Obviously, there are those who are glad when a levy passes, though. Those folks view it as an investment in the community, schools, kids' future, etc., etc.

    It was made in reference to M's comment about being glad that Pickerington passed THEIR levy.

    M... There are definitely some things that I don't agree with you on, but I do appreciate your response.

  60. Curious, typical response, its the communities fault its M's fault. Thisdistrict is sooooooooo
    full of itself.

    The issue is you dont want community engagement just like the rest of the pro levy forces. No community meeting to ask questions but boy lots of targeted
    and repeated targeting of scholllllllll supporters
    And the tactic backfired.

    When the community gets some respect and acknowledgment that they have allready provided
    outstanding programming and an outstanding over the top infrastructure, then maybe they might get on board again

    Perhaps you are more interested like too many in the district of working to the contract and the hell with the students at that point.

  61. @STJ

    No one wants to see a school district damaged (and I mean really damaged, not the minor inconvenient cuts Hilliard feigns making every few years).

    What nobody on the "must always vote yes for levies!" side of this equation realizes is that the current system and levels of spending are completely unsustainable.

    I have a child that wont graduate for more than 15 years. If we don't get things under control now, Hilliard "then" simply wont resemble Hilliard "now" because it's simply not possible to pass the volume and size of the levies that will be required to fund the projected spending between now and then.

    Fortunately, a lot of people are waking up to this fact, and a lot of the reasons for that are the excellent charts and financial analyses that Paul provides.

    I would have hoped that the educators in our district (like @Curious) would be the first to realize that we have a long-term problem, and being the smart, educated people that they are, would be first in line to try and offer solutions that work for everyone.

    Sadly that appears not to be the case. And if I am wrong, and they are out there, they need to speak a bit more loudly!

  62. Rick,

    Don't think for a second that you know me. I have often been the first one to school and the last to leave. I have spent summers doing way more PD than I need to because I care about making my lessons relevant for 21st century learners. I am a dedicated professional and so are the vast majority of my colleagues.

    And I DO recognize the problem -- this is why I urged others to vote in favor of the freeze and did so happily myself. It felt great to do something that would hopefully help the district's financial situation.

    Furthermore, I LOVE community engagement. I wish more parents and community members took the time (and I know it's hard to find) to spend time in schools and pay attention to what we do, not just where the money goes. But engagement is not what I find here, except by Paul and a few others. Instead, what I find here so often are baseless assumptions, formed from spurious evidence at best. THIS is what wears me out and makes me feel helpless and overwhelmed. Keep in mind that most of us are not married to other teachers; most of us have spouses working in the business world and are all too well aware of the economic situation you keep accusing us of ignoring. Most of us went into teaching because we wanted to work with kids.

    So I'm a bit confused because it seems to me we DID offer a solution. If you mean we should be the ones figuring out how to better fund Ohio's schools, I'm afraid I just don't have time for that and don't see that as part of my job description. Nor am I remotely qualified, smart and educated as M says I am, to figure out the finances of a massive district like ours. Unfortunately, our legislators also seem unable to do so. I am intrigued by the suggestion of an income tax, though. I do see the problems with constantly raising property taxes.

    I will admit my last post was pretty bitter in tone, and I apologize. But I'm quickly reaching that point where I'll have to stop reading this blog again for some time, because no matter what ANYONE says on here, Rick, you ALWAYS post the same, intractable positions. I never see an apology from you, or even an acknowledgment that you might not see the entire picture: just those same, sweeping assumptions and generalizations. I assume that's why MusicMan has stopped posting again too. Do you enjoy engaging with someone who will not listen to you, even if you disagree? Most of us don't.

  63. @Curious

    We wont agree on everything. But if you agree that the district repeatedly fails to provide sufficient information for the community to make any kind of determination on where we go next, then you and your colleagues need to speak up.

    We have an administration that ignores requests for information, turns around and double-crosses its employees after they agree to a pay freeze (I don't know if you agree with this, but there are many employees who are smarting right now), and then pushes the same-old, same-old rhetoric over why we must pass the next levy.

    As I said, we may disagree on solutions. But if we all recognize that there IS a problem we can at least have dialog on how to fix it. This is why I enjoy reading Paul's pieces because he at least is thinking about the problem. I don't always agree with him, but that's the whole point to debate.

    I find it incredibly frustrating that everyone else involved (the administration and the rest of the board) do everything they can to stifle that very debate.

  64. Curious:

    I always value the dialog with teachers such as you and Musicman, because I think the path toward a great schools and affordable economics is paved with empathy for each other's viewpoints. Our country is real danger of meltdown because folks want to take their opinions and prejudices to their respective corners and come out fighting.

    It's hard work to gain empathy for another's situation. Most non-educators don't understand what it's like to put up day after day with unruly kids, helicopter parents, and stifling red tape. At the invitation of a teacher, who has also become a good friend, I've volunteered for a half-day each week in a 3rd grade classroom for over a year. As rewarding as it always is, it also flat wears me out - mentally and physically. Blessings on you who can do this every day.

    Likewise, not all educators seem to understand how scary it is in the private sector right now. I can guarantee you that there were tens of millions of Americans looking at their 401(k) accounts yesterday after the stock market tanked and thinking they would never be able to afford to retire. And I'm not sure all educators get that increases in their compensation and benefits come from increased taxes on those very same people, regardless of whether it is collected in the form of property taxes or income taxes, or at the local, state or federal level. These days, for districts like ours, all new funding comes from local taxes.

    People do express their opinions here, and I think it's a ton more productive than what one sees on the Dispatch/Topix discussion boards. In fact, you may have noticed that the Dispatch quit using Topix discussion boards precisely because they had grown so vile.

    Rick may seem like a one trick pony sometimes, but I don't fault him for reminding us that the tough dialog between the adults can spill over to hurt the kids, and that we should all seek to avoid the 'collateral damage.'

    The truth is that all the parties in this dialog tend to have monotone 'speaking points.' The trick in developing empathy, which leads to solutions, is to listen, understand, acknowledge and have dialog.

    Then it stops being a cacophony of discordant tones, and starts to become a symphony of different, but harmonious sounds.

  65. M: you wrote, "But if you agree that the district repeatedly fails to provide sufficient information for the community to make any kind of determination on where we go next, then you and your colleagues need to speak up."

    You aren't seriously asking us to openly join you in criticizing our employers, right? Let's consider what that could mean for us, even if many of us have tenure. You are asking us to criticize the very people who control our class sizes, room assignments, teaching schedules, and disciplinary support, just to name a few things that are not covered by our contract, but can potentially make a teacher's daily life a living hell.

    If we don't have tenure yet, we could be jeopardizing our evaluations and find ourselves being dismissed for "failure to establish rapport" (yes, that is grounds for dismissal without appeal within the first two years of a teacher's contract--and we have seen it done in Hilliard). In so many ways, we would be slitting our own throats. Does it really seem fair to expect us to do that?

    And yes, I was incredibly frustrated with the way things happened last spring, as was every other teacher I know. But there is only so much we can do in our positions, and right now, our biggest concern has to be to get ready for the 15,000+ students who will walk through our doors two weeks from today. Isn't that what we should be focusing on as teachers?

    Thanks, Paul, for your empathetic words. Unfortunately I am all too aware of what happened to the stock market yesterday because my husband's 401K took a HUGE hit. I have been teaching for less than ten years, but he has 21 years of savings invested in that 401K, and we will be sending kids to college very soon. Retirement looms farther and farther away for both of us.

  66. Curious:

    There was a lesson learned by me this spring too. When I saw the deal the HEA and OAPSE offered, my thinking was that there was a Win-Win opportunity here: a give back to the unions and a give back to the community - to the kids.

    I think more people are understanding that when cuts are made, it's people who get cut. It's not like we can reduce the utility bills; and the total cost of fuel for the buses is a few hundred thousand dollars per year - not enough to alone make that much of a difference.

    So when we talk about cutting busing for the high school kids if the levy fails, it's not fuel and motor oil we save, it's the salaries and benefits of the bus drivers who will get laid off or work reduced hours.

    And when we say that sports or other extracurriculars are going to get cut, it's not to reduce spending on striping the fields or less tape for ankles, it's about the supplemental salaries of the coaches and the transportation costs to away games (again, drivers salaries, not fuel).

    So my thinking was that one of the best ways to honor the new contracts was to restore some of the jobs and hours that had been cut with the levy failure. Yes, the kids got their fall sports, and some of the gifted programming was restored, so yes, the public got some benefit from your sacrifice. But the money was actually spent to restore the jobs of some of your colleagues. I bet those teachers and bus drivers appreciated our decision.

    Would it have been better to have not spent the money at all? Or would the preference have been to get base pay increases and on-schedule steps in the new contract, even if it meant even more folks getting laid off?

    Truthfully, I wish HEA and OAPSE would have come forward with this deal before the levy vote in May. I think there's a pretty good chance that the public would have appreciated your contribution to the solution, as I do, and passed the levy.

  67. Truthfully, I wish the board had made us that offer before the levy. We were told that the board was not willing to talk until after the levy. Can you understand our frustration now?

  68. @Curious

    Two ways to answer your question, take your pick.

    1. If you don't speak up, but you do agree with us, don't be surprised if you bear the brunt of public frustration.

    2. Don't you guys have a union that's supposed to speak up on your behalf?

    Neither of these is meant to be a poke in your eye, so please don't take it that way, but in America today everyone looks to place the blame on the shoulders of someone else. If the district (admin) does something wrong, and you don't speak up, the taxpayers just view you as complicit, even if that is a totally unfair assumption as far as individual teachers go.

    Frankly, I'd like nothing more than for the community and the district's employees to stand together and tell the administration that enough is enough.

  69. M,

    Although I am a consistent levy-supporter, I do agree that we cannot maintain the same trajectory of spending in the future as we have in the recent past. I'll also agree that the district needs to look at ways to improve communication. So, there are some things that we would agree on. On a slightly different tack, I would also say that we need to utilize our current buildings the best way we can and NOT look at building any new facilities at this time.

  70. Curious


    The district, adm, levy committee et al chose to
    target only certain voters at the last levy attempt. NO community forum, where was the dialogue, an excuse their was a republican meet the candidates night, no other times available. They can call meetings at 5pm 1pm
    So not one meeting ? For seniors, those with kids not in schools, young parents and anybody else. NOt my decision, nor any other group
    Its about communication. Targeting selective
    groups for their sure yes vote, is not communication. It creates lack of trust

    Just so you know I voted against the levy last time, and for the first time in a very long while I voted no on anything

    The HEA and the district were asked to simply
    insure that the tactics used against students to get back at the community resulting in lost
    college opportunities and financial aid continues to be ignored. Just the heck with the kids who got affected. No one on the board at that time and current board with exception of Paul has cared to respond. Paul is right in my description and is being way too polite.
    I will not support an entity that puts personal gain ahead of childrens education and their college plans. A simple acknowledgement by this district and its employees to INSURE THIS situation never happens again. Again, the silence had been deafening for 3 years now.
    Why is it so tough to REALLY protect our kids

    10 years ago I started asking nice questions shaking my head yes. WE knew then we were losing state business revenue funding. I asked that question at Memorial Middle school program
    We could have prepared for that shortfall but the district chose not to.

    Might sound like a broken record but if one says its for the kids you dont punish them for contract issues and you dont hand out money you dont have

    The community has voted time and again as I and many others have done, so look at the infrastructure, the programs etc, the buildings which is funded through continual bond issues that are in some cases just over the top.

    Unfortunatly at this juncture we are in a tough economic situation. Many of us have lost tons of money on our homes, much more than 5% Many have lost jobs, working for much less, not a just a freeze. Many are still in danger of losing their homes and jobs.

    If there cant be an honest discussion instead of what the levy committee did last time, why would some of the electorate even try and listen

    There are many cuts that can still happen.
    I am of the belief that 5.9 is too high and myself suggested a 3 mill levy to the board last fall. We could have passed that and staved off some more cuts by collecting revenue NOW

    Shoot me for caring and standing up. The majority of the board is interested in the status quo and more. So is the administration
    Guess what some just cannot afford it. and,
    many in our community (even though they may have voted yes in the past) have been left at the curb by this district. We need some new

    We can start by eliminating supplementals for multiple individuals, and a sports mgt curriculum We also could eliminate some classes with low participation that are simply electives.

    I dont personnaly agree with a pay cut of a % but it may come to that. MANY in the community have had to deal with that.

    WE do spend 11,000 plus per student, that is not a bare bones budget at we have been preached to. Go to southeast ohio and poorer rural athereas and find out ABOUT bare bones.

    It is good to have this dialogue and Paul has remained steadfast to his original post on here
    years ago.

    The community has done its part, and does not
    need to cave to whatever is thrown at them

  71. Paul - I am a HCS employee and Thursday attended a meeting with Maggied and Hamilton. I wish you could have attended. It was a time of much needed communications between parties. As much as I want to attend the Aug 22nd meeting, most likely I will not be able to due to meet the teacher night. I hope to meet you one day and chat. Appreciate all you do with this blog. Your comrads should take notes !

  72. Thanks for your note. I too hope we get a chance to meet.