Monday, October 3, 2011

Reply to a Taxpayer

A retired gentleman who has been actively engaged in matters concerning our schools recently sent the members of the School Board a very thoughtful message describing why he was going to vote against the levy, Issue 17. The following was my response to him:

Thanks for your note. I'll respond, but please allow me to repeat the disclaimer that my response represents how I feel, and in no way represents the opinions of the other four Board members, or the Administration...

First, I absolutely agree with your economic analysis, and would extend it to say that our goverments have made unfulfillable promises to not only employees, but to the people of the country as well. It's going to take rare leadership and even more rare 'followship' for us to restore economic stability to our country. I'm reminded of a poster I once had which said "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!"

There is no one description that fits everyone in our community. Some are elderly, barely getting by, and having to make choices between utility bills, taxes and medicine. Some live in million dollar homes, and their tax bills are insignificant to them. More than half the households in our district have no school age children. Others live in extended households with many school age children. Increasingly there are families who were doing okay when both parents were secure in their jobs, but are now struggling after one or both of the parents have lost a job and remain unemployed. There are as many foreclosures in wealthy neighborhoods as in those of more modest incomes.

It doesn't matter whether an organization exists in the public or private sector - when revenue takes a dive, survival is threatened. It is crucial for the leadership to ascertain whether the situation is temporary, and can be weathered with temporary measures (e.g. spending down cash reserves), or whether a structural change has taken place, demanding commensurate structural change in the enterprise.

The American auto industry got this exactly wrong. They thought the "oil crisis" of the 1970s was a temporary situation, and that they could keep selling huge, expensive, unreliable gas-guzzlers once the oil situation resolved. Both management and labor misjudged the situation, creating an opportunity for the Japanese automakers to go from a tiny piece of the market to being the market leaders. Only after near collapse did the American management create world-class products, and the labor unions agree to comp structures which allow for competitive pricing.

Excluding the banking industry, which is still very much screwed up, American businesses have either been successful in restructuring to our 'new normal,' or they've gone out of business. It's been gut-wrenchingly painful, and the pain likely isn't over, but those who have taken the steps necessary to survive so far have a fighting chance.

It's time that the public sector face up to this situation as well. As citizens, and consumers of government services, we may need to be willing to accept a diminished level of service. The Post Office is likely to drop Saturday delivery. I think that would be a good move. I think they should raise the price of stamps as well - especially for junk mail, which is easily 90% of the mail we receive at our house. Are there other government agencies doing stuff we can live with less of, or without, so we can preserve those few things which are truly essential?

And just like the auto industry, we need to have a tough conversation about the number of people we employ in the public sector, and what they receive in compensation and benefits. Senate Bill 5 is a spectacularly clumsy way to start the dialog, but that doesn't mean the conversation isn't needed. Whichever way the vote on SB5 goes in November, we still need to have an honest, empathetic, and solution-oriented conversation with the public sector unions about how to align their expectations for comp/benefits with the capacity and willingness of the public to pay the taxes necessary to support those expectations.

We haven't yet had that conversation in our school district. Most people - whether taxpayer or district employee - don't even understand the issues. So the discussion remains mostly on an emotional level, and that's what this levy vote is going to be as well. With the teachers and staff freezing their base comp through 2013, steps through 2012, and increasing their health insurance contribution to 15% starting this year - had the State of Ohio not reduced our funding by $10m/yr (FY13 vs FY09), then we could have funded the district at our current spending level for three more years with a 2 mill levy, by my calculations. But with the deep State funding cuts, it's going to take the 5.9 mills we have on the ballot to keeps things as they are. Few folks understand this situation.

If this levy is defeated, we have to take $10m/yr out of the spending plan. That's not optional - we have insufficient cash reserves to just hold on until the next State budget and see how that one looks for us. So the Administration recommended, and the Board approved unanimously, a list of cuts which will take place if the levy fails. None of us on the Board want to see that happen, which is the reason I support this levy.

Some in our community are angry about this cut list. They feel the community - and our kids - have been taken hostage, and the 5.9 mills is the ransom payment. That's it not so much a 'cut list' as it is a 'threat list.' I understand that. It does feel that way if you don't understand the economics.

But if 90% of our costs are determined by how many folks we employ and how much we pay them, and if the 'how much we pay them' is set by collective bargaining agreements, then the only option available to the Board when spending must be reduced is to reduce the number of folks we employ. That results in a cut list exactly like what has been presented.

There are some in our community who feel the $10m/yr spending reduction can be achieved by having the teachers, staff and administrators take pay cuts. With ~1700 FTEs, that would be base pay cuts averaging $4,700 (+ 25% benefits), or 7.3%. Interestingly, this is the same percentage increase one gets with a 3% base pay increase and a 4.15% step increase (compounded), which were the terms of the 2008-2010 HEA contract. I am not advocating pay cuts at this time, but respect the reasoning of those who are. At least they understand the math.

So I go back to the point that we need to have a reasoned and empathetic conversation with all the stakeholders - parents, non-parents, business owners, and employees - and figure out a long term strategy for funding our schools. It can't be a static strategy - it looks like the Statehouse is going to swing to extremes from election to election for the foreseeable future. But there has to be some thought put into a few different scenarios so the people of the community and the employees know to expect X if Y happens.

We're not going to have that conversation until more folks understand the problem in economic terms, not just with their emotions.


  1. There's a really interesting piece in Vanity Fair that is long but well-worth the read. It touches on how and why public union employee costs have gotten out of control, and despite the general tone ends on a hopeful note.

    The lesson I got from it is that withholding tax dollars eventually works because (to put it crudely) neurologically, we're better at working with scarcity than abundance. The article is here ( ).

  2. Thanks for the link to the VF article - just got finished reading it. I can't say I was satisfied with the ending. It seems like he just ran up against the word limit imposed by his editor and stopped. Or maybe his editor just whacked a page or two out of the story. Either way, that was a pretty impotent ending to a powerful piece of journalism.

    I was hoping the ending story would be one of a community where the stakeholders figured out that they were on a path to disaster, and managed to put aside selfishness and get themselves on a path to long term solvency, before they destroyed what made the community desirable in the first place.

    That's certainly my hope for the Hilliard Schools community, and it would be nice if we could have a model for how to do it successfully.

    Is there no such example?

  3. From an economic perspective, how about we simply don't spend more than we take in? Simple economics.

    The sad truth is that the money tree is not bearing fruit and the taxpayers have rejected efforts to pay more taxes. Accept this.

    Rather than coming back with another levy, let's make it work with the $160m+ that the district actually has to spend on operations. That should be the focus, not cramming down another levy.

    If the only way to get this done is to cut staff (and I don't mean just teachers) or to cut compensation and benefits, then let's get it done.

    Going back to the taxpayers and demanding more funds (through cutting sports and busing) is the easy way out. Let's show true leadership and guts, and make the tough decision and reduce the spending.

  4. The Board cannot 'cram' another levy onto the public - the voters have the final say. In May, the majority of those who voted said they didn't like what the Board proposed. So we're coming back with another proposal.

    This proposal isn't going to get zero Yes votes - some folks are satisfied with this proposal. Some will vote against any tax increase, regardless of the situation. We'll see soon enough how the vote comes out.

    The fiscal philosophy of this Board, and virtually every other School Board in Ohio, is to keep increasing the spending until cash reserve gets too small, then ask for another levy. It doesn't have to be that way - it's entirely possible to operate via a philosophy where the current year's spending never exceeds the current year's funding. I'd like to see us run that way.

    But that's not going to happen with the current Board membership. With Dave Lundregan's choice to not run for re-election, we going to have at least one new Board member starting in January.

    Be sure that vote gets your attention as well.

  5. Since 2005:

    1. Property values have fallen an average of 4.2% (source: Franklin County Auditor)

    2. Enrollment in the HCSD is up just 6%. (source: HCSD)

    3. District spending is up 28% (source: HCSD)

    4. District revenues are up 28% (source HCSD)

    5. The November levy adds another 11% in revenues, bringing us to a 39% increase! (source HCSD)

    Someone PLEASE explain why they need a 39% increase for a 6% increase in the student population?!?!?!

    This is the message I think we need to get out there. People have to start ASKING QUESTIONS about where the freakin' money is all going!!!!

  6. Paul - I was at the community conversation last night and I noticed that the Finance and accountability committee has endorsed the levy unanimously. To me, this is HUGE - I was already thinking that the district has really tried to do a better job with their finances, but to see a "non-partisan" committee that is deeply involved with the behind-the-scenes district finances, endorse the levy - that really says something! This tells me that the financial issues that the district can control are under control and that this levy is due (in part) to the financial situation that the state has forced on the schools.
    I am happy to vote for the levy and encourage others to do the same!

  7. @aBoredMember

    I wonder who you really are.

    Because the A&A committee "endorsed" the levy with some strings attached, two of which indicate that things are FAR from under control.

    1. They want to see the district replenish the reserves its spent down over the past few years.

    2. They want financial measuring points, to ensure that the district is being wise stewards of our tax money.

    Call me whatever you want, but I have ZERO confidence in this district doing either of the above. I don't even believe they'll put those measuring points in place, let only actually meet them...

  8. I dont know any of the A&A committee members. But I imagine what they say privately and publicly might be divergent. Especially if you had kids in the system, you would need to be very accomodating with the district.

  9. @T

    I think it's a bit more basic than that.

    Some people -- including Paul, and probably the members of the A&A Committee too -- believe we should continue raising taxes through levies while we fix our fiscal issues.

    Some people -- including myself -- believe that since the district has shown zero ability to spend money wisely, that giving them more money is the very last thing we should be doing until we've changed who is in charge of that money...

  10. M:

    That's not exactly what I'm proposing. I'm simply saying this levy is what is needed to fund the district at its current spending level.

    It's like trauma care - you first pay attention to breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure and make sure those are stabilized before worrying about the patient's cholesterol numbers.

    The advocate defeating the levy is like saying that we should treat a patient with high cholesterol by having a good session of blood-letting.

  11. So let me ask you this, with that same trauma care patient, why does the "medicine" have to be additional revenue? I think employees could have their salary or benefits cut just as easily as raising more revenue. The problem with government, or quasi-government entities is that once you give them money, they find a way to spend it, whether or not those expenses are justified. It burns a hole in their pocket. If the unions make the cuts come by way of laying off the teachers with the least tenure, then shame on them. All teachers should be willing to share in the cuts. The school system should be viewed just like a business. If the business cannot make enough in revenue, for whatever the reason, then the business has to cut costs to stay in business. If it is a service business, then the bulk of the costs are employees. Nobody enjoys reducing salary, or charging more for benefits, but it has to be done. These step increases and other automatic raises are absolute jokes. You should have a pot of money that you are going to use for raises, if you can afford them, and dish them out according to who did the best job, not who has been there the longest. Same way with cuts. Cut the salary of the teachers who aren't up to snuff and not so much for the best teachers. If those who get cut want to quit, let them! When the economy improves, then ask for a levy. However, when/if you get those new dollars, don't just automatically give everyone a raise!! Also, didn't I read somewhere that there are other benefit providers the school district could go with for health/dental/etc. for much cheaper rates, but just do not investigate it? Finally, with the treasurer's website, I found that my son's kindergarten teacher is making over $80k per year (I forget if this is salary and benefits, or just salary). Now, I know for a fact she is a great teacher and she has been teaching for 20 years +, but to pay a kindergarten teacher $80k a year, I just think that is overkill. There has to come a point where a teacher just maxes out. I bet if she stayed long enough, she would be making 6 figures! Some jobs just can't keep giving raises like that. Maybe the next step past a certain max payroll amount is to get into administration. In short, the answer sucks, but it is easy. Teachers, all teachers, have to take a CUT in total compensation, NOT give up raises, but actually take CUTS of a significant %. As one person showed in a post on this site, they have been getting really nice raises the last 5 years as the economy has been tanking. I think they can afford the cuts.

  12. Dan said: I think employees could have their salary or benefits cut just as easily as raising more revenue.

    Really? Please tell me exactly how you would make that happen?

    I understand what you're saying, but your comment indicates that your are completely ignorant of how the system works.

    First of, the Board can't impose anything on the teachers. The teachers are members of a union, the Hilliard Education Association, and their salaries and benefits are defined in a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has evolved over many years, including this latest extension. These agreement were negotiated and approved by many successive School Board members, who were elected to office by the people of this community.

    Yes, the teachers have been getting nice raises for quite a while. I've been writing about this since 2007, and have on this blog published and commented on each contract which has been signed since then. I've been pleading for folks to get involved in the governance of our school district. Most don't bother, but want to arm-chair quarterback after decisions have already been made.

    We have 50,000 registered voters in our school district. Fewer than 15,000 showed up for the election in May. Was that vote the "will of The People?"

    Yes, there is a levy on the ballot this November. But there are also two other critically important votes to cast. The first is for the preservation (vote YES) or the repeal (vote NO) of Senate Bill 5, a sweeping change to the laws governing the employment of workers in the public sector, and that most definitely includes teachers. If you don't like the way the current system works, then you need to read up on this Bill, and vote accordingly.

    And there are five folks running for two seats on our School Board: Justin Gardner, Heather Keck, Brian Perry, Doug Maggied and Homer Logan. Doug Maggied is the lone incumbent running, and he has been a member of the Board for 16 of the last 18 years, when all of these teacher contracts have been signed.

    Democracy is not a spectator sport. Just as calling into the sports talk radio shows won't change the outcome of an Ohio State football game, criticism of how our government is run is not enough. We have to actually show up and vote.

    Our government - at all levels - is as screwed up as it is because candidates know they don't really have to appeal to the masses. All they have to do is get the support of those who will make big campaign contributions, and those who will actually show up to vote.

    I wonder how many of the "Occupy Wall St" protesters, who claim "We are the 99%," are actually registered voters, and bother to vote. I suspect the political powers in this country have already ascertained that not many of them are voters, and can therefore ignore much of what is going on.

    Don't ignore the importance of this election for our community. Don't take the easy way out, or let yourself be swayed by the political ads, which are at best partial truths. Dig in and find out which positions align best with yours, and vote accordingly.

  13. Oh, and please don't get caught in the trap of thinking that a kindergarten teacher is less important or less skilled than a high school calculus teacher. I think that with a little brushing up (okay a lot), I might be able to teach high school calculus. But I'm very sure I don't have the skills, patience, or stamina to teach kindergarten kids. I'm around about 50 pre-school kids all day, and those teachers are saints.

    We should get to the place where teacher salaries are a function of how hard it is to find highly effective candidates to fill the jobs. The current system - with a uniform pay scale for all teacher positions - masks that.

  14. Paul,

    On Heather Keck's website, she lists you has a personal endorsement. This is the first I have seen you endorsing her. Is this accurate?

  15. Yes, I support Heather and Justin Gardner. More later.

  16. Paul you mention SB5; in another post you called it a spectacularly clumsy attempt at getting our finances under control. I'd be curious on your stand on collective bargaining for public employees. Has it worked and/or been effective for the taxpayer? Didn't FDR say that public workers should not have collective bargaining? The great majority of private employees are not unionized - is it fair to have it for public but not private? It's hard not to see a link between public employees outpacing the private sector of late and the fact that they are powerfully unionized.

  17. Jerry: You have misquoted me, and I think misunderstand my position as well. Here is what I said, in the main body of this article:

    "And just like the auto industry, we need to have a tough conversation about the number of people we employ in the public sector, and what they receive in compensation and benefits. Senate Bill 5 is a spectacularly clumsy way to start the dialog, but that doesn't mean the conversation isn't needed."

    I have no problem with collective bargaining in either the public or the private sector. Without question, I personally benefited from the existence of unions because my Dad was a skilled tradesman in an region of the country where the trade unions negotiated not only for compensation, but for safety considerations as well. His job was dangerous, and safety rules negotiated by the unions helped make sure he came home to us each night.

    However, those unions priced themselves mostly out of existence, and my hometown now has far fewer skilled tradesmen employed than they did 50 years ago.

    Most of us in the private sector don't know or don't care that employment is down in my hometown, because the products once produced there are still being manufactured - just somewhere else where the labor costs are cheaper. And most of us are glad to have the lower prices, and don't think about the workers. That's why Wal-Mart is the one of the largest companies on the planet, and one of the largest (indirect) employers of Chinese labor.

    The public sector is something different. In nearly all cases, a public entity provides a service that cannot be provided by a private entity - often because the public entity has been granted exclusive license by our government. For example, we don't want just anyone to be able to operate a private police forces. And we don't want access to firefighters and paramedics to be controlled by the ability to pay.

    The public schools have an exclusive license too. "Wait a minute" you say, aren't there all kinds of private schools out there? Yes, but none of them are allowed to put a tax levy on the ballot and have the power of the law to force property owners to pay those taxes else have their home confiscated. The public schools exclusively have that power.

    So I think that when a public entity has been granted the exclusive right to provide a necessary public service, then its workers must not be allowed to strike.

    Ohio law already prevents police officers and firefighters from striking. If public education is as important as public safety, then public school employees, especially teachers, shouldn't be allowed to strike either. SB5 prohibits all public employees from striking. I think that's a good thing.

    But we still need a way to resolve contract negotiations. SB5 specifies a resolution process, but it has significant flaws.

  18. (...continued)

    SB5 also requires that teachers be evaluated by use of a "merit system." I like the theory, but there are some very significant practical challenges that don't seem to have been thought through very well, the first of which that few if any of the teachers and principals have ever functioned in a merit-based system.

    I was part of the leadership team at CompuServe that was involved in the rollout of our formal Performance Management system in the 1970s. It was a complex process that required a lot of training, adjustment and time to make work. And we had already been operating on a merit-based pay system before this new system was put into place.

    In our elementary schools, for example, we have about 30 teachers and one principal. I am concerned that one principal may not have the bandwidth to perform fair and adequate performance appraisals of 30 teachers each year. In the private sector, this ratio would be more like 10 to 1.

    In many positions, it's rather straightforward to come up with quantitative measures of performance. But even then you have to be careful.

    What if you run an auto assembly line, and the only measure you use to determine worker compensation is the number of cars assembled per day? Might you not get a large number of crap cars, which is just what happened in Detroit until they (management and unions alike) finally saw the light, as they stood on the edge of oblivion?

    If you measure teachers only on test scores, I bet you get higher test scores - and all kinds of shenanigans. The teacher who is buddies with the principal will finagle to get assigned the best behaved and highest performing kids.

    Or we'll end up punishing a very good 4th grade teacher for having kids who don't perform well on the tests because their ineffective 3rd grade teacher put them behind.

    That's why SB5 is 'spectacularly clumsy' - because these things weren't thought through before the law was written.

    These politically polarizing laws do our country no good. If SB5 is upheld, there are still many challenges that have to be worked out. And it might just increase the odds that an equally polarizing Democrat (Ted Strickland?) will get elected time, and yank the steering wheel all the way to the left again.

    If SB5 is repealed, it may embolden the public employee unions to the extent that they feel no need to concede on anything for a while. That's not good either, because we need them to participate in sorting out an economically sustainable solution.

    The existence of SB5, whether it stands or is repealed, just makes solving the problem harder because it's causing everyone go to their corners and come out fighting.

    Once more I'll say: We're aren't going to solve these problems until we have can have all the stakeholders sit down and have a respectful and empathetic conversation.

  19. Thanks Paul, illuminating perspective. A merit system for teachers would be a challenge but perfection is the enemy of the good. Call me naive but I do tend to trust Kasich. I think he's been around long enough to see we've got serious problems. Ohio went from one of the least taxed states in 1970 to one of the heavier taxed ones. And we did so under both Republican and Dem governors.

  20. M stated:
    Some people -- including myself -- believe that since the district has shown zero ability to spend money wisely, that giving them more money is the very last thing we should be doing until we've changed who is in charge of that money...

    ZERO ability to spend money wisely? Have you seen the product HCSD puts out? You may disagree with how the money is spent, but to say they have no ability to spend it wisely is just ignorant rhetoric. HCSD is one of the best school districts in the state of Ohio; their results speak for themselves. The opportunities that are provided to our students, and what they do with those opportunities, are remarkable. The product is the students, and by and large HCSD puts out a quality product.

    I think Paul's point of view is probably that the HCSD could keep the same amazing school system and probably spend a little less doing it, which is a viewpoint I respect, even if I don't necessarily agree wholeheartedly. We can absolutely disagree on the monetary aspect of it, but should never lose sight of the purpose.

    When you say they have 'no ability to spend it wisely', you are clearly focused only and the monetary aspect of education, and not on the purpose, which is to provide a top quality education for our children. It is this 'horse-blinder' approach to education, focusing ONLY on the money, that makes me question why we give people a vote in the first place.

  21. Jerry:

    The core problem is that governments funded by income taxes - which includes the Federal, State and City governments - enjoyed steadily rising income during the 90s, along with most of us in the private sector. Much of that rising income was spent by increasing the number of people employed by these governments, while also raising the compensation and benefits of all workers.

    That's okay when times are good, but when the economy went into recession, the income tax revenue to these governments tanked as well. We know how to ratchet up comp and benefits when revenue is growing, but not how to dial it back when revenue falls. This is a result of the lack of understanding by both taxpayers and public employees, and a failure of our leaders to guide us through the tough conversations necessary to recalibrate expectations when revenue falls significantly.

    I went to Gettysburg National Military Park last weekend with some buddies from my church. My wife and I had been to the battlefield before, but we did one of those self-guided tours with CDs you played in your car. This time, we used one of the professional guides.

    She told us something that I hadn't understood before - that the Battle of Gettysburg was a mistake. Lee's orders were for the Confederate Army to bypass Gettysburg undetected, avoiding making contact with Union forces so that they could proceed north and take Harrisburg. But one of the trailing Confederate regiments couldn't resist taking on a what they thought were a little band of Union soldiers they spotted west of town. Turns out the Union Army had a large force in Gettysburg, so a major battle ensued, and the outcome was a Confederate defeat that turned the war in favor of the North.

    Kasich indeed had to do something. The state budget showed projected spending in the biennium to be a couple $billion more than anticipated revenue. He and the General Assy decided to export the State's budget shortfall to local governments, especially school districts. I'm not sure what else he could have done, and suspect that if Strickland had been reelected, he would have done the same thing.

    Kasich tried to give the local governments a way to deal with the reduced state support. After his election, I wrote to the Governor with the recommendation that to help school districts deal with significant funding cuts, the State should at least temporarily suspend the authority of public sector unions to strike, and allow school boards to bring the unions back to the table to renegotiate contracts.

    That would have been enough. But like that Confederate regiment who decided to go their own way, Kasich ran into a union army (literally) which is more than capable of putting up a good fight. The Battle of Gettysburg lasted three days, and the outcome was in question until the last. That's how the Battle of SB5 will be as well.

    Had we been better led for the last decade, this battle might have never taken place. Regardless of who wins, there will be lots of dead and wounded when it's all over. And like with the Civil War, the dead and wounded will all be Americans.

  22. Using the trauma patient example, I think passing the levy is like addressing an acute problem in the ER, getting the patient back on his feet and then planning to address the underlying issues e.g. high cholesterol and high BP from lifestyle issues once the patient is back on his feet. But I think if the levy passes, the patient in this instance, the people who are responsible for the budget and the people who want to push the gas pedal to the floor full speed ahead will simply leave the ER, wipe their foreheads " Whew, we dodged a bullet there" and carry on with life as usual, overweight, bad diet, lack of exercise, until the next crisis. Which is what most people do and why so many people end up on lasix and lipitor. They can't commit to the lifestyle changes to trim the waistline and get in shape. I have talked to several neighbors with pro-levy signs on their lawns - many are teachers. Some are parents who told me they just want to get their kids through school before the bottom falls out. I think this is despicable. I think if this levy passes, and I think it will based on the pro-levy yard sign count, the full-speed ahead, just-gotta-get-my-kids-through people will forget the underlying problems and careen on down the road, fat and happy, business as usual until the next crisis. A 25 year Hilliard-ite who's never had a kid in the schools, I'm fed up with this predictable outcome. We've been doing crisis response long enough in Hilliard without the needed follow through and the only way to send the message and change things is to slam on the breaks and let the Board, the Admin, the teachers and the just-gotta-get-my-kids-through hit the windshield. I am completely in favor of a budget that only spends current revenue and am voting for School Board accordingly, however, I'm voting against the levy because I think it's time to slam on the brakes and send a wake-up call in which reality hits and actually sinks in.

    BV retiree

  23. I respect your viewpoint, and even agree with much of what you are saying. I've said things very much like this at times.

    Let me make one more use of the trauma analogy: let's say the patient is a drug addict, and the chronic issue is this addiction. We have still to deal with the acute conditions that bring the patient to the ER. But when that situation is resolved, we have to deal with the addiction as well.

    For a long time, the patient (ie the whole community) has been in denial. Some decisions were being made without understanding the long term consequences. Some decisions knowingly pushed the problem down the road.

    Finally, the patient is starting to understand the magnitude and consequences of these issues, and some steps have been made towards withdrawal (e.g. the three-year base salary freeze).

    You advocate making the patient go cold-turkey. I advocate a step-down program. Either approach might work, but the cold turkey approach is far more painful, for both the patient and those who care about him.

  24. Anon, on the money,

    Besides the $$ questions I think we have to look very hard at a district and its employees

    1. Who allow retribution against students whose parents, guardians, grandparents speak up and arent in lock step with the district
    2. Would steal campaign signs and replace them arrogantly with levy signs.
    3. Would "work to the contract" affecting
    "those kids who it is all about."

    The community needs to take its schools back
    from a selfish self centered group in our school
    hierachy, employed, etc. It might be not everyone
    but such activities are unacceptable

    One of these days the district and its employees are goingto go one too far, screw around with the kids, ( and use them convienently,) and the community and because they are reckless will leave the door open to a legal action that will have a devastating affect on the district through their pure arrogance.

  25. Rick,
    Your preconceived notions of those in the education business couldn't be further from reality. Your words, used to inflame the anger, and perpetuate the misunderstandings, of 'no' voters are an attempt to paint the ENTIRE education community in Hilliard based on individual, stale, and biased brushstrokes that do nothing but build bad blood.

    I continue to be disgusted by your tone, which does more to pull us apart than it could ever do to bring us together. It saddens me that you can't see the forest through the trees. I don't even care if you LIKE the forest, I just wish you would acknowledge that it existed.


  26. Paul,
    I agree that there are many practical challenges with merit pay. There are also many reasons why using test scores to determine merit is a bad idea.
    Three studies, one from Harvard and two from Vanderbilt University, concluded that there was very little if any correlation between meritorious bonuses and the achievement of students. The Nashville studies concluded that $15,000 bonuses to middle school mathematics teachers made no difference in overall student achievement levels.
    The concept of merit pay ignores a wealth of studies that show that student test scores are subject to statistical errors, measurement errors, and random errors, and that the “noise” in these scores is multiplied when used to make high-stakes personnel decisions.
    It ignores the fact that most teachers in a school are not eligible for “merit” bonuses, only those who teach reading and math and only those for whom scores can be obtained in a previous year. How will special education, art, music, physical education, and kindergarten teachers prove their merit unless we create more tests for the students to take?
    It ignores the fact that many factors play a role in student test scores, including student ability, student motivation, family support (or lack thereof), even the weather or other distractions on testing day, etc.
    It ignores the fact that many schools departmentalize and a child could have more than one teacher for a particular subject in a year.
    Hilliard is a successful district for many reasons, including parent and community support. But, another important reason for the district's success is teacher quality. Hilliard Schools can hire excellent, dedicated teachers because they have so many applicants to choose from. People want to teach in Hilliard City Schools because of its excellent reputation, the community support, and the professional development and support teachers receive from people who are passionate about education. I believe that continuing the programs that have made Hilliard City Schools excellent with distinction, not merit pay, is the best way to guarantee teacher quality in our school district.

  27. I know several of those "selfish teachers" you are referring to. They are the ones who are spending their Sunday planning lessons and grading papers. I see them in their classrooms on weekends when I take my evening walk. They are the ones who are buying snacks for the kids who come to school hungry. They are the ones who spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pocket on school supplies. They are my friends and they are wonderful people and I am offended that you call them selfish.

  28. Paul, I agree that my son's kindergarten teacher is a saint. She has 20+ kids in her class. I would like to pay every garbage man $100k plus (what would happen w/o garbage men?), every police officer $100k, etc. Unfortunately, they all do not make that kind of money because th source of their paychecks are limited on the funds they bring in. I just think there has to be a cap somewhere. If this particular teacher stayed on for another 15-20 years, she would be at $120k plus. I figred it up and she makes $1,040/per day worked. Per day!!! And according to the state treasurer, that is BEFORE benefits. If you throw in benefits, she is well over $100k already. I think she is fabulous teacher. I think I am a fabulous employee at my job. But I wouldn't expect my employer (who is a small business) to give me that kind of raise each year because I know for a fact they don't have enough funds to do so.

    You are correct, I don't know the process of how the contract comes about with the union and I am absolutely voting in November, for SB5 and against the levy. To be honest, I am still mad they built a third high school with all the bells and whistles to go with it...I realize there was overcrowding, but adding on to existing schools would have done the trick, or at the least, build a new building but share other things (like a football stadium). I feel the only way, especially if SB5 goes down, to show the union that we won't take it anymore is to vote down every levy until they have to lay off so many teachers that the unions realize they have to change. Unions had their importance years ago...they don't anymore. My father worked in a steel mill for 30+ years and was in a union, mostly because he didn't have a choice. He would come home all the time with stories of employees sleeping at work, goofing off, not working a full day, etc. If management ever tried to get rid of those employees, the union would keep it from happening. AND, those same employees, as lazy as they were, made the same money as my father who worked hard and had 1 sick day in those 30 years. I will be part of the process and will have my vote counted, I just pray the unions realize what they are doing before the ship sinks.

  29. "Either approach might work, but the cold turkey approach is far more painful, for both the patient and those who care about him."

    I'd agree with you if one of the "just want to get my kids through school" families weren't talking about a kindergartener and a 3 month old! If we're talking addiction, these people are hooked so bad they're not thinking straight. Should we wait 18 years to get this year's newborns through before we end the party? If we get Heather and Justin elected to the board, though, I'll give you the chance to do an intervention on the addict your way.

    BV retiree.

  30. Dan:

    Your salary math contains a little hyperbole, but I understand your point.

    I have always said that I believe free market forces should determine how a teacher is compensated. If it's really hard to recruit young folks to be kindergarten teachers because it's an extremely demanding job - and I think it is - then we should be prepared to pay what it takes to get good people to be kindergarten teachers. If other teaching positions are easy to fill, then we shouldn't have to pay so much.

    My the way, my oldest is a music teacher (not in Hilliard). She says she would much rather teach at the middle and high school level - where the technical aspects of the material is much harder - than elementary, just because it's so exhausting keeping elementary kids engaged.

    And I've heard horror stories of how in the pre-union days, there were teachers who were in good with the principals and got all the well-behaved kids, the easy classes, and the best raises. The reason the teachers unionized in the first place, and demanded uniform pay scales, was because they didn't feel they were being treated fairly by the administrators in the old system. That's the reason they're fighting so hard to repeal SB5 - because it feels like a retreat to the bad ole days for them.

    That's why we need to quit yelling at each other, and start listening. There are legitimate concerns on all sides of this debate, and we need to figure out a way to build a system we can all live with and afford.

    So teachers, I've tried to make your perspective known. Now I ask you to tell the folks of the community that you understand that times are tough for those of us in the private sector, and that regardless of the outcome of the levy and SB5 votes, you'll continue to work with us to find ways to keep our school system both excellent and affordable, even if it means further cuts have to be made to spending.

  31. I agree that there are all kinds of problems with testing as a means of evaluating teacher effectiveness. But there has to be some way to do it. I think it's like when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked how to define pornography. He said he couldn't, but he knew it when he saw it.

    Most of us can tell when we are in the presence of a great teacher, and when we're observing someone who should be doing something else for a living. We've all been students, and have had great teachers, and outright duds.

    It's also mistake to equate pay with motivation. Chances are that people don't go into teaching for the money, so why do we think money would be an effective motivator? An ill-conceived merit pay system will be both expensive and ineffective.

    I don't know the answers, but think I know some of the questions. Again, we need to have a dialog about this stuff, but it needs to happen in an environment of empathy and respect. Those things seem to be in short supply right now.

  32. Dan...its SAD that you put the blame on the "union". The district is not in the situation it is because of the union. And its sad you base your beliefs on what your father experienced. Its apples and oranges. That being said, I'll be your father had one nice retirement and benefits when it was all said and done. Thanks to his UNION!
    And the myth that unions keep the bad employees is just that, a myth. I have personally seen people fired who were in unions. Why? Because the administration/management did what was needed, and did it properly. Typically, that is the issue, those in charge didn't do things correctly. The unions only make sure there is due process. Which is NEEDED, obviously. Sorry, but your old school thought process is just that, old school.
    RICK..your post isn't even worth replying to. Shame on your for putting the blame on those who serve 15K+ students in this wonderful school district. You should be ashamed at a post like that. Wow....

  33. Our teachers' union - the HEA - has enjoyed the deals it has because that's what they negotiated with the people who had been elected to the School Board when those contracts were signed.

    But it's not quite that simple. The unions - especially the public employee unions - have used their political power to get folks favorable to the unions into office, from the Federal level all the way to the school boards. That has resulted in labor laws which tip the negotiating table in the favor of the unions.

    In particular, allowing public employees in critical jobs - like teaching - to strike, has resulted in deals favorable to the teachers in negotiation after negotiation, because it allows the kids to be used as pawns in what should be a negotiation between adults.

    Teachers' unions across Ohio, including the Hilliard Education Association, signed deals this year that traded pay freezes for multi-year contract terms so as to essentially neutralize the merit-pay components of SB5.

    Would we have these pay freeze deals without the threat of SB5? Who knows. But it would appear the statewide union strategy is to keep things the way they were until they can get Kasich out of office and replace him with another union-friendly governor.

    Are the unions to be blamed or penalized for using their powers of organization to support candidates and issues? No. If you want to fight the power of the unions, then create your own organization to stand up to them, or join with the Building a Better Ohio campaign. Get your candidates elected. Lobby for laws that support your position.

    Our system is not "the majority rules." It's "the majority of those who vote" rules.

    Votes count. Elections make a difference. Be sure to understand how the candidates stand, and what the issues mean.

    The best way to do that is to pay attention to where the campaign money comes from....

  34. Paul - you wrote "It's like trauma care - you first pay attention to breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure and make sure those are stabilized before worrying about the patient's cholesterol numbers.
    That sure sounds like more of the "kicking the can down the road" talk. While I am going to vote Yes on the levy, after voting No last time for the first time in my 23 years in Hilliard, I am doing so only in the hope that a refreshed school board, and the fact that more folks are finally paying attention, will address that "cholesterol" issue. I continue to be pessimistic, however.

  35. Hillirdite:

    The 'trauma' in this analogy is the $10m in State funding cuts.

    With the 2011-2013 HEA agreements, the next three years could have been funded with a 2 mill levy had the State funding been maintained, so I think you could say that the 'cholesterol' problem has received some attention. Remember that the past couple of levies were 6.9 mills (2008) and 8.9 mills (2004), and those were at times of rising state funding.

    The real question is what the negotiations will look like in 2013. Will Kasich still be in office, or will he have been replaced by a pro-labor Governor? Will SB5 have been upheld or repealed? Will the level of understanding of the economics have risen enough among both community members and teachers such that a rational, rather than emotional, discussion take place?

    And who will be sitting on the school board? The two folks elected in November will be part of that negotiation.

  36. Obviously, Kasich will still be office in 2013 - his term runs through 2014. The question will be which party holds the majority in the General Assy after the 2012 elections.

  37. Paul - I get the trauma. Having co-owned a small business, I have dealt with more than my share of trauma situations, but have never been able to simply "charge" more for my services without it having a negative impact, mostly due to "market influences". My clients can take the Walmart approach and find someone who can provide my services cheaper, even though they might not realize that they are risking a lower level/quality of product and service. As well, since I am in the direct mail business, where my clients largest cost is totally outside of control (postage), I need to find ways to become more efficient, reduce expenses, and forgo "normal" profit margins. In the past, that has meant little or no increases in compensation for the staff, decreases in compensation for us two owners, and just generally doing more with less. I have worked longer hours in the past 4 years than I did when we were a startup company, and you know what? I, nor my employees, have complained as we all realize that we are in this for the long term, and we have watched several competitors either fold completely or get absorbed - either way, resulting in long term employees suddenly finding themselves out of job.
    I've been on this forum long enough for you to know that I don't have it "in" for teachers, or even administrators, not in general anyway. I wish we could pay them "what they are worth", which does not mean more for all of them either. I also don't have any magic answers as to how to "rate" our staff - it might be the most complex task that we as a district have. But I do know that if I had to make a 5-year Forecast for my business, and it looked as dismal as the HCSD's looks, I would just shut my doors right now while I still had something left to sell. We almost did that 3 years ago, but are fortunate that our tide has turned, although the owners equity positions were almost to zero just prior to that. About all we had left was a strong equity position in our building, and that, as well as starting the current economic morass with little debt due to being prudent during the "good times" allowed us to survive, and even prosper lately.
    As has been pointed out by many others, the trend has been to go "whew, we dodged that bullet" and forget that the gun is still loaded. I've made my decision on both the levy, which is YES and on my choices for the Board. Assuming this levy passes, by the time the next one rolls around, I will either be voting Yes, or will have moved out of the district.
    I said many times after Kasich was elected under the "no tax increase" platform, that the burden would fall on local government - there was simply no other way. These are new times, and new solutions are required. I have not changed my stance on Pay to Play ( I am strongly for it), compensation (ALL compensation, of ALL types) as well as many other things that I think need to be realigned in regards to costs vs. revenues. I admire that you have taken on this task and stuck with it, and I admire that we have new candidates who are willing to do the same. At the same time, I voted for a previous board member who campaigned on a platform that included expanding our two high schools and then turned around almost immediately upon taking office into favoring the building of Bradley, which I maintain has bitten us in the you-know-what. Hence my pessimism. - how will we play the hand(s) we are dealt in the future?

  38. Hillirdite:

    I know the situation you speak of in regard to the third high school. I'll strive to remain consistent to the views I've held all these years, which I think can be boiled down to two things:

    1. We need to recalibrate the rate of spending growth to reasonable expectations of income.

    2. We can't achieve #1 successfully until a lot more people show an interest in understanding the how school economics works, so they can engage in solution-making, and not just emotional rhetoric.

    Progress is being made, but not fast enough to generate long-term solutions.

    That's the reason this election is perhaps the most important one that has occurred in the 3 decades I've lived in the district - maybe ever.

    We'll be voting on a levy, on school board members, and on SB5 - each of which has significant impact on the future. Together, the potential impact is huge...

  39. I'm in 100% agreement with that entire post Paul.
    And your consistency since being elected is appreciated, actually since well before that.

  40. Keep kids out of work to the contract actions and confrontations with kids in the classrooms about community members opinions, Follow a prudent financial plan and head what the audit committee said even with an levy endorsement is that spending growth has to be reined in . Then all is well. Respect the kids.

  41. @Paul

    "The 'trauma' in this analogy is the $10m in State funding cuts.

    With the 2011-2013 HEA agreements, the next three years could have been funded with a 2 mill levy had the State funding been maintained"

    Sorry, but this is one of those Unicorns and Rainbows arguments.

    Had the board not been negligent in 2008 agreeing to 7.15% raises for 2/3rds of the unionized employees, or had the board fired McVey for lying to them when he stated step increases were mandatory under the law (they aren't and never have been), or had the board simply done what it was elected to do, our spending wouldn't have rocketed up 28% since 2005 while we have a 6% increase in student enrollment.

    Had they maintained spending increases to 10%, still 4% over enrollment increases, none of the $10m in cuts would be necessary.

    This is where you and I diverge; I've heard the threats for 15 years; it's always the same. My God they have a $10k program on the cut list for crying out loud.

    If people can't see this cut list for what it is, then frankly we deserve what's coming.

    Sooner or later this district WILL have to make cuts. To the levy supporters: figure it out; the sooner we make the cuts, the smaller the cut amount will be.

    The longer we wait by continuing to band aid the trauma patient who is hemorrhaging on the table, the worse it will be in the end...

  42. M:

    "Had the Board simply done what it was elected to do..."

    Isn't that exactly what they did? The people sitting on the Board when those contracts were signed were the ones duly elected by the voters of this school district (at least the voters who bothered to show up).

    Between 1981 and 2009, 16 different people were elected to the School Board, including a number who were later elected as City Council members or Township Trustees (e.g. Chuck Buck, Larry Earman, Donna Swenson, Dana Peacock). Seven were elected for multiple terms: Swensen, Buck, Denise Bobbitt (2 terms), Libby Gierach (3 terms), Doug Maggied (4 terms), and Tom Calhoon (5 terms).

    And note that in 2009, both incumbents who chose to run for election (Andy Teater and Lisa Whiting) were indeed reelected, and in fact were the top vote getters at the end of the day - by a large margin. When I first ran (unsuccessfully) in 2007, Doug Maggied was the top vote getter.

    I heard a parent at a recent PTO meeting express concern that much noise is made about the fact that HCSD is on the low end of spending in some categories - she doesn't want HCSD to be the low spender. There is a spectrum of beliefs in this community. We can't say some are right and some are wrong. We can say that we agree with some and disagree with others. Which view prevails is decided at the ballot box.

    By the way, one could argue that step increases are indeed required by pre-SB5 law, a point I addressed in a blog post back in 2008. They don't need to be any specific size or structure as long as the minimum pay scale specified in the Ohio Revised Code is met, and the only that criteria considered is years of service and degrees achieved.

    Our pay scale is certainly much higher than the state minimums, but that's been local choice, made by Boards of Education over many years.

    If you want to change the demeanor of the School Board in regard to compensation, you have to get the candidate(s) who agree with you elected.

    Defeating reasonable levies isn't the solution, because what gets cut is decided by School Board as well.

  43. Jim Geraghty writes of the incredible competence of Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal (the Louisiana Democrat State Central Committee has not even endorsed a candidate in the Democrat primary!):

    As fundamental as job creation is during a long recession, Jindal is most passionate when discussing changes to his state’s schools.... The state made a couple of key decisions after Katrina... The existing collective-bargaining agreement for teachers and other school employees was nullified, ending the practice of firing based on seniority (last in, first out). The state also set out to maximize the use of charter schools...John C. White, former deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, is now the superintendent of the recovery school district. “There are other places that realize this is what’s working, and are now saying, we’re going to emulate that,” White says, walking through Sci Academy. “Tennessee now has created a set of reforms entirely modeled on Louisiana. Detroit now wants to enact reforms modeled on Louisiana. We’re struggling in our business for what works. It’s going to take enormous political courage to create something like that.”

  44. Paul, am trying to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements of yours:

    It's also mistake to equate pay with motivation. Chances are that people don't go into teaching for the money, so why do we think money would be an effective motivator?

    If it's really hard to recruit young folks to be kindergarten teachers because it's an extremely demanding job - and I think it is - then we should be prepared to pay what it takes to get good people to be kindergarten teachers.

  45. Fair point. In the latter statement, I should have used the word "compensation" rather than pay.

    They're not the same. I include in "compensation" not only the paycheck, but also other elements that can be used to complete the statement "In order to feel rewarded and motivated to teach kindergarten for HCSD, I would like to have the following: a) cash pay of $X/yr; b) Y days of vacation; c) a classroom with this list of equipment; d) an electronic grade management system; etc. If the demands are too much, we look for another candidate. If they are reasonable, we get both a qualified and a motivated employee, which seems like the goal.

    Everything I've been taught about compensation says that the perfect compensation system gives the employee both cash and non-cash benefits in a mix that truly motivates the employee.

    For example, in a number of positions I held, part of the reward was that I could jump on an airplane any time I wanted and go to most anyplace in the world where we did business, provided I could achieve something during the trip that make the travel costs worth it to our business.

    But there were also those in our team for whom being forced to get on an airplane and go to a strange place would be punishment. Their reward was something else. For many of the engineers in our group, the best reward was the opportunity to be part of the team on a new project (and punishment was doing maintenance on some boring old system, like payroll).

    I recognize that it's not practical to truly customize a comp plan for each member of a large organization. But I'll wager that the things needed to recruit and retain great kindergarten teachers are different than those needed to recruit and retain great chemistry teachers. And in neither case will the best motivator necessarily be more money in the paycheck.

    But that's what we try to use, and I think it's both expensive and inefficient.

    Wouldn't it be cool if we could say "here's the menu of all the benefits we can provide to your as a teacher, and what they each cost. Please pick any combination that adds up to no more than $X per year."

    Sometimes, we can reward the team without spending much money at all. Just reducing the "hassle factor" is a big one. One of the great things about involving teachers in curriculum development, for example, is that they feel they have a say in how they're supposed to achieve objectives.

    Hope this helps.

  46. I like what I've seen of Bobby Jindal, but we have to admit that he had a unique circumstance. Rahm Emanuel is credited with saying "Never waste a good crisis," and in that spirit, Jindal has used Katrina as an opportunity to change things in a big way.

    Here's the thing with change - lots of folks can come up with a new way of doing things that is better and cheaper. The challenge is making the transition from the old way.

    Bobby Jindal didn't have to force change. Katrina did that. The New Orleans public school system was going to be different afterward.

    One of the major beefs I have with SB5 is that it describes the a new state of operation for our schools, but doesn't give adequate thought as to the transition from what we have now to that new state. That's one of the reasons there is almost no buy-in from the teachers (firefighters, police, etc) - they don't see how we will get from here to there.

  47. @Paul

    The board was not elected to run the school district into the ground, which is what IS coming if we don't get a grip on the spending.

    People who vote because their kids are in the schools, but fully intend to leave when their kids graduate are no better than voters who elect politicians who borrow money to fund unsustainable programs.

    In both cases, it's the next generation that pays the price.

    Well guess what? When it comes to the HCSD, the next generation is already here.

    Just because people are stupid enough to relect people who will admit to you in public that (unlike yourself) they have no ideas how to address the problems and that the levy is the "only solution", doesn't mean that there isn't a price to be paid down the road.

    Levy supporters: if you support the levy that's one thing, but if you support the school district, the LAST thing you need to be doing is re-electing people who are unwilling to address the long term problem. Let's make sure we get two new people on the board who, like Paul, are looking to the future!

  48. M you are so right! It is already too late for people to wake up. I'm very thankful for Paul and some of the other linked websites that have explained in detail the situation at hand, without them I would be just another clueless voter.

  49. I'm going to have a hard time voting for Heather Keck seeing how she got endorsed by the HEA. For me, that's an anti-endorsement.