Thursday, December 26, 2013


In the course of seven years, I've published 438 articles to this blog. That's a little more than one per week, which has been my goal, believing that I should publish often enough to keep folks interested, but not so much to become just white noise.

I'm not sure there's that much more for me to say - at least not on the fundamental stuff:

  • The cost of running our school district is, and will always be, a function of the number of folks we employ and how much we pay them. I believe that the time has come when we must have an earnest conversation about whether we can continue to afford the expansive programming we offer, especially at the high school level, in both the academic and extracurricular dimensions.

    The regular appearance on the ballot of the property tax levies necessary to fund the rising cost of this level of programming will meet increasing resistance from voters, and our high tax rate will jeopardize our property values. But cutting our programming to the bone and becoming a less-desirable school district will hurt our property values as well. We'll have to make our choices very carefully, and with a lot of dialog.

    And it can't be done successfully with the abysmal community engagement we saw in the November election, with only 13% turnout.  Of the 56,488 registered voters in the Hilliard City School District, only 7,348 bothered to show up. That's fewer than half the number of students we have enrolled in the district - for an election in which three of the five School Board members would be determined. There's probably more folks at one of our intra-district football games.

    Granted, we, the leaders of our school district, should do a better job of creating opportunities for you to be engaged in these necessary conversations. I hope we take on that challenge in the coming year.
  • Our revenue will always be a mixture of local property taxes and funding from the State of Ohio. As long as our state and national politics remain so polarized, the state funding component will continue to be volatile. That means we need to keep a reasonable cash reserve on hand to give us time to make good decisions when state funding drops, rather than having to react to an immediate fiscal crisis.

    And until our local city leaders - Hilliard, Columbus and Dublin - decide that it's more important to protect the current residents of our community than it is to provide profit opportunities to residential real estate developers, we need to understand that when a new housing development goes up, the rest of us are likely going to end up subsidizing the cost of educating the kids who will come with it.

    By the way, I say that with the understanding that it may well be thought to be hypocritical for the School Board to enter into an agreement to sell 100+ acres to a home developer. This is a unique and unfortunate situation, and I've explained how I came to support this decision. Since the deal fell through because of the unexpected demands put on the developer by the City of Hilliard, we have one more chance to explore options. Who knows?

    Regardless, the general economic health of our public institutions - both the School District and municipalities - depends on bringing in businesses at a rate comparable to residential development. Or rather, the rate of residential development should be managed so as not to exceed the rate of new commercial development. It can be done as simply as refusing new annexation requests for residential development until a good more commercial development takes place.

    An expanding school district doesn't count as commercial development, even though Hilliard City Schools is the largest employer in the City of Hilliard. The income taxes paid by the teachers and staff of the School District may help fund the City of Hilliard, but that money starts out as property taxes paid by the residents and businesses already here in our community. What we need are more employers who get their revenue from outside the school district, like BMW Financial and Verizon.
I'm sure that every once in a while, some issue will come up which merits some explanation, analysis or comment, but otherwise I'll not be trying to keep to a one-article-per-week pace going forward. I also hope that soon all the supplemental materials for our School Board meetings will be provided directly on the district website, along with the meeting agenda.

Meanwhile, if you have a question or issue you want me to address, please send an email, and I'll be happy to do so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Notice of Special School Board Meeting


(RC 3313.16)

Notice is hereby given; there will be a SPECIAL meeting of the Board of Education of the Hilliard City School District on TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2013 at 6:00 P.M. located at the McVey Innovative Learning Center Annex, 5323 Cemetery Road, Hilliard, Ohio. The meeting will be held in regular session to discuss regular business as deemed necessary by the Board of Education and any other business that may be lawfully considered.

The meeting is called by Brian W. Wilson, Treasurer/CFO of the Hilliard City School District Board of Education, at the direction of the President of said Board.

December 16, 2013


Brian W. Wilson, Treasurer/CFO
Hilliard City School District
Board of Education

I believe the only item on the agenda will be to approve a new 3 year agreement with the employees represented by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE). I'll publish the final version when available. The base compensation increases are the same as for the Hilliard Education Association (2% each year of the contract), with the same changes to the health insurance plan design.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Supplemental Materials for the December 9, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday December 9, 2013 at 7pm at Weaver Middle School. This will be the last regularly scheduled Board meeting for 2013.

Item B2 is a presentation of the results from a community survey taken in August. A couple of observations:

  •  A large majority of folks say the community and the school district is "going in the right direction."
  • More folks said "managing the budget/cutting costs" should be the top priority than any other choice.
  • 86% said the quality of education provided by the district is Good or Very Good.
  • 30% approve or strongly approve of the job being done by the School Board vs 9% who disapprove. But 60% said they don't know or don't care. This apathy is what's going to kill America.
  • The community is evenly split on this dimension: a) should we have the very best schools we can even if it means raising taxes; versus, b) we need to control costs, even if it means we're not being the best. (sorry, missed the "not" in the originally published version)
  • Over half said we should put more emphasis on reducing operating costs
  • Over half said we should put more emphasis on preparing students for college and higher education
  • About half said we should put more emphasis on advanced coursework
  • About half said we have enough emphasis on fine arts (why wasn't there a question about athletics?)
  • Less than half said we should increase the access to technology. About the same fraction said we have enough access to technology now.
  • Less than half said we should more more emphasis on building security. More folks said we are good where we are.
  • Best sources of information to evaluate the quality of the district?  More said the teachers than any other response. Next was students.
  • Best source of general information about the schools?  #1 is the newspapers, followed by the district "E-News."
  • Here's a critical demographic: 62% of the respondents don't have kids in our schools.

Item F1 is mandated by the Ohio Revised Code and our own Policy KH to allow the school district to accept various items which were donated this year. We thank the efforts and generosity of the contributors.

Item F2 is an amendment to our appropriations. This is the legal mechanism required to take possession of additional revenue made available to us.

Item F3 is the 2014-2015 school calendar.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Too Many Administrators?

It takes a lot of money to run a school district like ours - $202 million for the current school year, as detailed in the Annual Budget*. That's not a magic number. Rather it's the result of a collection of decisions made over the years, some big and some small. The big ones are these:
  • What we're going to offer our students in terms of programming and services
  • How we're going to provide those programs and services, which has both staffing and facilities considerations
  • How much we're going to invest in the purchase, construction and maintenance of our facilities and capital equipment
  • How well we're going to compensate the teachers, staff, and administrators
Many times on this blog I have stated that 86% of our budget is spent on compensation and benefits. To clarify, we spend 86% of our General Fund budget on compensation and benefits. This is the part of our financial structure into which the property taxes generated by operating levies are collected, as well as the funding from the State of Ohio. It is from the General Fund that we pay almost all of the compensation and benefits, buy books, pay the utility bills, and fund the cost of the everyday operations of the district. It is the General Fund we're dealing with when Treasurer Brian Wilson presents the Five Year Forecast to the School Board. The General Fund Budget is $167 million for FY14, or 82% of the total budget*.

That means compensation and benefits are 71% of our overall annual spending, used to employ 1,683 people, all who directly or indirectly support the education of 15,838 students.

A comment often heard is that we're "top-heavy with administrators."  A parent said that to me last week. As a candidate for the School Board, Brian Perry said this was something he wanted addressed, and a lot of voters agreed with him.

Maybe it's because I spent a lot of years in management, but I think the opposite might be true. I'm not sure we have enough administrators given the amount of work they have to do. In particular, I'm concerned about the principals and assistant principals because of the new workload placed on them by the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).

Many of us - me included - would like there to be an accurate, fair and trusted methodology created for evaluating teacher effectiveness so that we can reward teachers accordingly. As my friend Marc Schare says (who was just re-elected to his third term on the Worthington School Board), under the current step-and-lane compensation system, some teachers are overpaid, and some are underpaid, and we can't fix either problem. OTES might be step towards getting there, but part of the cost is the time burden it puts on both our teachers and administrators.

So what is the makeup of our administrative team?
  • Each of our 17 elementary buildings has one principal.  Assistant principals at the elementary level were eliminated several years ago. These 17 principals supervise about 340 classroom teachers, plus many other professional staff, and are collectively responsible for 8,300 kids. That's a ratio of 20 regular classroom teachers and 488 students per administrator.
  • Our 3 middle schools each have a principal and an assistant principal. I don't have the count of teachers at the middle school level, but there are 2,415 students, making the ratio 402 students per administrator.
  • The three high schools each have one principal. Bradley and Darby each have 3 assistant principals, and Davidson has four. Together they are responsible for 4,803 students, for a ratio of 300 students per administrator.
  • Each high school also has an athletic director.
  • The district-wide School Age Child Care program has one director and four building level coordinators
  • At the central office, we have 11 department directors, 20 supervisors (e.g. building maintenance, custodial, transportation), and five administrative assistants
  • The superintendent, treasurer, and two assistant superintendents.
Another point of comparison is the administrative cost per student. The Ohio Dept of Education requires school districts to reports expenses according to standardized categories. Here's how we stack up compared to the other districts in Franklin County (data from the ODE's Cupp Report):

Click to enlarge; source spreadsheet here
Notice that we have the lowest Administrative cost per pupil of any district in the county - by far.

So I don't agree that we have too many administrators, or that our management structure is too top-heavy. Compared to corporate environments, I think we run pretty thin.

That's not to say that I think our cost per student is exactly where it should be. That too is a matter of opinion, and can be answered only in the context of the strategic questions I pose at the top of this article. Some districts in our county spend a good deal more per student, such as Bexley, Grandview Heights, and Upper Arlington. This is in part due to the richness of their programming, and in part because of their compensation structure.

Columbus City Schools also spends a lot per student, I suspect in part because of the large amount of intervention services they must provide to their vast numbers of students from poverty. However, they also have an extremely high administrative cost.

We need to have an ongoing dialog about how much money we spend for what, and we also have to recognize that we are not of one mind in regard to the answers. But I hope we do agree that the relationship between the perceived quality of the school district and the taxes we must pay to create that quality influences the desirability of our community, and hence our property values.

The best situation would be to have low taxes and high perceived value. There are probably some districts which fall into this category, but I can't think of any. Indian Hill down near Cincinnati has a very low tax rate, but it also has the second highest property valuation per pupil in the state - virtually all of it residential. In spite of a very low tax rate, they still have enough money to spend $15,740 per student, with 84% of generated by local taxes.

The worst is to have high taxes and low perceived value. The districts who initiated the DeRolph case many years ago probably felt they were in this category, as they had fairly high property tax rates, but it generated little revenue because property values are so low. This is the situation which led the Ohio Supreme Court to declare that funding system as unconstitutional.

We are in neither extreme. Our taxes feel too high to many folks, but they're that way primarily because we're a relatively affluent bedroom community (meaning we get less state funding support than rural and urban districts) where residential development has been allowed to significantly outpace commercial development.

But we also have one of the most desirable school districts in the region. Yes, we can probably get by with less. The challenge is getting a majority of people to agree what we can do with less of so we can invest more for the future, and keep the desirability of our schools - and hence our community - high.

I hope you participate in the discussion.

* The budget actually says $227 million. The difference is due to the way our medical benefits are accounted for, with there being a $25 million expense recorded to the General Fund which is then recorded as revenue to the Proprietary Funds, which is where we pay out actual medical expenses for our employees. Nothing sneaky, just the way the accounting works for government entities. For those of us used to corporate accounting, it makes sense to wash this out, just as would be done when rolling up a subsidiary's books to the parent.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Supplemental Materials for the November 25, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday November 25, 2013 at 7pm at JW Reason Elementary School.

Item C2 of the agenda is to approve the Treasurer's Monthly Financial Report. I see nothing out of the ordinary.

Item E1 includes the list of salary supplementals paid for coaches and advisors for winter semester activities.

Item F1 is the third reading and adoption of a number of policies.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

HB920 Explained

Ohio's school funding approach splits the responsibility for funding public schools between the state government and the local school district. Some argue that the Ohio Constitution requires the state government to provide sufficient funding such that every school school district can deliver a "thorough and efficient education" without the need for local funds.

This was the basis of the Derolph vs State of Ohio lawsuit which resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court declaring Ohio's school funding system to be unconstitutional. By the way, the Supreme Court never said that property taxes were unconstitutional. Their problem wasn't with property taxes, but rather that the state portion of the funding was inadequate for the districts with low property values, necessitating unreasonably high local property taxes to adequately fund their schools.

It's also worth mentioning that the DeRolph decision is now moot, as the funding scheme it addressed has been replaced twice, first by Gov. Strickland's Evidence Based Model, and then by the approach introduced by Gov. Kasich. The current scheme is constitutional by default until a new lawsuit is filed and the courts rule otherwise. Apparently no one feels it is worth going through that exercise again.

Constitutionality is not the subject of this article. Rather I want to explain how property taxes are calculated, and in particular to address what happens when the County Auditor reassesses property values every three years.

You may have heard "HB920" mentioned, especially when there is a levy on the ballot. HB920 was enacted by the General Assembly in 1976. It was designed to protect homeowners from being "taxed out of their homes" as a result of rapidly rising property values, and it does so by keeping property taxes constant while property values rise. The Bill was championed by George Voinovich when he was the County Auditor of Cuyahoga County, and the neighborhood called "The Flats" was being regentrified.

Some folks will lament that HB920 "prevents property tax collections from rising automatically with inflation," as though that is a bad thing. As I've written for many years, I think this is a good thing, as it forces school leaders to go before the taxpayers when there is a desire to increase spending. I think that level of accountability is very healthy.

This is a much misunderstood law, and I didn't really understand its nuances until recently, when I attended a session taught by Michael Sobul, a former official of the Ohio Dept of Taxation, and current Treasurer of the Granville School district. The process is actually simpler than I thought. Here goes:

Let's get started by imagining a school district in which there is only one piece of real estate, a home with a market value of $100,000. That homeowner has voted to allow 2 mills of taxes to be levied to fund the school district. "Mills" are tax lingo, and simply means 0.1%. So a 2 mill tax rate is the same as 0.2%. One would think this means that a 2 mill (or 0.2%) tax on a $100,000 property would yield an tax bill of $200.

But at some point in the past, Ohio's lawmakers decided to adjust the taxable value of real estate by setting the "assessed value" of property to 35% of the market value. I imagine this came to be at some time when the General Assembly decided to reduce property taxes across the board. As a result, under current law this 2 mill levy would apply to $35,000 not $100,000, and the tax bill would be $70.00 per year.

Home #1
Market Value
Assessed Value
Levy #1
2 mills
Annual Tax

Then another home is built in the school district - this one valued at $200,000. The same reduction to 35% of market value is applied, yielding a tax of $140.00.

Home #1
Home #2
Market Value
Assessed Value
Levy #1
2 mills
2 mills
Annual Tax

Note that the total tax collected by this levy is $210.00.  As long as these are the only two properties in the school district, this $210.00/yr is all that Levy #1 is allowed to collect, regardless of changes to the market value of the properties over time.

Every three years, the County Auditor may reassess the market value of properties. Let's say that after such a reassessment, the value of Home #1 increases by 1% to $101,000, and the value of Home #2 increases 10% to $220,000:

Home #1
Home #2

Market Value


Assessed Value

Levy #1 Full Rate
Levy #1 Limit

Reduction Factor

New Tax

As required by HB920, the total amount collected by Levy #1 remains $210/year, but the amount of tax paid on each home has changed. Added to the calculation is the "Reduction Factor," which is simply the amount of tax collected at the original valuations divided by the amount of tax that would be collected at the full rate with the new valuations. In this case, it's $210.00 divided by $224.70, yielding a Reduction Factor of .934579.

This reduction factor is applied to the tax calculated at the new values, which restores the total tax collected to the original amount, but doesn't necessarily cause the tax collected on each individual parcel to remain the same. Notice what happened in the example above: Even though both homes increased in value, the tax due on Home #1 has decreased, while the tax on Home #2 has increased. That might not seem fair, but it's the way things work.

The consequence can be exactly that which was pointed out recently by my neighbor, Mike Harrold: the tax burden shifts disproportionately to neighborhoods where home values are rising the most. Kind of a double whammy.

Now let's say that a new 5.0 mill levy is passed by the voters:

Home #1
Home #2

Market Value


Assessed Value

Levy #1 Tax
Levy #2 mills

Levy #2 Tax
Total Tax

There is no reduction factor applied to the new tax - it is charged against the Assessed Value at the full rate, and will remain so until there is another reassessment of property values.

Let's say that a third home is built in the school district, and that this home has a market value of $150,000:

Home #1
Home #2
Home #3

Market Value


Assessed Value

Full Rate mills

Full Rate Tax


Reduction Factor

Adjusted Tax

As you see, it's not true that "Once a levy passes, it never generates more money," which is something which has often been claimed by levy campaign committees in past years. New properties do generate additional revenue, at the same effective tax rate as all the other properties in the school district. It may not be enough to fund the cost of the additional students which come with new homes, but that's a different story.

The last example I'll present shows what happens when property values decline, a scenario not considered by the authors of HB920 back in 1976, but one which we now know can happen:

Home #1
Home #2
Home #3

Mkt Value Chg

Market Value


Assessed Value

Full Rate mills

Full Rate Tax
Reduction Factor

Adjusted Tax
% Adjustment

So one powerful consequence of HB920 is that it protects the taxing entity - in this case the school district - when property values go down. In other words, just as taxes don't rise as property values increase, neither do property taxes decrease - in aggregate - when property values decline. I think a lot of people were surprised by this when the housing bubble popped a couple of years ago.

This is also why school districts didn't get nailed in the same way as did other governments when incomes fell off in the Great Recession. Granted, when the state budget took the hit from falling income tax revenue, that directly led to a decrease in the aggregate funding from the state to education. However, the impact was not equal across all school districts. The more affluent districts - and we're seen to be one of those - had larger reductions, implemented primarily via an acceleration of the phase-out of reimbursement of Personal Property Tax income.

As tax revenues have recovered for the state government, some of the reductions to us have been restored, which is the primary reason why we can say that another levy should not be needed before 2015.

It was looking pretty bleak there for a while, to the point that I was fairly confident that we couldn't make it to even 2014, our commitment when we put the last levy on the ballot, without some painful cuts to programming and services, achieved in the only way we can - to reduce personnel expenditures. This is the reason I voted twice to not accept the Five Year Forecast from our Treasurer.

Things obviously look better now, allowing us to negotiate a reasonable deal with the teachers and still not need to put a levy on the ballot until 2015.

I believe we need to use this period of relative calm to spend some time thinking strategically about the future of our school district:
  • Can we maintain the richness of offerings at our high schools and keep the rate of expense growth such that it can be funded with reasonable levies at reasonable intervals?
  • What things should we consider in regard to the health care coverage for our employees that changes the trajectory of these costs?  If Obamacare survives, we're going to run right into the Cadillac Tax unless we make some significant changes to our plan design. Paying this tax makes no sense at all.
  • Is it time to look at income taxes as a component of our funding strategy?  How about an Earned Income Only Tax?  As I've disclosed before, an Earned Income Tax is particularly attractive to retired folks like me, but it narrows the tax base, leaving out not only retirees but also the corporations, who pay only property taxes. In other words, it transfers more of the incremental funding burden to folks still working, who also tend to be the folks with kids in school.
As always, my mission is to educate the voters of our community so that we can have an informed dialog about these matters. I hope you will participate.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Role of the School Board

Now that the election is over, and the composition of our school board is set for the next two years, it might be worth a reminder of what it is the Board of Education of an Ohio public school district is supposed to do.

Section 3313 of the Ohio Revised Code answers much of that question, plus there are a great number of other requirements placed on school boards in other sections of the state law. One can get a sense of what those requirements are by looking back through the minutes of prior meetings and reading the resolutions which were acted upon. With few exceptions, those resolutions were mandated by something written into a law. For example, the law requires that school boards must review and approve the Five Year Forecast twice each year. Look at the minutes for May and October, and you'll see resolutions to that effect.

So while a school board must perform certain duties as dictated by the law, a school board has the ability to engage in pretty much any matter it cares to when it comes to the school district - nothing is off limits.

That doesn't mean it's a good idea for the school board to participate in the day-to-day details. This is perhaps why the Ohio Revised Code requires each school district to also have a Superintendent and Treasurer, who serve as the executive officers of the school district, reporting to the school board, but with their own statutory responsibilites. Clearly the state lawmakers believe that governance and management are separate roles. So do I.

But what is the difference in those roles?

This is a point of debate and often tension between governing bodies and executives in all kinds of organizations, not just school boards. Shareholder-owned, for-profit corporations have Boards of Directors and Chief Executive Officers. Many not-for-profit organizations do as well. I have served on both kinds of Boards, and have at times been witness to a divergence of opinion between the Board and the CEO. It's never fun, but neither is it something to be avoided when the success of the organization requires it.

In the corporate world, this tension is sometimes prevented by naming the same person to be the Chairman of the Board of Directors as well as the Chief Executive Officer. While this may streamline the decision-making process, it can also lead to out-of-control management. Since the meltdown of the stock market precipitated by the collapse of companies like Enron and Worldcom (briefly my employer), having both roles held by the same person is viewed much less favorably.

The Founding Fathers set up the federal government of the United States of America with three branches, each of whose powers are limited by the other two. Within that, we have a legislative branch with two houses which must agree on exact language before a law can be enacted. 

One can complain that this structure is inherently inefficient, but the objective of the Founders was never efficiency - it was restraint of power. The Founding Fathers thought it was okay if the federal government would have a hard time generating new legislation. After all, they were generally in favor of less government, not more.

Nonetheless, Congress can be acquiescent to a popular or powerful President. Lyndon Johnson is said by some to have been the most productive President the post World War II period, based on the number of initiatives championed by his administration which made it to law. He also had the advantage of holding the Presidency at a time when his party had held the majority in both houses of Congress for 26 of the prior 30 years. And it is often said that the members of Congress feared LBJ because he was a bully, and they weren't really sure what dirt he might have about them.

These days our federal government is almost dysfunctional because the Senate and the House of Representatives are ruled by two different parties, and the President has been unable, or unwilling, to build a workable middle ground. That too has happened from time to time in the history of our country. It has a way of working itself out - when the people grow tired of the shenanigans and start replacing incumbents who thought they were safe.

So how does this relate to public school boards, you ask?  After all, the superintendent of a school district isn't directly elected by the people, as is the President of the United States. The superintendent is hired by the school board, evaluated by the school board, and has his/her contract renewed (or not) by the school board. How can there be any conflict?

In this case, it might be helpful to look not at the model of the relationship between the President and Congress - both elected positions - but rather between the President and the officers in charge of the military, the latter whom are appointed by the former.

While Presidents are limited by the 22nd Amendment to no more than two terms in office, the top military officers serve for their whole adult life. When President Obama graduated from high school, Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was already a Major in the Army. By the time Mr. Obama was elected President, without any prior executive leadership experience, Dempsey had risen to the top of our military command structure as a 4-star General, having commanded hundreds of thousands of troops and received extensive training in international affairs.

It can be easy to understand why our professional military leaders sometimes get a little frustrated with an organizational structure which places them under a civilian Commander in Chief who may never have served in the armed forces, or have much in the way of leadership experience. Douglas MacArthur was famously belligerent toward President Truman, as dramatized in this clip from the movie MacArthur, with the General portrayed by Gregory Peck:

Note the character's use of the term "temporary occupants of the White House."  He clearly has disdain for the notion that folks he perceived as amateurs should be allowed to control the actions of lifelong, professionally trained, experienced military officers. Of course, that got MacArthur fired - Trueman wasn't about to let The General or any other military leader threaten our system of government.

I think similar dynamics happen in a public school district. While in abstract it is true that the school board appoints the superintendent, the fact of the matter is that school board members come and go while superintendents often hold their jobs for many years. 

During the 34 years my wife and I have lived in our school district, there have been I think only three Superintendents prior to our hiring of John Marschhausen this year:  Dale McVey (2000-2013), Roger Nehls for ten years or so before him, and before Mr. Nehls someone I never met.

In that same period, 26 different people have served on the school board, 17 for only one term. Very few were professional educators. So one can understand a Superintendent being wary of a school board that gets too engaged.

But a school board has to willingly abdicate its authority to the superintendent - the superintendent can't take it away. Strong superintendents will fill the vacuum left by a board that doesn't exercise its lawful authority, and if that condition is allowed to exist long enough, it will become the cultural norm. This is exactly what happened with Columbus City Schools in my opinion - a deadly combination when the superintendent is not effective. 

I'm grateful to have been one of the few board members who in the last 30 years has had the opportunity to participate in the hiring of a new superintendent. I think we did a good job in hiring Dr. Marschhausen, and hope that he too will serve our district until his retirement.

During that time, I suspect the Hilliard School Board will have had a number of new members, and the unique relationship Doug, Andy, Lisa, Heather and I have with Dr. John - being the Board who hired him - will be replaced by new relationships with people whose names aren't even on our radar. It's therefore crucial that the roles of the Board and our new Superintendent be well defined now, and sustained through successive generations of the Board.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Supplemental Materials for the November 13, 2010 School Board Meeting: New Teacher Contract

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday November 13, 2013 at 5pm at the ILC Annex (formerly the Central Office Annex). Please note the change in time, adjusted so that a couple of our folks can make it to their childrens' school activities that evening.

Without a doubt, the most significant item on the agenda is F1, a resolution to accept the tentative collective bargaining agreement we have negotiated with the teachers' union, the Hilliard Education Association. In various shifts, all five members of the School Board participated in the negotiation of this agreement, and it is my expectation that the resolution will be adopted unanimously.

I'm not an expert in labor law - none of us on the School Board are. So we retain the services of Don Scriven, a partner in the law firm of Scott, Scriven and Wahoff, to advise us. Mr. Scriven has represented the School Board for a number of years.

Likewise, the teachers negotiate with the assistance of an attorney from the Ohio Education Association.

Rather than starting with a clean sheet of paper, labor agreements are negotiated via a process that begins with the parties exchanging proposals as to how they would like various articles in the existing agreement to be changed. One party says "we propose these changes to A, B, and C," and the other says, "we propose these changes to C, X and Y."  Then the negotiations would proceed on A, B, C, X and Y only - the rest of the contract is not brought into the dialog.

In the course of the negotiation, the parties might agree to take items B and Y off the table, leaving the negotiations to be about A, C and X only. Perhaps agreement on X is reached quickly, but A and C, which might be related, take more time. Eventually (hopefully), "tentative agreement" is reached on all items.

That tentative agreement is first presented to the union membership for their ratification. This step has been taken, and the teachers agreed to accept the tentative agreement. The last step is for the School Board to accept the tentative agreement, which is the purpose of item F1 on the agenda.

At this stage, the tentative agreement is not in final contract form. Rather it is a collection of markups of the prior agreement (which is the 2008-2010 agreement in this case), initialed by representatives of the two parties. If the School Board passes the resolution to accept this tentative agreement, the final contract will be drawn up, and the duly authorized representatives of each party will sign.

So the real question, what has changed in the new agreement?

Because the tentative agreement shows all the markups, I'll not address every change here - you can easily find them. But what most people will be interested in is what changed in regard to compensation and benefits, which represent 85% of the district's operating budget.

First, I would encourage you to read an article I wrote in 2010 to explain how teacher compensation works in our district, which is structurally identical to virtually every other district in Ohio, and is commonly used in similar form across the country (go here to examine the labor agreements for other public sector unions in Ohio). It is in essence a three-dimensional matrix which considers length of employment (steps), the level of education of the teacher, and a base salary number.

This contract resumes the 4.15% normal steps and 6% educational columns, although we need to remember that in the 2011-2013 agreement, one step was permanently skipped. This means that teachers with N years of experience are paid according to step N-1.

So the only change to the pay grid is the base salary. While the 2011-2013 agreement had no increases in the base pay for those three years, this new agreement has a 2% increase in the base pay in each of its three years.

Therefore teachers on steps 0 to 15, plus steps 20 and 23, will receive a 4.15% step increase and then a 2% base pay increase each of the three years of this contract (ie a combined 6.233%). The rest of the teachers will receive only the 2% base pay increase each year. Any teacher who reaches one of the target education levels will receive a 6% increase in addition.

However, in conjunction with these salary changes, the School Board requested changes to the design of the health insurance package to reduce the cost borne by the taxpayers to provide coverage to the teachers and their families.

Some may recall that prior to 2008, the employees of our district made no contribution to the cost of the premium we paid for our health insurance. In the 2008-2010 agreement, the School Board negotiated a change to this (and it was a difficult negotiation), increasing the employee's share of the premium from zero to 10% in 2010 (ie the taxpayers still paid 90% of the premium). In the 2011-2013 agreement, the employee share was increased to 15%, and it remains this in the tentative agreement.

You may also recall that in 2010, the School Board and employees agreed to convert to a self-insured system, meaning we now pay directly for all claims, albeit with stop-loss coverage to limit our risk. So rather than there being a premium per se, the Insurance Committee (on which I sit), examines the claims history each year as well as our insurance fund balance, and determines the employee contribution necessary to fund the plan for the coming year. Therefore the 15% refers to the percentage of this contribution, which is currently $1,605.93 per month for family coverage, making the employee share $240.88 per month.

What is less obvious are the parameters of the coverage. Up to now, the employees had neither a deductible nor any co-insurance liability. In other words, if an employee (or covered family member) had a $10,000 medical procedure, the cost to the employee was zero - we taxpayers covered it all.

In the new contract, the deductible will be $250 for 2014, stepping up to $500 for 2015-16, and the co-insurance amount will be 5% in 2014, becoming 10% in 2015-16. At the same time, a family "out-of-pocket" maximum has been implemented (which is unnecessary if there is no deductible or co-insurance) of $2,000 in 2014, $2,500 in 2015, and $3,000 in 2016.

Therefore in the event of a $10,000 medical procedure, the employee in 2014 would pay the $250 deductible, plus 5% of the remaining $9,750, or $488, for a total of $738. The school district would pay the remaining $9,262. If the same procedure were to take place in 2016 or later, the employee would pay the $500 deductible, plus $950 in coinsurance for a total of $1,450, leaving the school district with responsibility for $8,550.

This is still excellent coverage, at least compared to the medical insurance I have, which includes a $1,500 individual deductible, 20% co-insurance, and a $5,000 family out of pocket max. This $10,000 procedure would cost me $2,500. I suspect many of us in the community have plans similar to mine, although HSA/High-deductible plans are becoming much more prevalent.

The big question mark remains on what changes the Affordable Healthcare Act will cause, should it survive in something like its present form. We know there is a potential collision out there, when the so-called "Cadillac Tax" provision comes into play in 2018. Our health insurance consultant has projected that if no changes are made to our plan design, we could trigger this tax.

In future years, we need to discuss the merits of plans based on a different structure, such Health Savings Accounts with high-deductible coverage. It's always about the apportioning of risk between the employer, the employees as a group, and the employees as individuals.

The effect of this insurance plan change will be to offset some of the cost to taxpayers of the salary increases. How much we won't know for a while because when you change the plan parameters, you also change the behavior of the folks who are covered. 

We don't want folks to put off going to the doctor until they're really sick, so the plan design continues to encourage preventative care, which is further encouraged via our wellness programs. Nor do we want folks to suffer when they get hit with really big medical bills. But we want them to be wise consumers of medical care, and being exposed individually to a little more of the cost should foster that.

I feel this new collective bargaining agreement is a reasonable deal. Nothing about it changes our statement that no levy will be on the ballot before 2015, provided the General Assembly honors their current biennial budget. That doesn't mean we can stop looking for ways to moderate the rate of spending growth. I feel some tough conversations about the breadth of our programming, particularly at the high school level, are still needed.

Your feedback is welcome, but as always, I'll require that it be rational and respectful.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Change in Board Meeting Time



(RC 3313.16)

Notice is hereby given; there will be a CHANGE in meeting time of the Board of Education of the Hilliard City School District on WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2013 to 5:00 P.M. located at the McVey Innovative Learning Center Annex, 5323 Cemetery Road, Hilliard, Ohio.

The meeting is called by Brian W. Wilson, Treasurer/CFO of the Hilliard City School District Board of Education, at the direction of the President of said Board.

November 7, 2013


Brian W. Wilson, Treasurer/CFO
Hilliard City School District
Board of Education

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thank You!

Thank you to all who voted to allow me to continue to serve on the Board of Education of Hilliard City Schools. I am grateful for your trust and support.

And congratulations to Lisa Whiting and Andy Teater for also winning re-election.  Well done to Brian Perry, who ran a serious and respectful race. I'm sure it's not the last time we'll see this young man's name on a ballot.

Ohio law requires candidates for public office to file campaign finance reports with the county Board of Elections. These reports detail where the money came from to run the election campaign, and how the money was spent. I decided early on that I wasn't going to spend much if any money in this campaign, so I took the option of filing a Local Candidate Finance Report Waiver, which is an option created by the Ohio Revised Code, section 3517.10(K)(1), allowing candidates to attest that they will accept less than $2,000 in contributions, and will spend less than $2,000 running their campaign. By doing so, the candidate is excused from having to file campaign finance reports, meaning you won't see one from me.

I didn't do yard signs, flyers, posters, t-shirts, pins or anything. My hope was that the people of the community now know me well enough to decide whether they wanted me to serve another term. If that isn't so, then my communications efforts have been in vain.

Of course, like Lisa and Andy, I was endorsed by the teachers' union - the Hilliard Education Association - who was good enough to produce a post card that was mailed to a few thousand people in our community. I know this had an impact, especially in this low-turnout election. I kicked in a couple hundred dollars to help pay for the postage, and that was about it for my campaign spending.

The money came from $100 I had to deposit to open a campaign checking account, which I did only because the law requires a political campaign to have a bank account separate from the candidate's own money. Other than that $100, I had a total of about $150 in contributions which came from two individuals, meaning I have a small balance left in my campaign account.

The other three candidates clearly spent more than I did. If you really want to know how much they spent, and where the money came from, you can request copies of the campaign finance filings from the Board of Elections after the filing deadlines in a few weeks.

I'm worried about the way campaign economics have perverted our political system. Thousands of dollars get spent on school board and town council elections. Hundreds of thousands for a seat in the state legislatures. Millions are spent for bigger offices like governor and member of Congress. To be elected the President of the United States, one had better be able to raise a billion dollars or more.

You can't get there without having most of the funding come from a decent number of very large contributors, and those folks expect favors in return. That's why the lobbyists own Washington DC, not the people - the lobbyists have the big checkbooks. And it's the lobbyists who are writing legislation these days, not the elected representatives. How many members of Congress do you think have read the Affordable Care Act?

I know I'm preaching to the choir. If you take the time to read this blog, it means you're one of the minority of Americans who are engaged in how our country - at least our community - is run, and are likely one of the small percentage of eligible voters who casted a ballot in this election.

Thanks again.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Paul Lambert for Hilliard School Board

Next Tuesday is Election Day.

If you have already submitted your absentee ballot, thank you for voting.

If you have your absentee ballot, and have not yet mailed it to the Franklin County Board of Elections, please note that it must be postmarked no later than November 4 - this coming Monday.

If you intend to vote by mail, but have not yet requested a ballot, you are running out of time. Your application must be received by the Board of Elections by no later than noon, November 2 - this Saturday.  I think it's too late to go this route.

You still have the option to vote early in person. Go downtown to 280 East Broad Street anytime between 8am and 5pm on Thursday or Friday, or between 8am and noon on Saturday.

And certainly you can vote in person in your own precinct on Election Day - next Tuesday.

The Franklin County Board of Elections has lots of information online to help you check your registration and find out where you must vote. Just visit

I hope that I have earned your vote, and that our community will allow me to continue serving you as a member of the Hilliard Board of Education.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Supplemental Materials for the October 28, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday October 28, 2013 at 7pm, at the PreSchool, which is attached to Alton-Darby Elementary.

We'll start the meeting with a presentation from the Preschool staff, followed by recognition of 28 of our high school students who scored exceptionally well National Merit Scholarship Exam. I see several familiar names on that list. Congratulations to the students and parents!

Item C2 of the agenda is the acceptance and approval of the Treasurer's Monthly Financial Report for September. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Item E1f is the approval of supplemental salaries for the winter activities.

We'll be having the first reading of a number of changes to existing Board Policies. The practice is to present these changes at three (normally consecutive) Board meetings and, unless there are changes or objections, to vote to enact them on the third meeting. I encourage you to read these changes, and if you have comments to let me know, or even better contact one of the two Board members who sit on the Policy Review Committee, Lisa Whiting or Heather Keck.

Items F1 and F2 are items Dr. Marschhausen previewed in his State of the School speech earlier this week - acceptance of a new Vision and Mission statements for the school district:

  • Proposed Vision Statement: Hilliard City Schools will Embrace, Empower, and Inspire students, families and community in an active partnership.
  • Proposed Purpose Statement: Hilliard City Schools will ensure that every student is Ready for Tomorrow.
I'm not a big fan of these kinds of statements. They became popular during a kind of New Age time for management, when people like Ken Blanchard (One Minute Manager) and Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) came on the scene. My objection isn't to the existence of such statements, but rather that companies often pour lots of resources into creating them and publicizing them (especially to investors and customers), and then fail to adhere to them in daily practice.

I see the value of these statements only when they are coupled with authority granted to each employee to make decisions consistent with the statements, and to expect other employees (and bosses) to do likewise. You don't really get "empowerment" unless this is the case.

Too often organizations draw up inspiring if somewhat ambiguous purpose/vision/mission/etc statements, spending a ton of money to post them on signs throughout the facilities, and parading the top management through the hallways proclaiming their unconditional support of these statements. 

But then when real-world situations came up, the decision is often reflective of long-established culture and practices which are in conflict with these statements, rather than in support of the newly declared intent. That quickly cancels all the time and effort spent, and worse yet promotes cynicism in the troops. Better to have never come up with those new statements in the first place.

For example, I have a nephew who is a decorated (including two Purple Hearts) US Marine veteran of the Iraq War. Our political and military leaders want us to hear that they are committed to training, equipping, and supporting our sons and daughters so they have an excellent chance of completing their mission and coming home in one piece. 

Yet before my nephew's unit shipped out to Iraq, other Marines who had been there advised them to go spend their own money to buy a bunch of extra magazines for their rifles because the government was going to issue them only two - not nearly enough when one is being shot at. Wouldn't you wonder if the leaders really meant what they said, and whether they could be trusted on other matters?

By the way, this isn't a knock on the Marine Corps. Their purpose and mission statements are powerful, and I hold every person who puts on the uniform in high esteem, especially those we send into combat. It's the actions of the national leadership on which I am commenting.

There is much to like in the statements proposed by Dr. Marschhausen, and I will vote in their support. But I'll be hanging on every carefully chosen word, and expecting our leadership team to live up to them.

I hope to see you at the Board meeting.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Math of Development

The very first article I posted to this blog, in December 2006, was about the impact of ongoing residential development on our school district. The crash of the housing market in 2007 - and its impact on our economy - has made this fall from the top issue in our community, but the threat has been smoldering all the while.

With the first glimpses of recovery, the developers and home builders are again eyeing our community as a good place to make a profit. And they have little concern about whether their profit opportunities are simultaneously beneficial to our community. Nor should we expect them to be concerned. They're in business to make money, and they do that by buying up farmland, building new homes, and selling them to folks who want to live in our community.

It's the officials we elect to public office who have the responsibility to represent our interests versus those of the developers. In particular it is the duty of the Mayors and City Council members who govern our cities. In our case, that means Hilliard, Columbus and Dublin. They must weigh the one-time profit desires of a developer against the long-term health of the community.

The challenge is that our community is made up of several overlapping governments, or "political subdivisions" to use the language of the Ohio Revised Code. I used this diagram back in March for the story titled "Patchwork Community" to help explain the relationships:
click to enlarge
While this chart tries to show how the jurisdictions of these various entities overlap, it doesn't say anything about the flow of money, and as some wise person said a long time ago, if you want to really understand things, follow the money. Maybe this diagram will help:
click to enlarge
I've left out a few relationships to simplify the diagram (e.g. the City of Dublin), but the main themes are captured:
  • The school district is mostly funded by local property taxes, paid by both the home owners and the business owners within the boundaries of the school district. In other words, the school district is funded by the people who own property in the school district. If you live in the school district, you pay property taxes to the school district.
  • The cities are funded by income taxes paid by the employees of businesses and other entities (like the school district), within the boundaries of the school district. If you work in a city, you pay income taxes to the city.
  • Each city provides certain services - such as police protection, water/sewer, street maintenance, trash collection - to the entities within their municipal boundaries, including home owners, businesses, and the school districts.
  • The school district provides educational services to all children whose legal residences are within the school district boundary.
When a new home is built within in a city - Hilliard for example:
  • Hilliard City Schools will collect property taxes from the owner of that home, and will provide education services to any school age children living there. The amount of property taxes collected may or may not be sufficient to fund the cost of educating the kids who live in the new house, depending on how many kids live there, and the value of the house. By my calculations, a home must be valued in excess of $250,000* in order to fund the local cost of educating the 0.8 school age kids who will come with a new home, on average.
  • The City of Hilliard will provide to the home owner police protection, water/sewer service, street maintenance, trash collection, etc, but will collect revenue from the home owner for only some of those services (water/sewer, trash). The home owner will pay little to offset the cost of police protection, street maintenance, and for park operations.
When a new business is built within a city:
  • Hilliard City Schools will collect property taxes from the owner of that business, but will be providing the business no services. Therefore, the property tax revenue collected from businesses reduces the amount of property taxes needed from home owners.
  • The City of Hilliard will collect income taxes from the employees of the business, and will provide police protection, water/sewer service, street maintenance, and so on. Additionally, this revenue will fund the cost of providing these city services to home owners as well.
So the story is the same for both the school district and the city:

The more businesses that there are in relation to homes, the less the home owners will need to pay in taxes to run both the school district and the city. 

Conversely, the more residences which are built in the city, the higher the cost of providing services, both via the schools and the municipal government.

But how do we go about recruiting new businesses to the area?

Some businesses, such as retailers, don't have to be recruited. They naturally want to have storefronts where there are consumers. As more homes are built, more supermarkets, gas stations and pizza shops will follow. We're glad to have these new businesses in our community, but only a few of them will generate significant tax revenue for the schools or the municipality.

Big manufacturing operations are great for the economy, but not always welcomed if they bring with them significant environmental concerns. The extreme example would be a nuclear power plant. I'm a big fan of nuclear power, and believe that as long as our country has an insatiable appetite for electrical power (e.g. for our new electric cars), we're going to need nuclear power to provide a significant portion of the base load.

Nuclear power plants also produce an incredible amount of tax revenue for their host communities. A former superintendent of Perry Local Schools up on Lake Erie once told us about the enormous amount of money that flowed into their school district in an otherwise low-income community because of the taxes paid by the Perry Nuclear Power Station. They built a beautiful new $100+ million central school campus without the need of a local levy, just using the revenue from the nuclear plant. I think nuclear power plants are cool, and can be made very safe. Nonetheless, I don't think I'd want to see one built on Darby Creek.

Some manufacturing operations can be great neighbors, and we're blessed to have one in Boeringer Ingelheim Roxanne Labs.

So what is the ideal kind of commercial development?

I think Dublin has gotten this right for a lot of years: it's professional office space. Take a look at the Franz Rd corridor - large office buildings all around. Dublin is a place a where affluent people want to both live and work. I won't claim that the economic structure of Dublin is the perfect model - they still have the challenges of residential development outpacing their commercial development, but at least they have high-value residential real estate and a healthy amount of the right kind of commercial development to help.

I know that Mayor Schonhardt and the City Council would like Hilliard to become much like Dublin in this regard, and I applaud this vision. The redevelopment of the former Dana Manufacturing site is a good move in that direction, with a mixture of retail, residential, and professional office space.

But meanwhile, we have the huge Heritage Preserve development underway on Alton-Darby Rd. This sits on 400 acres of land newly annexed into the City of Hilliard. On it, the Planned Development company will build 687 dwellings consisting of 387 single-family homes and 300 apartments.

There was no compelling public need for the City of Hilliard to annex this land. Had they chosen to not annex this land, no one would have been harmed except the developer, Dan O'Brien. I'm not insensitive to the economic motivations of Mr. O'Brien. He was gracious to sit with us on the committee to rewrite the Brown Township Comprehensive Plan, even though he was uncomfortable doing so - knowing the objective of the Plan was to restrict his options. I'm also a commercial real estate investor, and know how hard the market has been for the better part of a decade. It's quite painful to have a big hunk of money tied up in a piece of real estate that's generating no revenue.

But it's not the City of Hilliard's job to protect the interests of Mr. O'Brien or any other real estate developer. They're supposed to protect our interests - those of the residents and businesses already in the community. And right now, I believe that means holding off on the annexation of any additional land for residential development. Let's get more of the commercial tracts along I-270 developed with professional office space first.

And if we need to use TIFs to make that happen, I can support that. Let's not leave money on the table if we don't have to, but I'd rather waive some or all of the property taxes for a few years and set up a future revenue stream than have no revenue stream at all.

But let's not use TIFs to facilitate residential development, as the City of Hilliard chose to use for the apartment complex on the corner of Alton-Darby and Roberts Rds.

* If the State of Ohio continues to provide incremental funding with incremental growth, the local share of the cost of funding the education of 0.8 kids is equal to the property taxes generated by a $250,000 home. As the amount of state funding decreases, as it did in recent years, the amount of money we must generate locally increases, which also raises the value of the home required to fund the cost of 0.8 kids.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Supplemental Materials for the October 14, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday October 14, 2013 at 7pm, at Hilliard Bradley School.

Way down at the bottom of the agenda is item G1 - something pretty exciting for me: Dr. Marschhausen's self-evaluation of his own goals for his first 100 days as Superintendent of Hilliard City Schools. We're still working with Dr. Bill Rhymer of the Central Ohio ESC on the full performance plan for Dr. John and Treasurer Brian Wilson,  but I like the fact that Dr. John - on his own - laid out an initial set of goals, proceeded to work on accomplishing them, and then reported back.

I have the opportunity to mentor young leaders in my retirement years, and this is one of the first concepts I teach them. I call it the Trust Circle.  You make a commitment, fulfill the commitment, and then report back. Every time you complete that process successfully, the more trust you gain from others. That's what makes it a circle - you just keep going around and around, being entrusted with bigger and bigger things.

While it's critically important to actually fulfill your commitments, many folks miss on that important last step - confirming completion. That's when the trust enhancement happens. Dr. John gets it.

Item C2 on the agenda is the routine acceptance of the Treasurer's Monthly Financial Report. Other than to lament that the cash in our Treasury is generating 0.18% interest, I see nothing out of order.

Most of the real estate on the agenda is taken up by item F2, by which the Director of Business seeks the Board's authority to participate in the process to put our electrical power service up for bid through a consortium of school districts called the Metropolitan Education Council. We do a good deal of purchasing through the MEC, and have representation on its Executive Board.

October is also one of the two months - the other being May - that the School Board is presented with a new Five Year Forecast by the Treasurer - on the agenda as item F3.  As always, here is my graphical representation:
click to enlarge
Since FY13 has now closed, the Five Year Forecast now extends to FY18. The good news in this forecast is that the Ohio Biennial Budget seems to have reversed the trend of shifting funding away from suburban districts to the rural and urban districts, so this forecast reflects a bit more total revenue for next few years.

click to enlarge
At the same time, this new Forecast shows a decrease in the rate of spending growth:
click to enlarge
Net those two together, and we should see an increase in the projected year-end cash balance:
click to enlarge
So now the question is: What should we do with this additional cash?

It might be worth reviewing the article I wrote in 2011 about the four big Budget Knobs, those being: 1) our cash reserve balance; 2) our spending rate growth, 3) when we want the next levy to be on the ballot, and 4) how large we should plan for that levy to be.

The first thing to say is that the State giveth and the State taketh away. We can be pretty confident about the FY14 and FY15 numbers for state revenue. But in 2014, we'll be electing the Governor and a good chunk of the General Assembly, and history tells us that school funding is one of the things they like to tinker with. If anything, that would suggest that it might be wise to hold onto some extra cash in case the next budget isn't so kind.

Since 85% of our operating expenses go to compensation and benefits, there will be some dialog along those lines. As you can tell from item H1 of the agenda, negotiations with the two employee unions are underway. It's not appropriate for me to say much about this, but I will observe that it's a lot easier to make personnel spending go up than it is to bring it back down. The latter typically requires layoffs and cancellation of programs and services - never pleasant for anyone.

When we put the levy on the ballot on November 2011, the School Board promised the voters that we wouldn't be back with another levy before 2014 - a three year interval. This forecast suggests that we might be able to wait another year.

But that all depends on how large we want the next levy to be.

If we say the goal is to end FY18 with a cash balance equal to 10% of the FY18 spending, or about $19.2 million, then a levy passed in 2015 would need to be about 5.4 mills, or $189/yr for each $100,000 of market value.

Or we could go ahead and put a levy on the ballot in 2014, and it would need to be only 3.9 mills - $137/yr for each $100,000 of market value.

We could even potentially wait until 2016 for the next levy, but it would have to be a whopping 9 mills - or $315/yr per $100,000 of market value.

Any of the four knobs are subject to adjustment, and adjustments we make to one have an impact on the other three. We have some important decisions to make as a community.

I voted to not approve the last couple of Five Year Forecasts, with my reason being that I felt we as a Board had not yet done enough to prepare the community for the implications of a rather gloomy forecast of State revenue. I didn't think the knobs were set appropriately, and that we had some hard work to do to get things aligned. The new State Budget makes things look much better. We have some options now that we didn't have before. 

My preference is that we hold spending to the forecast, and plan to put the next levy on the ballot in 2015.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Re-Elect Paul Lambert to Hilliard School Board

Early voting begins today in Ohio. There are no any high-profile offices or issues on the ballot (which means we'll have to endure little if any political advertising  - yeah!), but what is on the ballot is still important, and I hope many of you will take advantage of this option to participate the 2013 General Election.

In particular, I want to make sure you know that three of the five seats on the Hilliard Board of Education are up for election - those currently held by Andy Teater, Lisa Whiting, and me. All three of us are running for re-election, plus a young man named Brian Perry is running for second time.

I ask that you grant me the opportunity to serve you for another four year term. My reasons are simple:
  • I believe I have the education, experience, and passion to effectively participate in the governance of what I feel is the most significant institution in our community - the Hilliard City School District - and that it is my civic duty to serve if the community will have me. You are welcome to examine my resume.
  • I have spent many years learning about the economics of public schools and the community, and strive to teach others what I have learned because I believe it is essential that our community members have a basic understanding of these things if we are to have a productive dialog about where to take our school district going forward. While this blog has been the primary avenue for that communication, I have made presentations to numerous community groups and gatherings over the years. I would love the opportunity to speak to your group - just tell me when and where!
  • I am an advocate for transparency in the way our public institutions are governed, and seek public dialog. Since June 2012, I have made available to the public all of the supplemental material provided by the Administration to the School Board in preparation for our meetings. When important matters are before the Board, I explain my reasoning, tell you how I intend to vote, and solicit your comments.
  • I have been a member of the Hilliard Schools community for 34 years - the only place my wife and I have ever owned a home. Our children attended Hilliard Schools from kindergarten through graduation. We have paid close to $200,000 in property taxes in our many years here - more than we paid for our home in the first place. About two-thirds of that was school tax. I want our community to be a place we can stay in our retirement years, but rising property taxes will play a large part in that decision. I'd like to influence those tax matters from a seat on the School Board.
Our Federal Government is nearly dysfunctional because our elected representatives don't seem to recognize that we expect them to figure out a way to move forward even when their political positions are so polarized. Debate and disagreement are an essential part of American politics. The Founding Fathers disagreed on many fundamental principals, yet ultimately figured out a way to structure a government that could work pretty well.

Such is also the case at a local level - even within a school district. Some people in our community want the public school district to be whittled down to the bare bones. Others believe there are still more programs and services we should offer, and are willing to pay even more in taxes to make it happen. Most of us are somewhere in the middle - weary of rising taxes, but wanting our kids to have a wonderful experience in our schools, and be well-prepared for the world they will face.

We have to find common ground. With nearly 90% of our spending going to the compensation and benefits of our team of teachers, staff, and administrators, it eventually becomes a conversation about how many people we employ in our school district, and how much we pay them.

The first is a matter of deciding what curriculum, programs, and services we will offer to our students. Hilliard City Schools provides a rich and extensive array of these things - well beyond that required by the Ohio Department of Education - and they aren't free.

The second is the outcome of negotiations with our two employee unions, the Hilliard Education Association (HEA) and OAPSE Local #310. This process has just begun, and I hope will be carried out in a mutually respectful and mutually empathetic manner.

I said as much when interviewed by the HEA's endorsement screening committee last week. My responses to their questions are provided here. I did not shy away from the fact that the economic health of our school district is dependent on our ability to "balance reasonable expectations of compensation growth with reasonable expectations of what the people of our community are willing to invest by means of increased taxes."  I'm pleased to report that the HEA has decided to endorse me for re-election, meaning they understand this as well.

One of the most important tasks of a school board is to hire, direct and coach the Superintendent and Treasurer. I'm proud to have been part of the process of bringing Dr. John Marschhausen to our district, and am eager to see how he will lead us going forward. I certainly like what I've seen so far, and hope to have the opportunity to continue working with our district leadership team.

Please vote for Paul Lambert for Hilliard School Board.  

VOTER ALERT >>>>  Absentee Ballots are not going to be automatically mailed to registered voters - I confirmed this with the Board of Elections this morning. So if you want an Absentee Ballot, you can fill out an application online, but be aware that you still need to print off the application, sign it, and submit it to the Franklin County Board of Elections:
280 E. Broad St., Room 100
Columbus, OH 43215
Fax: (614) 525-3489
You also have the option of voting early in person by going to 280 E Broad St. The hours are:
Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday October 1 and ending on Friday November 1. They will be open for voting on Columbus day.
Saturday, November 2 - 8 a.m. - Noon
And of course, you may vote in person on Election Day, November 5, 2013.