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.