Saturday, April 6, 2013

Supplemental Material for the April 8, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental documents for the April 8, 2013 School Board meeting, to be held at 7pm at Darby High School.

There are several interesting items on the agenda:
  • E1b: Approval of administrative contracts (terms only, not salaries)
  • F1:  Is the annual resolution directing the Franklin County Auditor to collect property taxes authorized by levies approved by the voters of our school district.
  • F2-F4: Resolutions authorizing the operations department to do maintenance and improvement projects at our facilities, a normal summertime activity.
  • F5: To enroll in a program to manage peak electrical load across our buildings. Being able to reduce the total load at times of peak demand (usually late afternoons in the summer) is worth a lot of money to the electric utilities, so incentive programs are being developed to encourage consumers, businesses and public institutions to allow the utilities to tell electricity users to cut back when high demand conditions occur. This EnerNOC deal allows us to participate in such a program. No downside, only savings.
  • F7: A restructuring of the administration for athletics, derived from the work of the Athletic Sustainability Committee in 2011
  • G1: Second reading of proposed policy changes, meaning they will be enacted at the next Board meeting
  • G2: The new Course of Study for Physical Education for the district. This is a substantial document - nearly 300 pages - prepared by our team of PE teachers and the administrators who supported them. Please don't me accountable for reading and understanding every element of this document...
The last item I would call your attention to is F8, a resolution in opposition to the proposed expansion of the Ed Choice Scholarship Program, an element of the Education portion of the proposed Ohio Biennial Budget.
First, let me say that my personal position is that it's a good thing for a society to commit that all its children will be given access to a decent education, and that it's reasonable to levy taxes as needed to make sure that this access is not abridged because of economic means. I believe this is a position that most American share.

But even within that shared value, there is a broad spectrum of solutions. Unfortunately, we've become a nation that oscillates between the extremes, seemingly incapable of exploring the richness of possibilities in between. So every time the party in control of the state government changes, we get a new half-baked solution that swings us in the opposite direction, and doesn't really solve anything.

The Governor and his allies in the General Assembly couldn't come up with a new education formula that they could get passed in the last biennium. So we ended up with a stop-gap scheme that mostly just carried forward the funding allocations used under the Strickland Evidence Based Model, which Kasich promised to get rid of (I wasn't a fan of the EBM either).

It's now two years later, and the Kasich administration still doesn't appear to be any further along in getting a new funding system enacted. The school funding formula proposed in this budget, as introduced to the General Assembly as HB59, has received so much criticism that Rep. Ron Stebelton - Chair of the House Education Committee and member of the Finance and Appropriations Committee - sounds like he's ready to give up on it for now.

So the lobbyists continue to work over the legislators in hope of getting their favorite programs and policies funded and those they dislike defunded. One of those lobbying groups is the Ohio School Boards Association, of which our school board is a member. OSBA has mobilized its resources to oppose the expansion of the Ed Choice Scholarship program, and is asking local school boards to get on the bandwagon by passing resolutions saying as much. OSBA wants to be able to go to the legislators and say something like "500 of Ohio's public school boards have passed resolutions in opposition to the expansion of the Ed Choice program."

You hear stories about lobbyists writing the language of legislation brought before an elected body for enactment, and here's a concrete example. Item F8 is a verbatim version of the language recommended by the OSBA.

I will be voting NO this resolution. Not because it was drafted by OSBA, but because I think the Ed Choice program should not be a threat to our school district, while it could literally be a life saver for kids trapped in bad schools.

OSBA opposed Ed Choice because the OSBA has taken a position saying that it will oppose any legislation which could cause dollars raised by state taxes to be directed to institutions other than public schools. This is the exact language from their legislative platform:
Although OSBA supports parental choice within the public school system, granting state-funded vouchers to students to attend nonpublic schools reduces the level of funding available to support and improve the public school system.
OSBA opposes legislation that
- Uses public funds to expand voucher programs in nonpublic schools.
- Expands vouchers, scholarships, tuition tax credits and similar programs at either the state or federal levels.
While the adults in this whole education system continue to argue about how to fix schools which are failing now, and have been for years, more and more kids are having their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a decent education squandered. The Ed Choice Scholarship program was designed to give poor kids in failing schools a means to go find a school which will give them a decent education.

If that ends up being a different kind of school organized in a different way, I'm okay with letting that kid take his share of the state funding his failing school is getting, and letting a new group of folks have a shot.

HB59 adds to two other conditions for eligibility in the Ed Choice program, either of which is alone sufficient to quality a kid:
  1. The kid is enrolled in a public school in grades K-3 and that school has, by 2016, been rated "D" or "F" in "making progress to improve K-3 literacy" for two of three prior years, provided the kid continues to live in the underperforming district, takes all the state mandated assessments that would be required in the public school, and has had no more than 20 excused absences. I can never see this condition applying to Hilliard City Schools.
  2. Beginning next school year, a kid would quality if the family income is below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. This year, that would mean for a family of four, an income below $47,100. Only kids in kindergarten would be eligible the first year, followed by kindergarten and 1st grade the following year, then K-2 the next, and so on. Once enrolled in this program, a kid can remain in it through 12th grade.
There are likely to be a fair number of kids in our district who qualify under the second condition. Our current kindergarten enrollment is 1,112, and our district-wide portion of kids who are classified as 'economically disadvantaged' is 24%, according to our latest State Report Card. A kid is said to be economically disadvantaged if household income is less than 130% of the federal poverty level. So let's estimate that perhaps 100 of our kindergarten kids might qualify for an Ed Choice scholarship.

How many of them would actually go? I'd guess that very few would, but let's say it's half - 50 kids. What is the impact on our district?

I could mean two fewer classrooms would be needed, and two fewer kindergarten teachers, but that's only if all those kids disappear from one or two buildings. We have 14 elementary schools, so it could be one or two kids from each one. There could be no reduction in the number of classrooms needed without a complex reconfiguration.

Meanwhile, our funding from the state would decrease by about $5,500/kid, or $275,000.

This is the concern of the opponents to this expansion - that public school district will lose revenue, but have no real reduction in cost. This is just the reality of running what is largely a fixed-cost enterprise: even though we quote a cost per student of $11,398/student, the real total cost changes materially only when the number of students changes by a fairly large number - like a whole building's worth.

However, we also need to remember that the nearly $6,000/student we collect each year via local property taxes would stay with our district. So when a student leaves the district, we have the same amount of local money to spend on fewer students. Carried to the absurd, we'd be better off economically if all the students left except for one, who would enjoy the benefits of $100 million of local taxes.

So this second criterion could indeed cause a loss of funds if we can't compete successfully with the alternatives available to a qualifying student.

I believe the moral objective in regard to education is to ensure that all children have access to a good education. Period. It seems that we should be happy if every kid has the opportunity to partake of a good education regardless of whether a child attends the public school in the school district in which they happen to reside, a public school in another school district, or a charter school.

Our public school system is one of several solutions to that goal, and Hilliard City Schools is a great choice for the vast majority of kids. After all, the reason our community has grown so much in the past twenty years is because more and more people come here to enjoy the benefits of a great school district. Even those without children know that a good school district is an important component in maximizing property value.

But that's not always the case in every school district. We need to accept that the current public school system traps some kids in schools that don't meet their needs, depriving them of a good education. That's because kids are assigned to school districts and buildings according to where they live, not what they need as individuals.

The Ed Choice Scholarship program was designed to give those kids and their parents some options. I think we should give it a chance.


  1. Sorry, I don't buy the loss of revenue argument. Not when out of the other side of its mouth the district is saying enrolment is increasing. Isn't the reality that this would be a much cheaper way (for the tax payers) to ensure that all of the kids in the HCSD are given a good education while not imposing tax increase after tax increase on those paying the bills?

    1. Our enrollment has increased by only 300 students in the last four years, and it has been pretty evenly spread out across grade levels. I would expect that this has had no effect on our costs.

      I need to check one thing though - I think the current mechanism works this way: for each kid who elects to attend a charter school, the local school district has to write a check for the 'formula' amount, which is a little more than $5,000. However, our actual formula funding from state is only $3,300, due to all the weird stuff that happens with the so-called 'guarantee.'

      So under the current system, we end up subsidizing charter schools with local money.

      HB59 says these payments to alternative schools would be made directly from the state, eliminating this problem.

    2. Treasurer Brian Wilson has confirmed that our district sends $5,723 per kid to the charter schools they attend.

    3. So.... wouldn't it then make sense to SUPPORT this bill rather than oppose it?

      Or would it still be a negative amount to the district budget?

      And I am guessing it passed 4-1?

    4. Not if one's position is that no money should go to non-public schools.

      Yes, 4-1

  2. Paul,

    This may be somewhat related to the conversation here - can you help clarify a question with regard to state support per student.

    According to the FY12 CUPP Report from the ODE, the District Total Average Daily Membership FY12 for Hilliard is 15,712.55 students while the District Total Year-End Enrollment FY12 for Hilliard is 14,951.25 students. I understand the difference of 761 are the number of students that reside in the Hilliard attendence area that do not attend Hilliard Schools but are either attending private, charter or home schools.

    I also believe that the state funding for those 761 students does not follow them, but is recieved by Hilliard City Schools for use in the district's general fund during that school year. Am I understanding this correctly?

    Steve B.

    1. It depends. When a student transfers to a charter school recognized by the state, the $5,732 follows the student, and that happens by having the public school district write a check to the charter school.

      That is not the case for private or parochial schools, nor do I believe for home schooling.

      In the most recent Five Year Forecast, Treasurer Brian Wilson reports that for FY13, our district will pay out $2.21 million to charter schools, supporting 317 students. This is captured in the category "Purchased Services."