Friday, May 31, 2013

400 and counting...

On December 26, 2006, I published the first article to this blog. This month - a little over six years later - marked the 400th.

Some have been excruciatingly long, a few have been short, as this one will be. I hope most have had some value in informing you about issues I feel are important to the future of our community.

I'm gratified when I hear people talking about the impact of residential development when it is not matched by a similar amount of commercial development, even when it means getting yelled at for voting to sell a piece of property to a residential developer. This was a dynamic I didn't understand until six years ago. I have come to believe this is one of the two of three most important matters for our community leaders to address if we want the Hilliard community to remain economically healthy, and it's been a primary topic of this blog over the years.

I hope to have helped people gain a better understanding of how our public schools are funded. The consequence of having a law that prevents our property taxes from automatically increasing when property values change - which I think is a good thing - is that the only way to increase funding is to pass more local levies. This is doubly true because our community is viewed to be affluent by our State leaders, meaning they are inclined to send any new money they find in the State budget to the urban and rural districts, who are also better represented (in terms of numbers of members) in the General Assembly.

The current General Assembly may buck that trend by the way, but the language of the Budget Bill now under consideration in the Senate has both some "giveth" and some "taketh away," so let's not celebrate quite yet.

And while we can whine about half-empty school buses or lights on in our football stadiums, I hope people understand that the cost of running our school district will always be driven by the number of people we employ and how much we spend on compensation and benefits. It's not just about the number of principals in the high schools, the number of administrators in the central office, or the richness of our high school course catalog.

It's all that stuff and more, and it all needs to be discussed and evaluated. It will be done in a democratic fashion, which is to say messy and argumentative. By definition, the majority will be satisfied with the outcome, while others will be convinced that exactly the wrong decision was made, and they'll be vocal about it.

I don't know who Winston Churchill was quoting when he made this statement to Parliment...
"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"
 ... but it has long been one of my favorites.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue the journey with me.


  1. Kudos on number 400. Always enjoy reading you. May there be many more.

    By the way, I don't know if you saw this in the Columbus Monthly, but it's pretty outrageous how much we pay in property taxes compared to other local municipalities:

    1. Thanks!

      No, I hadn't seen this chart - pretty interesting, but also with some distortions.

      For example, the UA tax rate looks to be 7% less than ours, but UA also has an assessed valuation per pupil of $279K compared to our $155K. So they can have a lower tax rate, and still spend more per student, which they do: $15,171 vs our $11,398 (in FY11).

      In terms of the amount of per-student funding raised with 1 mill of property tax, UA ranks 16th highest in the state, while HCSD is 155th.

      By the way, Danbury Local Schools in Ottawa County is #1 in this regard. This is the consequence of having tons of high value vacation properties (including Lakeside), but a low year-round population. And the median income of their fulltime residents is only $28,000, which ranks 431st in the state.

      This is why the residential/commercial mix is so important. When the homeowners are footing the incremental bill, and home values aren't spectacular, then it gets pretty expensive.

  2. For the taxpayer I don't think it's particularly consoling to know that what we're spending per pupil is lower than UA's. That's all well and good, but it doesn't change the fact that Hilliard taxpayers are getting hosed. Maybe not from the school district but from the residential/commercial mix, but either way it doesn't change the fact that we're paying too much, especially given our modest incomes compared to UA.

  3. Paul,

    Thanks for your efforts on this board and as a BOE member. What is so sad that with so much effort, so little change haqs taken place. I measure results and to that measure you have educated many a reader and poster. If we could just cast a larger footprint.

    You blocked a recent post for tone, but the sad part the elemnets were true.

    I will be sending a note to you and every other board member, the PTA presidents and union president, asking for a sit down to start a talk about.
    1. Classes offered.
    2. Size of classes.
    3. Labor costs.
    4. Measurement of success.

    I would like your quess of how many show up? Would you post the invitation on this site for the community.



    1. Dave: you are of course welcome to gather folks to talk about these matters, but I'll suggest that a better route might be to allow Dr. Marschhausen to get on board and engaged. Give him and the Board the opportunity to get these matters and others on the table, and then decide if things are happening the way you'd like to see them.

  4. Paul,

    I think it also worth noting that the Property Tax Bill per $200 K home doesn't separate the School District's portion of the bill vs. that of City of Hilliard / Norwich Township vs. Miscellaneous.

    The statistics compiled here are for those of us who live in the city limits of Hilliard. If I'm correct, at last check, a little over 60% of Hilliard CSD's students come from outside of the City of Hilliard.

    Hence, the popular real estate tag: "Hilliard Schools, Columbus Taxes". As you've explained or at least alluded to many times... A $200 K home in the City of Columbus with Hilliard Schools is going to have a lower property tax bill than a $200 K home in the City of Hilliard with Hilliard Schools. The difference isn't in the portion of the bill related to Hilliard CSD, it is in the portion of the bill related to the other taxing authorities: municipalities, townships. This chart isn't going to reflect that.

  5. Paul,

    Your points are well taken, as we (I) should allow DR M a chance to get on board. However this asks the question who runs the district? I would like to hear each board member state their position on the following.
    1 What is you plan to cut costs.
    2 What is your vision on class size and class offerings
    3 What is you plan for labor costs since it is close to 90% of operation costs?

    If the board places no limit or has an opinion of the above, what do you think DR M will do other than meet the desires of the board.

    It is about time we hear each member give their view. As stated before each board member has been endorced by HEA other than you.

    I took the wait until after levy approach as requested by McVey 2 levy approvals ago.

    So while I know the wait until he is here is the best approach in a blink of an eye we will have a new labor agreement which will set the number for the 2014 levy amount.


  6. Paul,

    There are 5 parts to the school pie. Board,adm,teachers,students and community.

    I feel we have good teachers, students that seem to do well and more or less stay out of trouble and are a credit to the community. The community has supported the schools by passing levy requests.

    Now for the two that fail to meet my expectations. The adm and the board. Both have failed to control costs and create budgets that have a long term view or chance to work in the long term without levy after levy. Stop waiting for the statehouse to pay our bills. Come to grips that this is what we get and we need to put the brakes on run away cost increases. This means control labor. GO into the contract saying we need x number of teachers and here is what we will spend not one penny more. If they do not like let them go on strike. When we see thousands of applicants for a few jobs every year I understand the supply demand curve. We have a strong position and we need to use it, they would if the supply was lower than demand. It is a reality of the job market. Given the board make up it is hard for them to understand. (utility worker, medical worker, state employee, lawyer and IT) none of the industries our board members come from are known for cost control.

    The real insult is the letter to the community about the land sale. I understand the decision to sell the asset and agree with decision and the use of capital that the sale will generate.

    What causes my blood pressure to rise is the arrogance of the board communication. This district talks about accountability. We spend money to buy land without knowning if there was community support. When we learned the community would not support we selected another location and now sell the old location. The end result is we sold it at a loss. Not one word from board or admin that they are sorry for the loss to the district. Either the board or the super or both made decisions to waste tax dollars. Yet the we were right then and are right now attitude surrounds this issue.

    So I'am sorry my comments are not kind, but where is the accountability. A simple comment from Dale and or the board that we made a error and will not approach a large spend like this again prior to a vote. Not only will either group not own up to a bad decision, we call the CEO a great leader, and oh what a great district we have. We waste money, don't feel we need to be accountable and feel the community should always vote yes for a levy.

    One more time, what did the ILC cost (total cost including our labor) and items that were not addressed when the money and labor was re-allocated to a project that was never voted on!

    Rebuke those who made a bad decision, come clean abmit error and promise to not do it again. That is if you want to be taken serious when you make another levy request.

    Down on the district Dave

    1. Dave:

      You say some things with which I agree, and some which I don't. You say them in an accusatory manner, which I believe makes it more difficult to arrive at sustainable compromise. I prefer an approach which tries to explain the issues as I see them, and offers solutions that I hope will be supported by the others. When that isn't the case, then adjust, compromise, and try again.

      There are after all, folks in this community who feel our kids are getting a great education, value the academic and extracurricular opportunities afforded them, believe an appropriate amount of money is being spent running the district, and accept the level of local taxation required to support it. Some wish we would spend even more to create additional programming and services, and are willing to pay for it.

      Simultaneously, there are those who feel education should be a spartan program of only the basics, and that far too much is spent on personnel costs and facilities - causing taxes to rise unacceptably. Some even advocate for a rollback of taxes. It's a valid perspective, just not necessarily the opinion of the majority.

      Most of us are somewhere in between, including you and me.

      Representing that spectrum of philosophies are the five elected members of the School Board. In the last ten elections, an incumbent Board member has been re-elected 11 times, and it has been rare for an incumbent who chooses to run for re-election to lose his/her seat.

      That suggests that one or both of these things are true: 1) the voters are generally satisfied that the people they have elected are running the school district in a manner they would like to see continued; or, 2) those who disagree with the way the district is being run aren't able to find candidates who share that view, or if they do, can't get enough votes to put them into office.

      I'll again suggest that you give the Board a chance to work with Dr. Marschhausen over the next few months. See what kind of work is done toward preparing our school district to thrive going forward. My outlook is pretty positive.

      But if you don't like what you see, there will be an election in November that will give you and all the voters a chance to choose who represents them.

  7. Paul,

    Just when I was sold on waiting for Dr. M (this is what I will call him as if I spell his entire name I will mess it up with my keyboard skills, no disrespect for him.)

    I just say the news of short fall in 2014. Then the great quote from Andy T, far too early and discussion will need to take place. Was the quote the same in Oct? Public discussions? On what levy amount or changes. How long do you watch a train heading for the bridge after passing the bridge out sign?

    You removed a post where I described this vey approach. The board will wait until they need levy then they will talk to us poor tax payers.

    I do not know how you serve given the direction.