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.