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
E-mail: boe@franklincountyohio.gov
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.


  1. Wow Paul, you've really gone to the dark side, being endorsed by the HEA. Hope you haven't been co-opted. (joke!)

    1. Maybe we've just gotten to know each other a little better ;-)

  2. Paul,

    You have served us well and will have my vote and my wife if she wishes to remain in our house! I can't wait to watch the undervote. The board leadership is one way or another should have some impact on president selection.

    I would not highlight the HEA action. You have a job to hold down costs. Not sure that can happen with endorcement.

    Please note Springboro OH also had 8 national Merit, last time I checked they spend about 50% per student less?????

    Now if you want to talk merit pay!!!!!

    1. Thanks for your support.

      I know three of the Springboro board members fairly well - the three that control their board: Kelly Kohls, Jim Rigano, and Dave Petroni. They have certainly taken an aggressive posture during their two years together, but it will be interesting to see if their community will change the demeanor of their board in this election, since Dr. Kohls isn't running again.

      But the primary reason Springboro has low per-pupil costs than us has nothing to do with the nature of their board. It's simply because we had our growth spurt between 1997 and 2003, and Springboro's has been more recent. This manifests in the years of experience of the corps of teachers, which directly affects the average salary.

      In Hilliard, 11% of our teachers have 0-4 years of service, 14% have 4-10 years, and 75% have 10+ years. That means lots of our teachers have hit the max on the pay scale (go here to review how the teacher pay scale works). The average teacher salary in our district is $70,025.

      Contrast that to Springboro, where the distribution is 21% 0-4 years, 25% 4-10 years, and 53% 10+ years. The result is an average teacher salary of $54,245.

      Since our pay scale isn't all that different than Springboro's, as time goes on, Springboro's average salary will continue to climb at the slope of their step schedule. Meanwhile, are already seeing a lessening of our salary growth rate because a fair number of our most senior teachers are choosing to retire now rather than lose STRS benefits, allowing us to replace them with new teachers who get paid about half as much.

      That's the "how much do they get paid" part. Now how about how many they employ?

      The ratio of students to regular teachers is 18.76:1 for Hilliard and 20.46:1 for Springboro. That has some impact, but it's not that significant.

      It's likely more significant that 24% of the kids in our district are classified as Economically Disadvantaged, compared to just 4% in Springboro.

      Also 8.8% of our students have limited English proficiency, the 11th highest fraction in the state. Only 0.5% of the Springboro kids fall into this category.

      As I wrote about in an earlier article, poverty is an important predictor of student performance, which means we have to dedicate more resources to intervention and other pupil support services. The number of ELL kids have similar impact - with many of them both ED and ELL.

      Springboro spends $879/kid for pupil support, while we spend $1,373.

      The cost/pupil can be very misleading as a point of comparison if one doesn't dig another layer or two deeper. The fact that Springboro is spending less doesn't mean that they've discovered some kind of secret sauce. They just serve a less challenging population of kids with younger teachers.

  3. Paul,

    Over the years I have lost most of the little respent and trust I had for our school system. I feel many of the facts we needed to know were kept from us. I account this to having a former strong super (in terms of power not leadership) and weak board.

    I would like to point out some facts from the district web page that differ from yours. It states the average teacher salary as $64,823 yet you say $70,025.

    You say student teacher ratio is 18.76:1. District web site states 1146 teachers, 15726 student. My math says that is 13.7:1. Now you do state regular teachers. A teacher is a teacher, if the student are special and need different ratios then I understand. Understand that does not change the student teacher ratio.

    I understand the Springboro average salary, but just another problem with how we pay teacher. Please note we will soon have a no school day called parent teacher comp day. I find this offensive. In the real world most professionals don't get comp time. So when school has a late start or early closing do they still get paid the same? Maybe we should have them paid by the hour which is a common union practice? Then they will be paid what they are worth.

    1. The data I'm quoting comes from the Cupp Report, published by the Ohio Dept of Ed. But the data originates with the school districts themselves, submitted via a system called EMIS. Here's how the those data points are defined:

      16. Classroom Teacher Average Salary shows the average salary of all FTE classroom teachers. Source: EMIS.

      So this would leave out teachers who are not fulltime, or not in the classroom. There are few of either, so this should be pretty reflective of all teachers. The website must be out of date.

      20. K-12 Regular Education Pupil Teacher Ratio is the number of pupils receiving regular education (non-special, non-career tech instructions) divided by the number of FTE classroom teachers referenced in number 15 above. Due to some technical issues surrounding the EMIS redesign, the Department of Education was not able to update the calculation of this measure in FY09, FY10 and FY11 and as a result no official ODE pupil teacher ratio for these years was released. For the purposes of this report however, we have shown the FY08 data as proxy for FY11. Source: EMIS.

      15. FTE Number of Regular Education Classroom Teachers shows the FTE number of classroom teachers involved in instructional service delivery of regular education (Position Code 230 with Assignment Area of 999370) to non-special and non-career tech education students. Source: Education Management Information System (EMIS).

      Meaning both of these data point omit special ed and career tech students and teachers. We don't have very many career tech teachers, as these subjects are taught primarily at Tolles, but we do have a fair number of teachers engaged in special ed and intervention.

      But the bulk of the teachers teach regular courses to regular students, and hence is used as the benchmark for comparison between school districts.

      Many folks, me included, will find things in the contract with the teachers union, and even the state law, which seem a little strange. But when one goes back through the history and evolution of the teaching profession, the reasons these things came to be are understandable.

      I grew up in WV, where some would say that organized labor first grew in this country. It's clear that before the coal miners unionized, the coal barons were getting incredibly wealthy while miners were being injured, killed, and subject to the long-term effects of breathing coal dust - and still dying in debt to the company store because they were paid with mine script that they couldn't spend anywhere else.

      Before long, the workers in other industries unionized as well. But some went too far - the United Auto Workers, and the Oil/Chemical workers come to mind - causing their employers to relocate operations to places with much lower labor costs. Detroit and my hometown of Charleston are what you get when that happens.

      Of course, the school district can't just pick up and leave. Eventually a mutually tolerable set of terms and conditions have to be agreed to by the school board - representing the voters - and the union representing the teachers.

      Usually that happens relatively quietly because both parties go into the negotiation with reasonable expectations. I hope that's how our current negotiation process works out.

      Sometimes the two sides are so far apart that the negotiation becomes ugly - maybe even resulting in a strike by the teachers. That happened last year in Strongsville. There are a number of YouTube videos documenting how people behaved. I wonder how long it will take that community to heal, if they ever do fully.

      This is the reason I say over and over that the key is to have respectful and empathetic dialog between parties who have an accurate and truthful command of the facts.

    2. You've probably noted that the data descriptions I provided above say the student-teacher ratio data is from FY08 - five years ago. Since both our student population and the size of the teacher team has been fairly constant over the period, the data points are still meaningful.

      I've been doing some research in regard to our student-teacher ratio, and hope to publish some of this soon. But we can tell clearly from the enrollment reports what the ratio is at the K-5 level, because the students stay in one classroom for the bulk of the day, and there is one teacher in each classroom. That number is 24:1, meaning that for the K-12 ratio to be 19:1, the 6-12 ratio must be well under 19.

      I think this is something we'll need to talk about going forward, and have said so both here an in Board meetings. The rich array of programs and services we offer at the 6-12 level, and especially in the high schools, cost a lot of money. I believe we need to spend some time on that, a decide as a community whether we're willing to keep paying the taxes necessary to support it.

      People will disagree with which way we should go. Nonetheless a solution has to be found. Unlike the Federal Govt, we can't just shut down because it's painful to find common ground.

  4. Paul,

    Please understand my questions are not directed at you, as without your public communication we would be so far into the weeds it would not be possible to see the day of light.

    With all the money spent on communication why are facts so hard to find. I admit I have not even tryed to access CUPP. The conflict between HCSD site and CUPP drives me crazy. The best example is number or teachers. I understand intervention and other examples, but is a teacher a teacher if they are not in classroom. I understand including all called teachers on our web site. Glad to see a truth, however it lowers the ratio and leads me in the wrong direction.

    If they were to omit intervetnsion and other I would complain they were hiding head count to make the ratio look higher. Just tell me how many are in classroom and * for the others.

    When the contract is being worked on we will hear about all the extra the hours they put in and no one will talk about late starts and early closing. Who speaks for the people about that?

    You want to be fair have, them punch a clock and do all work at school so we can see the cars in the parking lot when we drive to work and come home. Now I know that will not happen, as a great deal of their prep time is done at home. They leave at the end of the school day, do personal chores and activities then do some prep work.

    This provides freedom and that is ok since getting the work done is what matters. It is just a sore spot to have a group of people who I pay taxes to educate our young people have comp time. What an example it sets for your young people.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that.

      There's actually a ton of data available about our school district, and it's not all that hard to find. Just go to hilliardschools.org > District > Financial Reports to find a bunch of reports. In particular, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)text contains a wealth of data. It, the Cupp Report, and the Five Year Forecast are my primary sources of data.

      I've had tons of conversations over the years about the compensation and benefits of teachers compared to the perception of how much work they do. But the reality is that in a free market society, people get paid according to what they can negotiate, not some abstract concept as to what the job is worth.

      Don't know if your a Douglas Adams fan, but I loved the story in his "Hitchhiker's Guide.." series (a cross between Star Trek and Monty Phython) about the society that contrived a scheme to send all their "worthless" people off into space. It included telemarketers, politicians, and the guys who disinfected the mouthpieces in public phone booths. The society died out when a lethal virus was spread through the phone mouthpieces.

      Why do teachers make $70K/yr, but NBA players, make $millions? Can't explain it on any rational level - only that NBA-quality players are scarce, the market is constrained (can't have an NBA team unless the other owners say you can), and the demand is high.

      In public education, the number of qualified people seeking jobs is massive, and even though the market is constrained by both management and labor, there is nowhere near the per-employee revenue available in public education as their is for the NBA.

      Ours isn't a perfect system. It's the product of decades of control by intensely interested employees and politically motivated public officials vs an apathetic public.

      If people want change, they have to engage at times other than just when a levy is on the ballot, and they have to be willing to invest the time to understand the issues, rather than vote on hearsay and emotion.

    2. Paul, I think the roblem many of us have with the compensation issue is that in the free market, compensation is a mix of supply, demand and talent.

      NBA players make millions because, as you note, they are scarce and teams pay to bring the best players to them in order to win. So you have a demand, a very limited supply, with talent determining the final salary.

      However, in public education, supply far outstrips demand, yet there is no reflection of that in salary "negotiations". I know you have stated in the past that you'd approach raises in a manner more in tune with the private sector, but even your suggestion fails to address the over-supply of teachers because it fails to address aspect #3 - talent.

      In the private sector, people with less talent are let go and replaced, or given poor/no raises in order to force them to look elsewhere for work.

      In the public education sector, it is basically a case of "once a teacher, always a teacher". We pay no attention to talent, we just assume that offering high wages attracts better talent, but it doesn't. And anyone (like yourself) that's managed people in the private sector knows full well that money != talent.

      In the end the public sector doesn't match reality. It's fine for people to say "well, the public sector is different" but if the public sector doesn't start justifying WHY it is different, it's going to quickly realize that the private sector sooner or later will no longer be willing to pay the cost to maintain it...

    3. By the way, I should note that another one of the reasons NBA players enjoy high salaries is that they have formed a labor union which allows them to bargain collectively. It's an interesting combination of shared terms mixed with individual negotiation.

      The union objectives are two-fold: 1) protections for those who aren't the hyper-stars by means of salary floors, retirement benefits, and post-retirement medical coverage; 2) to make sure that of the $zillions of revenue flowing into the NBA, the players get as big a share as possible.

      From owners standpoint, a couple things are key: 1) they get to have a team salary cap; and, 2) they get to have enforceable contracts limiting the mobility of players between team. In particular, they get to retain the draft, which is in essence a right of first refusal for any players they pick in the draft.

      Within those boundaries, players individually negotiate for comp and benefits, and are presumably rewarded for their economic contribution to the team (which is usually but not always related to performance - remember it's all about selling tickets and generating TV revenue, so the fans have a say in supporting beloved players or getting rid of hated ones).

      That could be an interest concept to use in teacher deals as well. It could be that the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) is a vehicle that both parties would come to trust in that regard. But we aren't there yet.

      You make the assumption that ineffective teachers are never removed from the system. That's not true. But it has to happen with due process, initiated by the administration.

      That's true in private industry as well. I couldn't just fire someone in my group on a whim. Whether one was a first-level supervisor or an Executive Vice President, there was a process that had to be followed.

      Certainly there were some offenses which would lead to swift termination - physical assault, theft, etc.

      But generally a termination happened at the end of a process lasting 90 days or more in which the ineffective individual was given coaching and chance to improve. If improvement goals were met, the employee retained his/her job. If not, then they would be terminated.

      We have the same kind of process in our system, and there are indeed occasions when teachers don't successfully complete the process, or sometimes leave without trying.

      The other parallel between industry and a public school district is that the process has to be initiated by management. I suspect many of us can think of examples when a boss kept a poor performer rather that go through the pain of the process - especially when the poor performer is a friend. I've had that challenge myself.

      The primary reason these processes exist in private industry is to protect workers from capricious bosses, and employers from unfair termination lawsuits caused by poor managers.

      It's exactly why it exists in the contracts of public teacher unions as well.

    4. Or, we could just institute a salary cap.... ;-)

  5. Big news recently was an international assessment skills test:

    "In math, reading and problem-solving using technology — all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength — American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released Tuesday.

    Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test."

    ...And what do adults in Japan, Canada, Australia and Finland have in common?! Class? Yes, they have ethnically homogenous populations! Coincidence? You make the call.

    I love living in a multicultural society but there's a downside that ought be acknowledged (but surely won't in our laughably politically correct world).

    1. I don't agree with the use of the word "downside" here - I would prefer to say that the diversity in America presents challenges that not societies have to face. I'd agree that Japan and Finland might be examples, and you're right that those who keep touting Finland's education system as a model for the world seem to ignore this dynamic.

      Not so much so with Canada and Australia. The countries of the former British Empire have rich diversity. Maybe not so much in the far-flung rural areas, but the more densely populated regions are home to people from all over.

      We can let our stereotypes and sometimes bigotry creep into the dialog here as well. Our church participated in a Habitat for Humanity build a few years ago where the home was slated for a family that had recently immigrated from Mauritania. The father worked in the packaging area of a manufacturing plant - a low skill, near minimum wage job (one must be working and generating an income sufficient to pay the mortgage on a Habitat house - they aren't a gift).

      It would be easy to assume that the father had little education, or just wasn't that smart. The truth was that Mustaffa was a medical doctor - an anesthesiologist - who spoke five languages. It just happened that none of them were English. Makes it hard to pass the medical board exams.

      His kids were smart, and did well in their homeland schools. Their parents read to them and did all the other things any of us would do for our kids to help them be good learners. Not only that, but Mustaffa and his wife pulled up roots from a land their ancestors had lived in for centuries, and brought their kids to America to protect them from the increasing political dangers of their homeland.

      That's reminds me of a remark Tony Blair (former UK PM) once made - that America may have its problems, but it's still a country in which people risk their lives to enter, not escape.

      Should we make some investment in those kids to help them succeed here? I think so. I don't see that as a downside, but rather as an American tradition.

      Our biggest challenge, in my opinion, are the kids who are suffering in generational poverty. We have a lot of this in central Ohio. By the way, by sheer numbers, we have more children of white Appalachian decent (my heritage by the way) in the region living in poverty than African-American kids. Franklinton is said to be the largest "white ghetto" in the country.

      Many of these issues which seem obvious on the surface are much more nuanced when you start digging into the facts. And we have to be careful not let our assumptions lead to excuses.

  6. Paul,

    In a March 16,2011 scare letter to parents, Dale McVey stated the district could loose $5.2M in 2011-2012 and $8.9M in 2012-2013 year. In addition He addressed the loss of millions in Business Tangible personal property tax reimbursement.

    I have seen some news articles about schools gettung money they thought they would not.

    Can you please provide some updates on these revenue issues. Being the good public servent that you are always seem to be up to date on these issues. Trusting your accuracy!



    1. There has indeed been a significant sea change in regard to the algorithm used by the General Assembly to determine how much state funding goes to suburban districts like ours - who have been screwed for a lot of years in my opinion.

      By that I mean that while the state income tax generated by the residents and businesses of our school district has continued to climb, our state funding has been declining as the lawmakers have diverted more and more money to the rural and urban districts. We, and districts like ours, have been the cash cows for a long time.

      Treasurer Brian Wilson will be presenting an updated Five Year Forecast to the Board at our next meeting. The draft he's circulated forecasts that the amount of state funding we should receive in FY14 is $3 million more than was forecasted in Oct 11, and for FY15 and FY16 it will be $6 million more in each year than we thought just two years ago - when Dale sent that letter.

      This leaves us with some interesting options. In 2011, we committed to the voters that there wouldn't be a levy on the ballot again before 2014. That promise will be easy to keep.

      But eventually there will be need for another levy. As I explained in 2011, we have four "knobs" to turn - in any combination: 1) we can extend the time to the next levy; 2) we can put a levy on the ballot on 2014, but have it be much smaller than usual; 3) we can change our rate of spending growth; and/or, 4) we can increase/decrease our 'rainy day fund.'

      I'm going into this conversation believing that we should target 2015 for the next levy while keeping it under 6 mills, maintaining our 10% target for cash reserves.

      The unknown remains what will happen with our spending, which is going to be dictated largely by the outcome of negotiations with our two unions, which is just beginning. I hope that all parties will be reasonable in this process.

  7. Paul,

    Thanks for your research, truth and additional opinion. I keep a file on hand of all letters, public comment and web site postings. I have been uneasy with the past negotiations process, but understand that Dr M is taking a different tact with the board and the process.

    What I find upsetting was Dale McVey's comments. The projections and what I understand about the real numbers is that his were at least $1m off per year. It is OK for him to voice his opinion and I understand the fear he had. I even understand his decision to share his fear with parents. When he was wrong, where was that letter. Where did he say we got more than we thought or planned for, I never saw it. Nor did I see a board action to correct it.
    I understand Dr M is different, but can you understand where the taxpayer is learning to not trust what they are being told. When we talk about accountability, facts and statements made in past will cast questions in the future.

    Trust me when I say many are watching this negotiations for than any other I have seen in the past. The future of our school system are at a crossroads. We will see where the problem is, super or board.

  8. Paul,

    Not sure if you've seen Opportunity Ohio's latest offering with regards to keeping tabs on School Districts.

    The Hilliard link is http://www.opportunityohio.org/school-districts-data/?id=231

    1. Yes, I have seen this. I'm all for such transparency.