Prepared Text for Board Meeting Ė February 9, 2009 (Levy)

Marc A. Schare614 791-0067 Work - 614 791-1779 Fax

marc9@aol.com

 

About three years ago, voters soundly rejected an operating levy request. At the time, I had expected the administration to put the levy back on the ballot but our new Superintendent surprised me. The powers that be in the district, as well as community members from the Treasurerís Advisory Committee gave some real thought to the message that voters were sending and the result was a strategy that Paul Cynkar labeled ďReduce, Rethink, RecalculateĒ. The first step was to separate capital improvements from the general operating fund and this was accomplished without raising taxes on the community. The next steps were more difficult, but after getting some unexpected help from the state and making some strategic reductions, we were able to stay off the ballot for all of 2007 and 2008, and so here we are. In a nutshell, we are doing what we told the Worthington taxpayer we would do, which is to try and put the district on a levy cycle that will be predictable, sustainable and, for most people, affordable.

 

This administration has brought many reforms to our district. One such reform is the introduction of long term planning and a planned levy cycle. When a school district embarks on a planned levy cycle, it allocates staff, negotiates with labor unions and plans programs assuming the passage of levys. Since this planning must be done well in advance, there is no way to know about exogenous events such as recessions, new funding models from the state or federal government, enrollment spikes or new mandates. It is unfortunate that our planned levy comes at a time of significant turmoil. In a planned levy cycle, sometimes weíll be on the ballot when the economy is good and sometimes we wonít, but since the course for this district has already been charted, the wages negotiated, the courses planned, the curriculum approved and the staff in place, not running the levy, despite the obvious financial hardship, is not a realistic position.

 

Therefore, I am going to vote to put this operating levy on the ballot. No, hell hasnít frozen over, I havenít been brainwashed, I donít drink Kool-aid and I havenít been abducted by aliens. My core ideology is as fiscally conservative as itís always been. I understand, probably better than most in this room, the mind of the ďnoĒ voter and what Iíd like to do is spend a little bit of time discussing the numerous objections Iíve heard to this levy and while many are quite valid, why I donít agree with them.


 

Weíve already talked about the economy. This is a horrible time to run a levy, but the truth is that the levy money has already been spent or at the very least, earmarked. I truly regret the hardship that this levy may place on members of the Worthington community, and we have to acknowledge that the average $500/year increase will be a burden to many who live here. Many in the community have said that we should run the district as a business and in a recession, businesses lay people off. This is not an option for a school district. Itís not like we can cancel the second grade this year and while any $110 million dollar business has fat, there is, in my judgment, not enough to make a material difference. It is my hope that the administration continue to root out inefficiencies regardless of whether a levy is on the ballot.

 

People talk to me all the time about the union contracts. I voted against the WEA contract partially out of a concern that we had no backup plan if levys fail. A majority of this board felt differently and the contract passed. For reasons which are not entirely clear to me, school districts try to disassociate union contracts from levys while simultaneously saying that most of school district spending is in people. Itís no secret that I would have preferred a slightly better result from our negotiations with a slightly reduced levy amount and I would be surprised if our union colleagues wouldnít have also preferred a slightly better result from their perspective. Thatís the nature of bargaining as required by the Ohio Revised Code. Now, the contract is in place and to expect pre-emptive concessions as has been suggested to me in numerous conversations and at our public forum is not realistic, therefore, we must put a levy on the ballot of sufficient size to fund what we have already agreed to. This is common sense.

 

Letís talk about the Governorís plan. I believe that the Governor will get some of what he wants out of the proposal and that his ideas will cause alterations to our business model and financial plans, however, the truth is that we cannot know what will happen. My proposed resolution, if passed, would speak volumes about the intention of this board and this administration to do everything possible to keep the district affordable to the people that live here. I donít believe there will be another district in the state that will make the promise that we would make to the taxpayer regarding unexpected revenue and I hope we get it done.

 

Letís talk about the argument that we should wait until November and see what happens at the state level. This is actually a fair point since there is very little financial or programmatic difference between the levy passing in May and the levy passing in November. Here is the difference. If the May levy passes, the district moves forward and continues its long term plan. If the May levy fails, the district spends the next 6 months in perpetual campaign mode and ultimately, the same thing is accomplished all be it with a huge waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Honestly, if someone was inclined to support a levy but thinks we should wait and see what happens at the state level, I submit that my resolution guaranteeing that we will use any state windfall to cut the size of the next levy, if passed, makes that argument a moot point.

 

Iíve heard other arguments against this levy but these are easily the top 4. We had discussions about the levy amount and itís no secret that I preferred a 6.9 mill levy and demonstrated how it could work with no programmatic changes, but the 7.4 mill levy represents a compromise position between my preference and that of the administration. I have some concerns about forecast assumptions and some concerns about a policy that requires 30 days operating cash to be available (around 15 million dollars) at the end of the levy period. In these tough economic times, we could have shaved a whole mill off the levy amount and still maintained, in my opinion, an acceptable result, but these concerns are outweighed by the administrationís commitment to a long term plan and, if passed, our taxpayer promise to refund a windfall should it materialize. Iíll conclude with two thoughts. Even with this levy, the 5 year financial projection shows what can only be described as financial Armageddon at the outer edge of the forecast period. The longer that this board, our administration, our union colleagues and our community delay a discussion of how best to avoid this, the harder it will get, but I remain optimistic. This is a different district than it was in 2006. There is a taxpayer focus that didnít exist before, a commitment to long term planning that didnít exist before and there are signs of fiscal discipline throughout the organization. Is it as much as I would like Ė no - but it is enough to warrant community support for this levy.