Prepared Text for Board Meeting Ė May 7,2007

Marc A. Schare

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First, I would first like to welcome Tracy Dematteo to these proceedings. Worthington is blessed to have an individual of her caliber to take over as interim treasurer. I know I speak for the board when I offer our gratitude to her for taking on this task.


Folks, I have a number of legislative updates this week, but before I get into those, I want to offer a response to Ms. Bestís pro-amendment statement two weeks ago.


There are indeed two sides to every story, and Jennifer did as good a job as can be done at articulating the pro-amendment position. Iíd like to offer some direct response to her statement.


Letís start with an easy one. Amendment proponents mention that the amendment will reduce the number of local property tax levys. The statement itself presupposes that what people donít like about the levy process is the hassle, which is possibly true in the education community and for the people running the campaigns, but probably not true anywhere else. Out in the real world, of course, we know that what taxpayers donít like about the levy process are the TAXES. Well, this amendment replaces tax increases you vote on with tax increases that are automatic, both at the local level with property taxes that automatically grow as the value of your property grows and at the state level with new income taxes and sales taxes. Given the reality of automatic taxation, reducing the number of local levys is not much of a benefit and it is, for the taxpayer, the equivalent of dealing with a pain in your knee by chopping off your leg.


Amendment proponents speak of accountability through a new Education Accountability Commission, however, the amendment itself shows that this committee will merely produce reports that will be used as input to help determine the size of the blank check. We have accountability in public education today. In fact, we have so much accountability and so many reports that I can find a legitimate report to say just about anything. The new accountability commission was added to the amendment proposal to provide a talking point for the campaign, nothing more. If the authors had been interested in true accountability, they would have required the state board of education to follow the recommendations of the accountability commission and, Iíll add parenthetically, they would have required local school districts to actually implement the components of the high quality education that will be funded by taxpayers.


Amendment proponents discuss the tax break for seniors. It is stunning that in a constitutional amendment proposal, the authors of the amendment decided that they should have the right to pick winners and losers in the game of who should pay for public education, especially when they go out of their way to say that the question of ďwho should payĒ is the purview of the general assembly. Obviously, this is a somewhat shameless attempt to bribe seniors into supporting the proposal. Thankfully, Governor Strickland has decided to offer more or less the same bribe in his budget, so seniors will get most of their tax reduction no matter the outcome of the amendment. What is most disturbing about this talking point is the fact that amendment proponents donít seem to discuss the automatic increase in property taxes or the probable increase in taxes on a seniors retirement income. Since the funding is automatic, every dollar of property tax cut must be compensated for by a corresponding dollar of income or sales tax, or, worse, the reduction in state services to seniors due to the constitutional requirement to fund education first. Putting this another way, if you think that the prioritization of special education funding over Medicaid funding belongs to the state board of education, youíll want to support this amendment. If you think it should remain with the general assembly, you wonít. Not to trivialize the point, but assuming sports is considered part of a high quality education (it is now), This amendment actually prioritizes a 17 year olds right to play taxpayer sponsored football over a seniors right to Medicaid and then tries to persuade the senior that this amendment is going to help them.


I want to spend a little bit of time on why the amendment is, in fact, a blank check. Amendment proponents speak of checks and balances; however, a careful reading of the amendment language shows a lack thereof. Proponents mention that the judgment of the state board of education can be overridden by a 3/5 majority of the assembly. In truth, the amendment language says this:


The General Assembly may, by three-fifths majority vote of each house, determine alternate costs from those identified by the State Board of Education, provided that any such alternative costs shall include and provide funds for essentially the same  components, programs and services as determined by the State Board of Education under this section.


In other words, if the State Board of Education decides that Ohio Taxpayers should pay for every child to get a trip to Russia as part of a high quality education, the general assembly can debate the cost of the trip and whether the trip will be coach or first class, but not whether the trip is required, and for those of you that think that requiring a trip to Russia is an absurd notion, remember that international travel is already a component of the international baccalaureate program. This proposal is a blank check and no one can point to amendment language that says anything to the contrary. I certainly look forward to amendment night on May 21.


Folks, I have several legislative updates today.


First, Jonathan and I met with Senator David Goodman on April 24. We gave him the same talk that we gave Rep. Bacon. He was impressed with our research and promised to pass it along to the Senate Education committee and the Republican caucus.


Second, as we know, Amended House Bill 119 was approved unanimously in the House. The bill does contain a continuation of the transitional aid guarantee, so while not yet law, it is looking promising. You might recall that with the new, unforecasted funds weíll get from the state, we should be able to stay off the ballot until 2009. Unfortunately, the bill also included a pilot program for special education scholarships along the lines of autism scholarships. While the pilot limits the number of scholarships to 3% of the total number of special education children in the state, it sets a potentially devastating precedent. I plan to follow up with Senators Goodman and Stivers and I would urge those who have contacts within the administration to see about getting the governor to line item veto this provision.


Third, I have a story I want to share with the board and there is a moral to the story. On April 27, Paul Cynkar received a note from Susan Greenberger indicating that the House was planning to leave in place the moratorium on publicly sponsored conversion schools while allowing new charter schools. Paul forwarded Susanís note to the board and I forwarded it along to Rep. Bacon with a cover letter expressing my opinion that it must be a mistake. Rep. Bacon is familiar with the efforts put forth by the Phoenix team and he took our concern to the House Speaker. As it turns out, it was a mistake, and Rep. Bacon was able to fix it before final passage out of the house. The moral of the story is this. We need to be politically active in Worthington. We have an advocate in Rep. Bacon and another advocate in Rep. Hughes and the more they know about what we do here, the better they are able to represent us. It is so easy to blame the legislature for whatever ails public education, but far more productive to try and help them along.


Fourth, one of our suggestions actually made it into the budget bill. Worthington had a situation in 2006 where if we wanted to put an income tax on the ballot, we needed a tax rate of 0.63% but we would have needed to charge a tax rate of 0.75% because of the requirement for the tax to be specified in 25 basis point increments. I asked for a change in the law to allow school districts to request a tax rate in increments of 10 basis points. A small victory, but a tax of 60 basis points will always be better, and definitely will be easier to sell, than a tax of 75 basis points and it will allow districts all over the state to ask for what they need and not more than what they need.