Prepared Text for Board Meeting (Election)
Marc A. Schare
Analyzing election results is a lot like trying to pinpoint the reason for a stock market decline in any one given day. There are a lot of opinions and most of them are wrong because you are trying to assess the actions of 10,000 people and tie them all in a neat little bow. The truth is that each person who voted yes had a unique reason for doing so, and each person who voted no had a unique reason for doing so and each person who made the decision not to vote had a reason for doing so. So why did our levy fail?
Some people say it was the economy. Around the state, ODE reports a levy passage rate of 65% but when you look in our peer group of districts trying to pass new operating tax levys, the passage rate drops to below 33%. To be sure, the economy played a role in the result and we have to acknowledge that with declining incomes in Worthington, the extra $500 would represent a hardship to a considerable number of people, however, it is not clear that new tax levys did any worse in May statewide than in other years. In the spring of 2008, for example, the statewide passage of new levys was around 25% and in spring of 2007, the rate was 30%, although the last two figures include bonds and PI levys.
Some people say that there was no sense of urgency and nothing at stake. Unfortunately, detailing “what is at stake” is eduworld lingo for “let’s get a cut list and start threatening people”. It’s my hope that before we go down that path, we take a deep breath and fully assess the situation. You’ve got at least one board member who will take a very critical view towards a cut list when we continue to have a surplus through 2011, especially when we’ve got operating contingency funds and a budget free from worry about capital emergencies.
Still others claim it was the concept of the three year levy cycle. I’m sensitive to this argument because I had advocated for community engagement to try and get at the question of how much and how often. Is it impossible to do meaningful community engagement with regard to a levy cycle? Perhaps, but no more difficult than community engagement to define a 21st century education. Expenditure increases as a function of new programming, inflation and enrollment might be a good place to start.
So, where do we go from here? Here are some thoughts in no particular order:
1) Community Engagement to try and get at the question of how much and how often.
2) A high-low version of the forecast to estimate the “need” after the state budget is finalized.
3) An analysis of what
practices can be eliminated without effecting the quality.
Two ideas are often suggested along these lines. First, is middle school team
teaching something that we could eliminate and second, is it time to claim some
of the economies of scale that you don’t get with 11 small elementary schools
and 4 small middle schools. Can we
alleviate space constraints and improve building utilization by moving sixth
graders to the middle school or changing our buildings to be K-3 and 4-6.
Parents may hate the idea, but neighborhood K-6 schools come at a price and
4) A review of the ending cash balance policy that was implicit in the last levy request.
5) A zero based budgeting approach rather than an inflation based budget approach might yield savings. We had an implicit inflation rate of 5% for purchased services in the last forecast. Was that the right number?
6) We can try an empowered treasurers advisory committee that monitors, reports and provides oversight over district finances. The committee should report directly to the Board of Education and indeed, to the community with regular reports.
Finally, in some ways, and
for some people, the levy vote was a referendum on our collective bargaining
agreements. It’s not productive to have the discussion at a board meeting, but
I think that both management and labor might jointly consider whether the last
contracts may have been, in retrospect, unaffordable to the people in
To be sure, none of these things, or all of these things, wouldn’t negate the requirement for a levy sooner or later, but I think we need to start demonstrating sensitivity to hard economic times if we hope to win widespread community support anytime soon.