Prepared Text for Board Meeting Ė February 13, 2006

Marc A. Schare

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First, I would like to thank everyone that has taken the time to email me, call me and come to the forums. I would like to share with my fellow board members and the community some thoughts about the levy. They may serve as a starting point for discussion.

 

Looking at the districtís short term financial forecast, there is no question that a tax increase is needed to fund the current program for the next 2 years, or until June of 2009. The seeds of this levy were planted long ago and the current labor contracts assumed its passage when they were negotiated. There is simply not enough time, even for the most fiscally conservative board of education, to cut enough to avoid the requirement for this levy and, even if we could, it would simply be to delay the inevitable for one year.

 

In my opinion, and the opinion of our treasurer and various members of the legislature that Iíve spoken with, any state action to tweak the funding formula is likely to be negative, and action on the part of the state to ďfixĒ the problem is likely to be very negative to Worthington. Tonight, we will probably vote to put a levy an operating levy on the ballot. I wonít be questioning that decision, but I do question the long term sustainability of our actions.

 

Many in the community believe that our path is, in fact, sustainable. They might be right. So far, the citizens of the Worthington School District have been generous, however, I believe we need to prepare for the day when the taxpayers, faced with double digit property tax or income tax increases every two years, will simply say no. If we are not prepared, and if we donít start now, when that day comes, we will have to make sharp and significant cuts, damaging cuts that will cripple the ability of the district to fulfill its mission and take our property values down with it. We canít let that happen, therefore, I propose the following. A district committee consisting of administration, teachers and community members should be commissioned to look at the sustainability of what we are doing. We need to look at both the revenue side and the expense side, and everything, include various taxation options and teacher and administrative salary and benefits needs to be on the table. The committee should conclude its work by September, 2007 with specific recommendations as to whether the current program is sustainable. If it is sustainable, the committee should make recommendations as to the types of new taxes that Worthington residents can expect. If it is not, the committee should make recommendations as to how the district should adjust. Citizens should understand one last point. It is possible, some would say likely, that the district could be doing everything right, that our salaries and benefits are reasonable, our programs and expenses consistent with the quality our residents expect and receive and our budgets and forecasts consistent with best practices and our district is simply too costly for our residents to afford. I donít know the answers, but I believe the community engagement process is the first step to finding, and funding, long term solutions.

 

On the permanent improvement side, we face a more complicated situation. I was provided a draft of a list of district projects totaling some 33 million dollars. I was given this list last Monday along with a request that we tax the citizens of Worthington at 1.5 mills, or around 2.7 million dollars, each year, every year, forever. There is not enough time to perform due diligence on the list, however, it is clear that there are short term health and safety items that must be attended to, as well as some immediate technology needs. Dealing with technology first, we need to work to rightsize the technology request. Many of the computers that now need replacing, we received for free from the Schoolnet initiative a few years back. Just because we have a computer and it is old doesnít mean that we needed it in the first place and that it must now be replaced. Unquestionably, we do need to invest taxpayer money in the technology infrastructure of the district. Iíve spoken with Keith Schlarb and I think he will work wonders with whatever the voters approve, but his request for $500K/year for 5 years was, in my opinion, aggressive. The busing request from the district calls for 1.2 million dollars over 3 years to replace our oldest buses. This request is, in my view, reasonable. Taking all of the critical needs into account, and remembering that we can fund these needs not only with taxpayer dollars but with sale of property, a back of the napkin calculation shows that a permanent improvement levy of 0.75 mills for 2 years will make a significant difference and will fund most of the most critical items facing the district through 2008-2009. A temporary levy for permanent improvements is most appropriate because it will give us time to right size the list. In addition, I have received numerous comments from taxpayers that are concerned that Permanent Improvement funds will find a back door into the operating budget, and Iíve received other comments that express concerns over the cost of the items that the PI money will buy. Both of these concerns can be addressed through the creation of a Permanent Improvement Community Oversight board that will work in conjunction with the district to prioritize projects, report to the community on the spending of PI money and ultimately, to right size the request prior to a possible 2008 levy.

 

 

I thank the indulgence of my fellow board members. In conclusion, and quoting from a letter I received from a community member who co-chaired a recent levy campaign:

 

Our district needs to pass an operating levy to tide it over until the change is made.I ask you to support one more operating levy, making it absolutely the minimum you can ask for, and for the minimum amount of time. I ask you to actively work to change this system.Change will not happen unless we make it; let us effect change by uniting together, starting tonight.