Prepared Text for Board Meeting – February 14,  2007

Marc A. Schare

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I want to take this opportunity to mention a few things.

 

First, I want to welcome Candy Brooks back to these proceedings. While Mark Major did a great job at filling in, I know I speak for everyone in the room when I say that Candy Brooks is a community icon whose contribution in Worthington can never be replaced and, with the lords help, won’t have to be for many decades to come.

 

Second, I want to clear up a misconception. The Worthington Board of Education is not anti-love. While I appreciate the willingness of the staff and our guests to come out on a snowy Valentines Day evening, the truth is that we moved our meeting to Wednesday because we “love” our President, Dr. Bob Horton, and not that we hate St. Valentine.

 

My first update today has to do with our constitutional amendment to “fix” school funding. As your legislative liaison, I’ve followed the debate and have become somewhat familiar with the details of the amendment. As you’ve seen in the headlines, the amendment mandates the creation of a education advisory committee. This committee will determine how much education costs, and the general assembly will be required to fund that amount, minus a predetermined “local share” that starts out at 34 mills and gradually descends to 20 mills by fiscal year 2013.

 

As always, the devil is in the details. For example, the education advisory committee consists of 6 school district employees, 6 members of organized labor/business and, seemingly as an afterthought, 6 members of the taxpaying public. The 18 unelected people, with just a minor amount of oversight, will become the most powerful people in state government, able to control over 40% of the states resources and able to force massive tax increases or budget cuts to satisfy their demands. In just the first 2 years, before the committee ever meets, the amendment calls for annual,  immediate 5% increases on top of a cost of living adjustment in each year at a cost of, accordingly to the non-partisan legislative budget commission, 1.8 billion dollars over the 2 year cycle, and that’s just the warm up. 


 

In the weeks to come, I plan to discuss with this board and with the Worthington community the details of this amendment, the impacts it would have on our district and my perceptions of the impacts that it would have on our state. Each of us has received correspondence from the Ohio School Boards Association urging us to all get behind this amendment. I will discuss their reasoning and I why I believe they are wrong. Finally, if it appears that this proposal is, in fact, going to make it on the ballot, I intend to offer 2 resolutions for us to vote on. The first will be a resolution that opposes the amendment. I understand that we may have different opinions about this proposal, but I believe that as elected representatives of the Worthington School District, we owe it to the community to tell people where we stand and why. The second will be a resolution that states that the Worthington Board of Education will rebate in property taxes an amount that matches, dollar for dollar, the increment that we are receiving from the state as a result of the amendment. If the state gives us 10 million dollars, we will charge the Worthington taxpayers 10 million dollars less than we do now. If this amendment was truly designed to eliminate the over reliance of property taxes, it would have had a component to do that. Since it does not, we can introduce one in Worthington.

 

My second update has to do with the statewide initiative for pooling of health care. Since health care costs, including Dental,  for employees in Worthington will grow from 10.8 million dollars (or 10% of our general operating fund) to 15.2 million dollars (or 12.5% of our budget), a 40% increase in just 3 short years, I’ve been following this process with some interest. There was cause for optimism when the state’s consultant, Mercer, reported a possible statewide savings of around $200 million dollars that could be achieved from statewide pooling of health care, or a slightly smaller amount that could be saved, statewide, from regional pooling of health care. Sadly, it is not to be. The health care board’s report to the governor calls for neither mandatory statewide or mandatory regional pooling. Rather, the report demands that school district plans adapt “best practices” with possible savings in the 60-120 million dollar range. For Worthington, I now believe it unlikely that significant savings will be seen from this process and indeed, the cost of having to prove that your plan does, in fact, meet the best practices standard could potentially drive up costs even more. The legislature, of course, is  free to ignore the Health Care Boards recommendations and the governor, of course, is free to ignore the legislature. Time will tell.


 

Next, I wanted to take some time to discuss lessons learned from the board selection process. The responses to our supplemental questionnaire were very revealing, and the subsequent responses to some of the questions at the public forum were also quite enlightening. In both cases, they reflect perceptions of our district by very talented and knowledgeable cross section of the district.

 

The first item was an almost universal desire to reintroduce foreign languages into the elementary grades. Approximately half of the responses from the questionnaires  indicated that this was an appropriate use of money for ‘new stuff’ if such funds would ever materialize. In talking to Jennifer Wene, Mark Glesbrenner and others, I’m told that money is not the primary showstopper in getting this done, it is time in the schedule. As Mark embarks on a program to rethink elementary school for the 21st century, Foreign Languages should be prioritized, especially in the light of new opportunities for globalization at the middle schools. The second item is an absolute misunderstanding of state funding as it pertains to Worthington. Many people mistakenly believe that Worthington has been victimized by the state in recent budget cycles and will continue to be victimized, and it is simply irresponsible to allow these perceptions to continue. The reality is that Worthington would have been hurt by the funding formula modifications were it not for the existence of state guarantees, but for the most part, our state funding has not been impacted in recent budgets. At some point, it might be appropriate if  Jonathan prepare a definitive board presentation on state funding and how it pertains specifically to our district. Given enough notice, our state representatives may want to update us as well. As we prepare to discuss the constitutional amendment, Worthington residents need factual information about what the state does and does not do, what is current law, what is future law and what we should lobby the legislature for. The third item is an almost universal distrust of the five year forecast. The forecast is the single document that we rely on to determine the need for a levy, yet every one of our board semi-finalists expressed a certain amount of distrust of the document. If this is a perception in the community, it must be corrected because if the forecast cannot be trusted, our next levy request cannot be trusted. I’ve seen firsthand the effort that Jonathan, the finance committee, the treasurer’s advisory committee and this board puts into that document. Any budget for anything is, of course, the best guess available at the time, but the absolute mistrust in our process as was evidenced at the forum needs to be corrected.