Prepared Text for Board Meeting Ė April 9, 2007

Marc A. Schare

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Folks, my opposition to this constitutional amendment proposal is well known. In previous meetings, Iíve discussed various pieces of the proposal but since we are discussing the issue this evening, I want to try to highlight some of the reasons for my rather intense opposition. I fully recognize that some of this presentation is opinion and some is ideology. I also recognize that I am almost certainly in a small minority of school board members in the state opposing the amendment and I completely understand and respect the opposite view, but I think it would do our constituents a disservice to not openly discuss and debate this proposal, arguably the most serious school funding reform Ohioans have ever considered. To that end, I would like to formally request that Jonathan invite Jim Betts or David Varda or another author of this proposal to present the case for the amendment. In the meantime, since we are discussing the issue this evening, let me offer my top 5 reasons why this amendment is bad for Worthington and bad for Ohio.

 

First, there is no discussion or mention of costs. Before offering K-12 education a constitutionally guaranteed blank check, we need to take steps to address the unasked and unanswered question in K-12 education today which is Ė what the heck is costing so much. Iíll throw out two items as thought experiments to illustrate the point. First, what is the purpose of STRS and SERS. Why do they exist? Why do school employees have access to a far better and more reliable retirement plan than the taxpayers that support them? Arguably, it is an employers market in K-12 education in Ohio, so clearly these benefits are not required to attract people to the profession, so why do we require taxpayers to contribute 14% of salaries to retirement programs rather than have school employees rely on social security like the rest of us. Second, one of the huge cost drivers, as we know, is employee health care. It is part of the culture of K-12 education that employees at all levels enjoy almost 100% coverage of health care and have been, for the most part, immune to the societal changes that are impacting the health insurance of Ohio residents today. Is it truly in the best interests of Ohioís 180000 school children that such a large percentage of K-12 education budgets be used for this purpose. I donít know, but I think that before passing a school funding constitutional amendment, perhaps it is time to look at some of these cost drivers and determine, statewide, what if anything can be done about these and other costs.

 

Second, the quality of education that we in Worthington are able to offer our students will be (and yes, this is an opinion), materially harmed if this amendment passes. We would need to become the rip-van-winkle district. We are fine now, and we would be fine in 2014 or 2015, but I see no way to get from here to there given the fact that Worthington sees no increase in state funding for 6 years after amendment passage and residents would be very reluctant to pass local levys, even temporary ones, in the face of the massive statewide tax increases that will be authorized, and required, should this amendment pass. Our five year forecast suggests that we will need levys in 2008 and 2011 before the amendment kicks in. If those levys do not pass, we will be forced to either freeze salaries or, more likely, start cutting programs.

 

Third, the amendment has the potential to destroy Ohioís economy. While Mr. Betts and other amendment proponents say with a straight face that education costs could actually go down under this proposal, the overwhelming likelihood is that the state board of education would take full advantage of the blank check provided by Ohio taxpayers. The legislature can respond in only two ways, they can cut services elsewhere or they can raise taxes. Mr. Betts says in his public speeches that by approving the amendment, people are giving the general assembly authority to raise the required revenues. He is right. According to the non-partisan tax foundation, Ohio already has the second worse climate in the country vis-ŗ-vis business taxes and in a report released just today, Ohio now has the 5th highest state and local tax bite in the country, up from 7th a year ago and 10th in 2005. Adding a massive new mandate to Ohioís business and residential taxpayers can only drive wealthy residents and both small and large business away from the state, and if you donít believe that tax policy can influence behavior, stay tuned for our discussion on abatements later this evening.

 

Fourth, this amendment hurts Worthington local taxpayers by increasing inside millage from 4.5 mills to 20 mills. Worthington School District property taxes would increase automatically every three years. While amendment proponents point to the probable end of levy fatigue, Worthington residents should not be fooled. This amendment replaces property tax levys that you vote on with property tax levys that are automatic, and while that may sit fine with most people in this room, the people paying those bills may have another opinion.

 

Fifth, while I dislike, intensely, the levy process, it does offer local taxpayers a measure of accountability. Every few years, we must justify our expenditures to the local community. In May of 2006, the community told us we needed to chart a new direction and under Superintendent Conrath, Assistant Superintendent Cynkar and Treasurer Boyd, we have done just that. The ďReduce, Rethink, RecalculateĒ strategy has brought us new ways of doing business while increasing, dramatically, the innovation occurring in the district. If the district had not been forced by a levy failure to do this, it probably would not have happened. Under this amendment, unlimited funds offer nothing but a propagation of the status quo. The accountability provisions in the amendment are toothless as they are nothing more then a committee producing a report that the state board takes into account when determining the per pupil expenditure number. Our voters will judge us in 2008 when we go back to ballot. Who will judge the state board when automatic tax increases are required, biennium after biennium,to pay for their mandates.

 

There are lots of other reasons to oppose this amendment. I can talk about the fact that while the state board can require the funding of the components of a high quality education, there is no requirement for local school districts to actually take that money and implement those components. I can talk about the fact that the amendment also funds items unrelated to K-12 education, specifically, higher education, libraries and local governments, effectively removing funding decisions from the general assembly. I can talk about the new ability of the general assembly to mandate local school districts levy an additional property tax of up to 5 mills for permanent improvements. In fact, as youíve noticed, I can go on and on, but I trust that Iíve made my point. This amendment is bad for Worthington taxpayers,bad for Worthington Schools and potentially devastating for Ohioís economy. I urge my colleagues to join me in rejecting the Ohio School Board Associationís pleas that we join this campaign and Iíll close by reiterating my request to formally invite Jim Betts, David Varda or anyone else to come to a future meeting of the Worthington Board of Education and state the case for this proposal. ††