Prepared Notes for Board Meeting  

June 28, 2010 

Marc A. Schare

 614 791-0067

marc9@aol.com

 

 

Today, I have updates from the Treasurer’s Advisory Committee and two other meetings.

 

The Treasurer’s Advisory met on June 15 for the purpose of reviewing the first draft of the auditor’s report. When the auditor does a performance audit, their findings are a public record that will be posted on the auditor’s web site. Prior to the finalization of the report, the entity being audited has the opportunity to correct any mistakes that they perceive have occurred. Any corrections must, however, be accompanied by proof of the error. The system is set up so that once you request the audit, you have input into the final result but you can’t alter the findings if you don’t like them. In this meeting, the group covered three parts of the report, on personnel, on facilities and on transportation. The draft included a number of findings that have already been addressed by the district. The final report will either reflect that or will remove the finding. The group felt that the report could be clearer in some instances and that input was provided to the auditor as well. Jeff subsequently met with the auditor’s office and reviewed the changes and reported that the office will take them under advisement. A post-audit meeting with the board’s finance committee will occur and finally, the document will be made public. The district will have the opportunity to comment on the auditor’s findings and have those comments incorporated as part of the report. We anticipate a board worksession to review the findings will take place in about a month.

 

The first meeting I want to report on is from the School Funding Advisory Council. The council was created in HB1 with a charge of recommending modifications to the components of Ohio's evidence-based school funding system. The recommendations must be based on current, high quality research, information provided by school districts, and best practices in operational efficiencies. My purpose in attending was to try and get an understanding of where the Evidence Based Model is going given our financial condition and the negligible  impact it has on our bottom line. This council will report to ODE by the end of December and such modifications will be used as input to the Governor’s executive budget next year. While I didn’t get a handle on where the group was going, I did attend two very interesting subcommittees. The Education Reform Tracking Subcommittee is chaired by the State Superintendent and had three items on the agenda. The first centered around building managers, the second on the Educational Challenge Factor and the third on professional development. Currently, the model is funding one building manager per organizational unit. In our case, that’s 18.34 building managers which, if the EBM was fully funded, would work out to over $600K but which is currently funded at 24K. It was unclear whether the building manager was more like a head custodian or an assistant principal. Since the model was only funding these positions at around $33,000 per person, they probably weren’t referring to the assistant principal. The discussion turned on whether the EBM should mandate these positions in the next biennium. This could be a huge issue for us because, for example, the state could order us to hire 18 building managers we don’t need and fire teachers we do need in order to afford them. The group was pretty adamant that if the state was going to fund business managers, they need to mandate that we don’t take their money and spend it on any old fool thing we want (like teachers). Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and the next budget won’t be so prescriptive, but the risk remains. The other decision that was made at this subcommittee meeting was to basically ignore the fact that Ohio won’t be able to fund the evidence based model for the foreseeable future. The panel recognizes this but sees value in doing the full calculation anyway. Their work remains relevant only if ODE and the legislature decide to do away with the guarantees and use a percentage of the full amount to calculate aid under the EBM formula.

 

The discussion I went to see was tabled, that being on the Education Challenge Factor. It’ll be on the next agenda. The ECF is an artificial limiting or enhancing agent that determines how much funding districts receive from the model. Since Worthington is still perceived as a high wealth district, whatever we get from the formula will be reduced and we’ll only get a fraction of the formula amount. The formula for calculating the ECF is not publicized and the results for all 614 districts were hardcoded into the ORC. A combination of factors including property wealth and percentage of people with a college degree are included in the calculation.  The subcommittee stated several times that the ECF was working as designed to funnel money to low wealth districts. So long as Worthington is a donor district, it would behoove us to advocate for policies that continue to fund schools through local means and it’s worth mentioning again that for every dollar in income tax that Worthington residents send downtown, only 17 cents comes back to our school district and that, by any measure, is a bad investment.

 

The second subcommittee meeting I attended was the “learning environments” subcommittee, a strange name for the subcommittee tasked with figuring out how and how much teachers should be compensated. The committee is chaired by Worthington’s own Rich Petrick. In this meeting, the discussion centered around modifying the EBM to include teacher benefits. Currently, even though the EBM portends to calculate what it costs to provide a high quality education, the cost of most employee benefits was excluded from the model. Since it is unlikely that staff will give up benefits anytime soon, this committee attempted to define such costs for inclusion into the model. They settled on a figure of 10% in addition to the statutory 14% for the taxpayer contribution to employee pensions.  The obvious problem, of course, is that benefits are growing at a different rate than salaries so assigning a benefit as a percentage of salary would be unrealistic as benefits could be and have been an increasing percentage of total compensation. Once again, to include the cost of benefits into the model when the state doesn’t come close to funding what is already in the model can have ramifications depending on how the EBM is used in the next biennium.

 

I did not attend the meeting of the Community School Collaboration subcommittee, however, I did get a draft of their recommendations to ODE. The most significant recommendation for Worthington is the proposal that the state fund community and charter schools by direct payments to the school where the student is educated and not the district where the student resides. This change would save Worthington Schools around 2.8 million dollars/year. ODE has included this proposal in their last two executive budget requests and both times, the legislature stripped them out. Requiring local property taxpayers to continue to fund the state’s policy on charter schools and community schools is wrong in my opinion. I believe in school choice but I also believe that if the state is going to mandate it, the state needs to pay for it.

 

 Finally, last week, along with Professor Wilson,  I attended the Governor’s Conference on Creativity and Innovation in Public Education. The Governor’s office defined three time horizons – Current, Next Generation and Future for looking at structural reform and pitched three existing state organizations, one for each time horizon as ideally qualified to spark creativity and reform in each time horizon.  The three groups were the  Ohio Resource Center, ETech Ohio and Knowledgeworks. We spent an hour listening to each group pitch their credentials at managing their particular time horizon. The Ohio Resource Center operates an excellent web site with a lot of timely teaching resources; however, it doesn’t represent anything particularly new or innovative. It does save time in matching existing web site resources to Ohio standards so you don’t have to Google for them. After an hour, it wasn’t clear what E-Tech’s role would be. Perhaps they will expand their mission to include incubating new technology and applications for student achievement statewide. The final presentation by Knowledgeworks was the best of the day for me. They bring a vision of school reform that was similar to the chapter on Cyber-Schools in “Teaching the Digital Generation”, the book that Mark Glasbrenner gave us. They imagine a future where antiquated constructs such as a “school district” based on geographical location give way to cyber-schools where you are represented by an avatar in a 3-D total immersion experience, similar to what you might find in a massively parallel video game such as “World of Warcraft”. The software geek in me sees many possibilities but ultimately, it will be the marriage of the traditional and the new worlds that define the optimal education experience for kids in the next 10 years or so.