Prepared Notes for Board Meeting – Levy
Marc A. Schare
For almost four years now,
I could spend a lot of time this evening talking numbers – levy size this and health care that, state funding, tangible tax reimbursements, valuations, ending cash balances, natural gas, community school tuition, step increases, transportation costs, bond money, where I agree with the Treasurer and where I think he’s wrong ad infinitum, but I think that after a while, all you would hear is the same “Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah”. So I’m not going to do that, not because those discussions aren’t important – there will be time to discuss them when we approve the next forecast, but because those discussions serve to obscure the bigger picture and tonight is a night to stay focused on the big picture.
Professor Wilson and I,
much to the occasional amusement of the audience, seldom agree on much of
anything, but his speech about the loss of quality and opportunity in the
Through it all, our demographics have changed, requiring more money to be diverted to special education, low English proficiency students and now, fully 20% of our students are eligible for federal assistance. Frankly, central office staff has done an amazing, thankless job at keeping our test scores up and our costs as low as possible and they never get the credit they deserve. You people are wizards at cost-neutral additions to the program and increasing opportunity without cost but I fear even your talent is not without limit.
We not only perceive this demographic
change in our buildings but in our community as well. The median income in
Since Professor Wilson made his observations last week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about his words, pulling articles from “This Week” archives about previous boards wrestling with previous cut lists and wondering if this is, in fact, our future. This levy and the forecast upon which it is based promises five more years of the same. Vote for us and look at all the stuff we’ll cut. Heck, our last levy campaign bragged about the amount of stuff that was cut. This has got to stop. It is time to focus on the root cause of the problem.
For the next few minutes, I’m going to talk about rising employee costs because any meaningful discussion of levys, budgets or cuts without mentioning this is not productive. I am not making a value judgment about employee costs and while I’m sure that some in the audience will hear the anti-teacher message they are expecting, that is not the intent. The intent is to lay out our problem in simple terms.
The facts are these. We are unwilling or unable to levy enough local dollars to keep up with rising employee costs. Throughout this decade, we have increased salaries and we have suffered the cost of health care increases and our levys have not kept up. The difference between the amount that would have to be levied and the amount that was levied must be made up in programmatic cuts assuming that state funding is status quo. In this current levy cycle, we are assuming 2% to 7% salary increases and 13% health care increases throughout the forecast period. Again, I am not making a value judgment on those assumptions, but the amount that we are levying is insufficient to pay those increases and the result is the Phase One cut list which has been put into effect. If the levy fails, those increases still get paid and the phase three cut list goes into effect but make no mistake. Today’s Phase 3 levy fail cut list will be the levy pass cut list in the years to come and the result over time is the steady drip-drip-drip as described above.
I’ve spoken about
financial Armageddon and you’re all tired of hearing about it. I get that, but
the reality is that financial Armageddon is already here. We will continue to
This is not to say that
stuff shouldn’t be cut. Clearly, our superintendent and her staff has done a
tremendous job at weeding out inefficiency and the cut lists to be offered as
part of this campaign represent, unlike so many others in Franklin County, an
effort at cutting without harming the program but eventually, as some of the
reductions indicate, you get to the point where cuts will hurt. I commend this
Superintendent and this Treasurer for not trotting out the immediate loss of
sports and the other threats so commonly used in this business and for allowing
the community to prioritize the lists. Folks, we have something special here
with Dr. Conrath and Treasurer McCuen and
Now, as for tonight’s
vote, I stated last week that I’d have a difficult time voting for a levy above 5.9
mills. I have changed my mind and I will vote affirmatively to put the higher
millage on the ballot. I believe that any of my previous suggestions for lower
millage was workable and my colleagues will tell you I tried hard, very hard,
to fight to get consensus on a lower amount or a two year levy but at the end
of day, I lost. My choice tonight is relatively simple. Do I give
I want to take just a few more minutes and discuss how I’m going vote in the privacy of the booth on November 3rd. My vote is one of the 20-30% that is up for grabs and could potentially be influenced one way or the other by the nature of our campaign. If we run a negative campaign with a message of “Give us our money or else”, I’m going to vote no in November and I think I’ll have a lot of company. If, on the other hand, I see a district taking a serious look at the very real challenges facing us, I would be more inclined to give our district the time it needs to get us on a sustainable path with reasonable levys at reasonable intervals. To accomplish this, to get a campaign message that I and other undecided’s could get behind, I have a proposal.
We need the equivalent of
The choice is ours, a brighter future for students, staff and taxpayers or the steady drip-drip-drip of lost or missed opportunities. I thank you for your indulgence.