Prepared Notes for Board Meeting – Sustainability

August 24, 2009

Marc A. Schare

 614 791-0067

marc9@aol.com

 

 

What does it mean to have a sustainable school district? Some might say that we need to match our expenses with our anticipated revenues. Others might say we need to plan our programs with an expectation that Worthington will pass reasonable levys at reasonable intervals. Still others would argue that it is a non-issue, that Worthington hasn’t passed an operating levy in 5 years, that the five year forecast is “always scary” in the fourth and fifth year and that all this talk about sustainability is a waste of time.

 

Let me address the last issue first because if this board and our community is not absolutely convinced that a problem exists, a Manhattan style project to find solutions will go nowhere. To understand the problem, one must delve deep into the components that make up the much maligned five year forecast. To deny the problem, you have to believe that our revenues will skyrocket or the rate of increase of our expenses will plummet. Our revenues comes from two sources, local property taxes which by law cannot increase absent a levy or growth and state foundation money which has a far greater chance of falling off a cliff than raining on the WEC. If the EBM projection tells us anything, it is that the state is not going to give us cash anytime soon.

 

Where does that leave us? Assuming levy passage, we will arrive at 2012 with a single year annual deficit of 5 million dollars and a requirement to generate 31 million dollars by FY14. This works out to around an 11.4 mill levy in 2012 that would barely get us to 2014 with a zero cash balance. After that, things really get bad.

 

So, what does a sustainable school district look like? To me, the following elements would be incorporated.

 

1) We have to match expenses with an assessment of our constituent’s ability and willingness to pay for a high quality education. In previous years, “willingness” was the sticking point. Now, quite possibly, ability might be the sticking point. The best levy argument in the world or the most draconian threats will not work if Worthington’s incomes are insufficient to keep up with our spending. A sustainable district must, by definition, include an element of the ability to pay. Worthington’s residents do not have bottomless pockets. Also, ability and willingness are not static. They depend on many factors such as the current economy and our constituent’s views on value received.


 

2) We need to define what a high quality education is. My sense after 4 years on this board is that a high quality education is defined by the status-quo. If we’re not happy with that definition, we need to do a better job at defining the district we are attempting to sustain.

 

Here is my suggestion. The Treasurer’s advisory committee is the ideal group to discuss issue one. They agreed at our last meeting that the status-quo is not sustainable and indicated a desire to begin addressing the bigger picture.

 

The second issue is harder as we’ve been trying to define quality for at least 5 years now, but one way of looking at it is trying to determine how to achieve the biggest bang for the buck. How do you maximize the learning of every kid that walks through the door. If you had $130 million in revenue, what do you do differently than if you had $120 million. Our current efforts as defined by the cut lists define quality by starting with an assumption that the status-quo meets the quality standard and than determining which cuts would hurt the least. It might be interesting to turn the administration lose at what a quality district would look like if the status-quo was not a consideration. Melissa, what kind of district can I buy for $120 million dollars in operating money and around $6 million a year in bond money?

 

It is my hope that we can make some progress on both fronts prior to the November vote on the levy. It is my sense that a levy campaign based solely on the reductions will be met by an opposition correctly indicating that the bigger threat to our long term ability to provide a quality education is the one I am describing tonight and that if we do not begin to address the issue, the programs we believe we will save by passing the levy will be given only a brief reprieve.

 

Thoughts?