Hamilton City Schools article is misleading

A few weeks ago, The Enquirer ran a story about Hamilton City Schools “living within their means” and not running an operating levy for 16 consecutive years.

However, this article is extremely misleading.  It does not address a number of issues, including millage growth; state/federal funding; and performance.

First, the district is at the state minimum floor of 20 mills for school taxes.  Basically, this means their millage value is allowed to grow with property values, whereas districts (like ours) that are far from the floor cannot increase their millage value.  It’s very confusing, but for instance, if Milford collects $1 million in taxes based on an operating levy, that’s all we get – whether property values increase or not.  While there are small increases from certain situations, these are negligible.

So, using round numbers, if Milford property values are $1 billion this year and $2 billion next year, your taxes would decrease, keeping the total amount going to the school district the same.  In Hamilton, however, taxes would increase with property value growth and the school district would receive more because property is worth more.  The bottom line:  Hamilton does not have to run levies to increase their income from local taxes, so while they may not be running levies, their residents are paying more over time.  For them, it’s automatic and residents have no choice; for us, residents have to vote in a new levy before they (and the district) will see an increase.

Second, because of their economic makeup, Hamilton receives much more funding from the state and federal governments than we do here.  It’s much easier not to ask the community for more money if more is coming in from other places.

In fact, while the article suggests Hamilton has been cutting spending, they actually INCREASED the amount spent per pupil every year but one over the past 15 years!  For the 2008-09 school year (the last one reported so far), the ODE report shows they spent $9,499/student – while Milford spent only $8,422!

Last but far from least, Hamilton has never gotten high academic results.  In fact, in 2008-09, the district received a “Continuous Improvement” rating, which is four down from the top, while Milford received “Excellent with Distinction”, the highest ranking plus.

All this adds up to the old adage, “Don’t take what you hear (in this case, read) at face value.”  There is a lot more to the story, and a bit of digging shows Milford is actually being more responsible fiscally by spending less per student than Hamilton but getting significantly better academic results.

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8 Responses to “Hamilton City Schools article is misleading”

  1. Herta Pfeiffer Says:

    Thank for the the explanation … however, since property values are frozen right
    now (and may continue to drop), this means that Hamilton tax payers will not have their taxes raised. Our property taxes for the schools are triple what they are for
    Hamilton residents. I don’t understand how they can still spend $9,500. per student to our $8,400 … How are they getting more state/federal funding? Your argument for Milford’s excellent rating vs. Hamilton’s poor one is legitimate, but is this related to less money coming in for them? Does “per student spending” cover ONLY the cost related to educating the student, or does that encompass ALL of the spending of the district, except for building/remodeling etc.? Maybe you could explain, in a future e-mail, how the money is allocated. I appreciate your
    expertise and honesty; thank you.

  2. Linda Malott Says:

    Andrea-

    Thanks for addressing the disparities between districts at 20 mills (Hamilton) vs. those at 23 mills (Milford), the amount spent per child by each district and also the issue of state and federal programs that they may qualify for that we don’t. “Excellent” explanation vs. the Enquirer’s which needs “continuous improvement.”

    It is still admirable that Hamilton has “lived within its means” but the 20 mills being allowed to grow makes the job much, much easier especially when they don’t have to go to the voters to receive those extra funds.

    It would be lovely if the research was done and included with these kinds of articles to clarify the differences when these issues are written about. Perhaps over time…

    The Enquirer article mentioned Lakota and Mason as 2 districts looking to put levies on the ballot. The old state funding formula had a glitch in it that penalized districts that had growing populations which included Milford for several years and is a large part of Lakota’s and Mason’s recent need for a levy (cumulative effect of multiple years of growth with less state funding per student and they have much larger total student populations for which to have to have absorbed the state loss over a number of years).

    Their (Lakota’s and Mason’s) amount from the state, like Milford’s actually decreased on a per student basis during these growth periods.

    You are right that to not understand these differences is misleading.

    Thank you.

    Linda Malott

  3. Dbie Johnson Says:

    Ms. Brady,
    Can you please explain your vote to accept out-of-district students into Milford schools?

    If we are spending $8400 per student, and only get $6000 from the state for out-of-district students.. who is going to pay for the additional $2400?

  4. andreabrady Says:

    Thank you all for the comments. Sorry I haven’t answered sooner – I’ve been out of town & just returned.

    Linda, thanks for the additional info. Love the statement about the Enquirer article needed “Continuous Improvement”!

    Herta, Hamilton actually spends more on instructional support than Milford does – over $800 more per pupil! They get more gov’t funding b/c they are a lower economic district than we are. As a district’s “relative wealth” increases, the amount it receives from the gov’t decreases – the idea is supposed to be that residents can afford to support more of the cost. Linda is actually a great resource for info on this, if she’s willing to jump in again & share. She’s done a lot of work understanding school funding and its implications.

  5. andreabrady Says:

    Hi Dbie,
    This is a great question, and it has to do with what that $8.4k number really means. It is an “after the fact” number, one that is calculated after the spending has happened. After the fiscal year is closed, the state takes the total amount a district spent the previous year and divides it by the number of students who were educated that year. It is really only good as a comparison, so you can see how you are doing in relation to other districts. It has nothing to do with the incremental cost to educate a child in a given school year.

    When you are in an actual school year, you have fixed costs that will be there no matter how many students you educate, and variable costs that are added with each student no matter what. Take a classroom of 22 students that can hold up to 25. You already have a teacher; and textbooks; and desks; and a classroom. To add a student to that classroom, there are no additional fixed costs you must add. The variable costs are low – some supplies that will not add up to a lot.

    The end result is you are spending probably a few hundred dollars additional to educate that student in an existing classroom, but you receive about $6,000 for that student. And when the “cost per student” is figured the next year, it will change because of that.

    In Milford, while some classes/grades are overcrowded, we do have some holes where out of district students can be placed. We will always make sure out of district students do not fill *all* our holes, so there is always room for income residents (people who move in the middle of the year or who switch back to public education, etc). All out of district students will have to re-apply every year to ensure we have enough space. Priority will be given to residents; then children of staff members; then out of district students who have been in Milford previously and their siblings.

    If this doesn’t make sense, please let me know. I realize this is a huge area of confusion, especially since there has been so much talk about the cost to educate a child being a fixed number like this.

    Thanks again for the question!

  6. Dbie Johnson Says:

    I understand your answer… but I’m not on board, and here’s why:

    1. I have children at Pattison and MJHS; both are over-crowded or at capacity with at least 24 kids per class. Jobs have been cut at all of our schools in an effort to save money- jobs that directly impact the education of our children.

    2. There are some costs that are fixed when talking about cost per student (teacher salaries, building upkeep, etc.), there are variable costs per student as well. Some are measurable (like classroom supplies and textbooks), and some are not- like the value our kids get from having smaller, not larger, class sizes.

    3. Your “priority” list of students may start out with in-district kids, but quickly moves to out-of-district children of Milford staff. This seems like a way to grant staffing concessions without actually amending their contracts, allowing their children to attend our schools. If the argument is convenience… maybe they should work in the district they currently live in. If the argument is quality education… maybe they should move to the district they work in.

    I very carefully selected the Milford school district when I moved here from West Clermont. I didn’t like the direction WC was taking, and appreciated the job Dr. Farrell did in Forest Hills before coming to Milford. I moved here knowing how much more I would pay in taxes, and accepted that as a cost associated with getting a great public education for my children. Why should I then accept the fact that out-of-district parents, paying far less in taxes than I am, can now possibly enroll their kids in our district at MY expense?? Good luck passing tax levies now, because I am NOT going to pay for out of district kids to attend our schools.

    Where exactly are these “open desks”??? Our elementary schools are full, and the upcoming 5th grade class is, from what I understand, one of the largest classes ever. The high school and junior high expansions/improvements are based upon CURRENT enrollment, and future enrollment based upon CURRENT residents. Yes, projections are included…but I highly doubt those projections included accepting students from Batavia, Loveland, Newtown, Amelia, or elsewhere.

    If this plan included a “tuition” of $2,400 per out of district child… I’d be more open to it. Until then, or until you can prove to me that we have the capacity to allow out of district students to attend at a truly minimal cost, my objections stand.

  7. andreabrady Says:

    Hi again, Dbie,
    You’re right, Pattison is not a school that has any openings; when Dr. Farrell did his initial look, Seipelt, McCormick & Mulberry are the schools that have openings. Because neighborhood schools result in uneven districting, this is often the case. But even at the JH & HS, because of scheduling, Dr. Farrell says enrollment can be uneven and we sometimes have spots.

    One way “open desks” can occur in a crowded district is when an extra class must be added to manage class sizes. For instance, if you have 66 students in a grade, you would not make this 2 classes of 33 each – you’d make that 3 classes of 22 each, resulting in several “open desks” per class. It does not hurt the educational level by increasing that class size to 23 or 24. If we have students from outside the district willing to enter that class, we do not affect education negatively but we do increase our income.

    An interesting point: Dr. Farrell talked with other superintendents in the state, and their experience has been that an open enrollment policy has led to improved student achievement scores. He believes this is because families seeking to enter the district are usually doing so for the educational value and these students are highly motivated. He is finding this with the families seeking to enter Milford so far as well. Of course, student achievement scores are not the only indicator of the total quality of a school district – but by seeing those scores increase, it’s clear the students entering the district are not negatively affecting the educational level in the classroom.

    I completely understand the feeling that these families are getting the advantage of Milford Schools without paying the cost. However, remember that there will be a question each year as to whether there is room for them to return. They could attend this year, then not be able to next year. If you live here and pay the property taxes, you are guaranteed a spot and you have that security for your children. And perhaps after attending Milford, some of these families will want that security as well and decide to move to the district.

    In the meantime, even though those families are not living in the district and personally paying the property taxes, having their student here does contribute to district income and thus reduces Milford taxpayer burden.

  8. Linda Malott Says:

    Andrea, I think that you gave a good explanation of fixed costs vs. variable costs per student for which an overall “cost per student” is derived: the cost per student is based on both overall fixed and variable costs that the district spends as a whole.

    Specifics as to what does and does not go into that number per school district might be better clarified by someone at the district level than by me.

    It is correct though that certain districts qualify both for addl. state funds (parity aid was one such type of addl. funding to certain lower property value districts that bring in much less per levied mill under the old state formula) and also then may be the districts that qualify for the 20 mill vs. 23 mill floor.

    The difference again is that 20 mill districts have (or have had in the recent past) an automatic boost that 23 mill districts do not. During the current economic downturn, and with a new state formula being transitioned at some point, not sure that the 20 mill districts will see much of a boost currently but historically for almost all but the last several years where this 20 mill floor has been in effect (do not have the date that the 20 mill level was instituted), those 20 mill districts have seen automatic boosts which again, is or has been much easier to manage than districts that do not see/have not gotten those increases.

    Andrea, regarding the out-of-district “tuition,” I thought that other districts that have been offering slots to out-of-district students have been charging some “tuition” amount over and above any amount the state might provide as Dbie mentions. Is/was that a consideration for this offering in Milford? If so, why might that “tuition” portion not been part of the option?

    Is there an estimated revenue goal /number of slots available for this offering? And any specific plans to direct said revenues?

    Thanks.

    Linda

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