What happens if the Nov. 2012 levy fails?

For the past four years, the district has worked to be fiscally responsible and find expense reductions through fiscal management and creative approaches.  We have been successful, cutting actual, ongoing expenses out of the budget that add up to over $20 million in anticipated expenditures over the five-year forecast.  Part of the reductions include no administrator raises for the past two years, and a freeze on teacher salaries and steps for next year.  At the same time, we have increased the academic performance of the district and seen our students accomplish more than ever before.

In the midst of this positive trend of fiscal responsibility and academic growth, a wrench has been thrown in our efforts:  the state is cutting $4.05 million from our budget, beginning this year.

If we are to remain fiscally responsible, maintain academic programs, and keep costs down for our community, we must run a levy now.  That is why the board voted in July to place a 4.5 mill operating levy on the November ballot.  This amount, which is the lowest in Milford’s history, is simply to replace the funds being lost from the state.  In fact, the 4.5 mills will generate only $3.9 million in funding a year – less than what we are losing.

The district is committing to making this levy last at least 4 years (in the absence of any other huge changes from the state), as we did with the November, 2008 levy.  In fact, the 2008 levy would have lasted much more than 4 years if not for this change on the state level.

If this levy does not pass, the board will be forced to cut in order to remain fiscally responsible.  We do not want to spend ourselves into fiscal problems again, as in 2006-07; we intend to maintain our spending at levels the district can support, with the funds provided.

What does that mean?  We will have to find the $4 million in lost revenue by making further cuts.  These cuts will have to be deep and affect the quality of our programs and services severely.  While there are always ways to “reduce further” in any budget – home, business, organization – we will not be able to identify more than a few hundred thousand dollars at most without hurting the quality of what we are providing.

However, cutting deeply is a vicious circle:  As we reduce the quality of education and services we provide, students will leave the district, either by going to private schools; using online options; using Open Enrollment in another district; or moving out of Milford.  Other districts, such as Little Miami, Lakota and West Clermont, are experiencing this.  Since state funding is now tied to the number of students, we will lose money for each student we lose – which means we will need to cut even more.

While we are currently projecting to cut $4 million from expenditures, the ending number will likely be more.  There is no way to predict if we will lose 1% of our students, 5%, 10% or even more of our students.  This could result in millions more lost, requiring even deeper cuts.

At the September board meeting, the administration presented the board with “options” for cuts which will need to be considered if the levy fails.  These cuts will cross all areas – Instruction, Curriculum, Administration & Operations, and Extracurriculars.  A Powerpoint explaining the background and cuts in detail is available here; below is a summary of some of the key points.  These reductions are in no order of priority, but show the difficult choices the board will have to make if the levy does not pass in November.

Instruction
To find $4 million, cuts will need to be deep.  Suggested Instructional cuts will involve cutting personnel, since this is the largest portion of the Instructional budget.  Some options are:

  • Cut elementary specials by reducing 16 teachers (art, music, PE):  $880,000
  • Increase class sizes at the elementary level by reducing 16 teachers (28-30 students in K-2; 35 in 4-6):  $880,000
  • 6-day period at the high school, reducing 10 teachers: ($550,000)

The ramifications of these cuts are significant.  When specials are cut, the school day must be shortened to provide teachers their planning time.  In addition, the state has a new requirement for testing students in PE twice a year – this would then be done by homeroom teachers, reducing instructional time even further.  Students will lose the creative outlet specials provide which stimulate their minds and break up their days.

In addition, when teachers are laid off, this is not done by grade or class; instead, it is done by seniority.  This means that elementary teachers will be shuffled to different grades.  Many veteran teachers could find themselves teaching a grade they have never taught before.  In music, the teachers who will be cut will be mostly at the high school and junior high; then, elementary teachers will take their place.  This means that “specialized” programs, such as band (concert, symphonic, marching), choir and music theory will either be eliminated or taught by teachers without a lot of experience.  The same could be true of art, if specialists are reduced and generalists take their place.

At the high school, going to a six-period day means students will lose the opportunity to explore other subjects which may lead to career choices and stronger college applications.  We would lose half our Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which are currently utilized by approximately 450 students (1/3 of the upperclassmen), which help both challenge students and prepare them for college.

Curriculum
Curriculum cuts are all one-time-only cuts, as they are not recurring expenses.  This means if we cut $500,000 in curriculum spending in one year, we will have to find another $500,000 the following year.  Options here include delaying adoption of Language Arts, World Language Arts, and Physical Education curriculum.  This combined totals approximately $780,000 (one time), and would prevent us from updating curriculum to match the new, required Core Curriculum standards – putting our students at a significant disadvantage.

We could also cut instructional aides.  While many districts do not use aides, we use them to help students who require additional support, freeing teachers to focus on differentiating further in the classroom.  These are part-time positions with no benefits, and are thus an extremely cost-effective way to increase the level of instruction to all students.  If all aides were cut, this is a reduction of $208,000.

Administration & Operations
Reducing transportation is always an option, but one the board would like to prevent if possible.  Some options here are to go from a 3-tier to a 4-tier system, which would save $225,600 and require elementaries to go one hour later (many elementary students would not get home until 5:30) and start the JH and HS five minutes earlier.  From here, we could look at a 1-mile “no transportation zone,” a 2-mile zone, and options on state minimum transportation.  The most drastic cut, to reduce to state minimums with no high school busing, would save $1.3 million.

We could also reduce custodians and clean less frequently, which would mean our buildings would not be available for evening activities; or reduce administrators from an already-low number.  Right now, and before the cuts made this past year, our administrative expense is the lowest of comparable districts in the area and about a third lower than the state average.

Extracurriculars
Extracurriculars are important for student development and involvement in school.  For some students, extracurriculars are the reason they stay in school and keep from failing.  Extracurriculars teach teamwork as well as enhance mental skills.

Despite a high number of JH and HS students who are involved in extracurriculars, the district spends less than $1 million total on all sports, band, clubs, etc.  Thus, for this area, there are not many options:  cut teams, which provides fewer options for students to participate; cut coaches, which can lead to more accidents and injuries; and increase fees, which will drive many out of the programs.

 

 

Please take the time to review the Powerpoint and ask any questions.  While in the past, the district used severe cuts to threaten the community, eliminating instructional areas while operational areas were fatter than necessary, that is not the case now.  This administration and board have worked hard to reduce expenses and run a lean organization.  We will continue to look for reductions, but there is only so far we can go.  We have built an organization committed to quality and achievement, with results that continue to improve each year.

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4 Responses to “What happens if the Nov. 2012 levy fails?”

  1. T Cannon Says:

    Here we go again. “Give us what we want or we’ll do severe damage to your children’s’ education”, so says the Milford Board of Education and their generously paid and heavily praised superintendant demanding the passage of their levy. A levy now needed because back in 2009 following the passage of the last levy, the board along with the superintendant openly chose to disregard forecasted cuts in state funding. Instead they eagerly added nearly six million dollars to their annual spending in just one year. That spending included a series of generous pay raises for all district employees in spite of the awful economic conditions faced by the citizens in the district. And even now the district plans to increase annual spending another $7.8 million by FY 2016. Of that $6.5 million goes for more salaries and increased employee benefits. So what are we getting for our money? Maybe someday we’ll hear something besides “our rating is excellent”, a claim rendered meaningless by confusion and manipulation..

    Almost all people in this district want the children to get a truly excellent education. We certainly pay big money for it. But is that really what we are getting? These so-called ratings do not tell the true story about the quality of education in this country. Otherwise we wouldn’t rank 25th in the world in math. Things must change. As a prime example, the idea that an unqualified teacher is assigned to teach a class only because of their seniority is an absolute disgrace. It’s child abuse in the strictest sense of the word. And yet the board and unions embrace this atrocity. Why? Is shielding incompetent employees worth the destruction of a child’s education? Is there a single board member or administrator taking a stand against this abuse by the unions?

    And what about the legal expenses of those who abused the 11 year old boy by fashioning his hair as a female and parading him as such in front of several classes. Have district funds been used for this purpose?

  2. andreabrady Says:

    Tom,
    While to some it may seem like this is the “same old message,” in reality it is far from the case. In the 2005-2008 period when levies were failing, there was a tremendous amount of fat in the budget that the previous board and administration did not touch – instead, they cut teachers, libraries, transportation and more, specifically to hurt the students and try to “force” the community to pass a levy.

    Now, that fat is gone. We have worked to streamline operations, cutting extraneous expenses from all areas of the budget, renegotiating contracts that rewarded the vendors and took money out of the classroom, and more. You can choose not to believe this, but we have worked hard to find reductions and efficiencies over the past four years.

    You have missed a couple things in the forecast that explain some of the spending increases you list. One of the promises for the Nov. 2008 levy was to return transportation – and $4 million of the $5 million spending increase from FY2008 to FY2009 was due to that. Most of the rest was for additional materials/supplies that had been delayed for years while levies were failing, and additional capital outlay expense for the same reason.

    Between FY2012 and FY2016, yes, approximately $7.8 million is forecasted to be added to spending. This is an 8.6% increase over the 4 years. Conservatively assuming inflation to be 2% a year (it was an average of 2.7% between 2001 and 2011, and 3.2% in 2011), slightly over 8% of the increase is accounted for right there.

    And yes, approximately $6.5 million goes either to personnel or benefits. The $2.4 million increase for personnel includes almost $1 million for new personnel that are needed either for legal requirements or because of student growth. Taking out this amount, the total increase for personnel is 4.5% – well below the expected inflation rate.

    This 4.5%, or approximately $1.4 million over 4 years, is built in for what has typically been “step” increases, but may be negotiated to be performance increases in the next contract. This is 1% of the personnel cost on average each year, and .6% on average of our total budget.

    Benefits are projected at a very conservative average increase of 7% a year – a level many businesses only wish they could achieve, and which we expect only because we worked to create a new health care consortium to control costs.

    I agree with you that the Excellent rating is virtually meaningless; however, MEVSD is no longer satisfied to look simply at state reports. That’s why we presented our first Annual Progress Report this year, which looks at a number of other factors to determine student achievement. We’ll also be adding to what we look at in the future, and we’re working with yet another consortium, this one of high-achieving districts working together to determine what exactly makes a truly “excellent” district.

    I also agree with you that the current system of union Reduction In Force is ridiculous. Any employer should have the option to reduce its workforce based on individual performance as well as job skill needs. However, that is not the system this state – and most states – currently work under. This is changing, but it is not here yet. We will have more flexibility under the new budget bill when the current union contract expires (IF the budget bill is still in effect), but once again, that is not now.

    I’m sure, if the levy does fail, there will be extensive discussions with the union about what can be done to preserve the skills we need to maintain quality. However, for projection purposes, we have to assume the fall-back position of what the agreement and law say. If the administration and union cannot come to an agreement, then we will have no choice but to follow the last-in-first-out rule of reducing teachers.

    As far as the legal case you bring up – as we all know, what is reported in the press is very rarely the whole, and especially the accurate, story.

  3. T Cannon Says:

    Andrea

    I do not rely on the press for my information. My information is from the opinion of the court delivered by United States Senior District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel in January 2011 in regard to the action brought against various Milford District defendants by Amanda Anoai. I trust the details in his opinion are accurate.

    My question which you did not answer, was if any district funds have been used in this defense. And if so how much.

  4. andreabrady Says:

    Tom,
    Once again, as you know, there is always additional information.

    Re: the fees, no district money was used. The legal fees and settlement were covered by insurance. It was a very low amount.

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