Why did I vote to put a levy on the ballot?

Several people have asked me, with surprise, why I voted to put a levy on the ballot, especially in this economy.  While I am a fiscal conservative, and very concerned about adding to the tax burden of the community, there is more to it than this.  As a representative of the community on the Milford school board, my goal is to ensure the district is providing the best education possible while spending responsibly, and attempting to meet the needs of the community in relation to the district, which are many and varied.

The district has met my goal of improving education and responsible spending.  Our programs are successful, integrated and helping prepare students for life after Milford, and we have accomplished this while reducing $20 million from the forecast.

Yet, we, like all Ohio school districts, now find ourselves in an untenable situation.  Changes in how the state is funding us are crunching our budget, and requiring us to return to the voters for another levy.

This was not an easy decision for me.  I know both from others and first-hand that people are struggling in this economy.  I know people are out of work, or underemployed.  I know we have a lot of people on fixed incomes in our communities.  Another school levy is a hardship for all of us, and certainly not something any of us want.

Yet, I did decide to support this levy, because I see no alternative.  We have worked hard to find efficiencies and reduce spending, and we have been very successful.  Are there more places reductions can be made?  Yes, and the board and administration are committed to continuing to seek out and implement efficiencies wherever possible.

However, we are losing over $4 million a year – approximately 7% of our budget – and there is no way we can find that much in efficiencies after all we’ve already cut.  The additional reductions to balance our budget will unfortunately hurt our students and their families.

But they are not the only ones who will be hurt.  I decided to vote for the levy because having to enact cuts of the level required will hurt our entire community.  It comes back to that balancing act between district needs and community needs; in this case, those needs merge as making the cuts that will be required will affect our district to the point that I truly believe we will see a downward spiral, affecting housing values and the ability to attract new business to the area.

For those of you who know my history, I am not a “rah, rah, everything the school district wants, it should get” person.  As a co-founder of New Options for Better Schools, I consistently challenged the board and administration in place in the 2005-7 era.  At that time, I knew there was tremendous opportunity to reduce spending without affecting education – in fact, while improving education, as Dr. Farrell and his staff have proven.

If that were the case this time, I would not have voted to put this levy on.  But as someone who sees the finances, who knows what we’re doing educationally, who is constantly pushing the administration to do more – I do feel this was a necessary, but unpleasant choice.

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5 Responses to “Why did I vote to put a levy on the ballot?”

  1. Hilda Lindner Knepp Says:

    Andrea:

    Was the implementation of the common core standards
    funded by the state? If not, what was the cost to us for implementation? I’m wondering what’s going on with the unfunded mandates problem. Another issue I am curious about is step increases for teachers. I know step increases are frozen for next year but could you expand upon negotiating those away when the union contract expires? How probable is that? The public libraries did away with those several years ago, although the libraries are not unionized. Can you give a figure to what the step increase costs the school district? Also, what percentage are the teachers paying on their health insurance now and how does that compare to other school districts in this area? Thanks.

  2. andreabrady Says:

    Hi Hilda,
    No, the state is not providing any funding for the implementation of the common core standards. The district is revising curriculum one or a few subjects at a time over several years. Total cost for the curriculum alone will be around $4 million, spread over 6 years. There is additional cost for the professional development required for each subject change as well. I don’t have those figures. Some of the PD would take place no matter what, and then extra would be used to supplement for specific changes.

    Steps for the teachers and classified union personnel are a little over $500,000 a year. In 2014, when the current contract expires, we will have the option of discussing performance pay instead of step increases. That is if the current law stays the same. What happens then will all depend on negotiations. Nothing has been discussed right now, but as a Race to the Top district, our personnel will likely be open to pay for performance options.

    Our personnel pay 15% of their health insurance right now. This is one of the highest percentages in the area; there may be districts whose employees are paying more, but I’m not sure. We were one of the first to increase the employee’s percentage of health care premiums, and that percent grew steadily over several years.

    And saving the best (or worst) for last … unfunded mandates. Not much is going on there. I am disappointed in our legislators, who have not responded AT ALL to continued pleas for help. I am also disappointed in our local school districts – a year and a half ago, I tried to get the superintendents together through the Clermont County Superintendent to develop a comprehensive list of unfunded mandates (the list we have is incomplete b/c different types of districts have different mandates – we need to talk in a group to identify as many as possible). NONE of the other districts were interested in getting together to talk! Recently, I have been working with Randy Smith, a school board member in Anderson, trying to get some attention for the issue. Once again, no luck. I have a letter going to Governor Kasich begging for help. Instead of complaining about school funding, I am asking him to help relieve our budgets by removing some of these mandates. Wish me luck…

    Please let me know if you have other questions. Thanks for posting!

  3. Hilda Lindner Knepp Says:

    Andrea:

    Thanks again. I know the unfunded mandates are ongoing and problematic and I wish there was a way to “wake up” the legislators. I have to say I’m surprised the other districts appeared to have no interest in getting together. Seems as if a group of school districts would be able to put more pressure on the powers that be to change what they are doing, or at least be more aware of the burden they are putting on Ohio schools. Do you have a ballpark figure on what unfunded mandates cost our district? Appreciate all your info.

  4. andreabrady Says:

    Hi Hilda,
    We don’t have a number. Any number we provide would be a pure guess. It would be extremely difficult to break out costs for time from various people for certain tasks, combine that with other expenses, etc, etc. Safe to say: it’s a lot. Does that help? 🙂

  5. Hilda Lindner Knepp Says:

    Thanks. I knew it would be a hard thing to pin down and I’m sure it’s a lot. If you don’t know it, I doubt anyone would. I am still sincerely disappointed with the other districts’ responses, or lack thereof.
    Again, I appreciate your answers and diligence with the school’s fiscal matters.

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