Saturday, February 23, 2008

Olentangy Levy and Bond Issue

This is my first comment on the upcoming levy and bond issue that residents in the Olentangy Local School District will vote either for or against on March 4th.

This morning's Dispatch featured a letter from former School Board member Wayne Jenkins supporting the passing of the tax increase.

Here's Mr. Jenkins' comments:

Olentangy Local School District has a combined 8.72-mill property-tax levy and bond issue on the ballot on March 4. I write in support of this issue. The last time Olentangy passed a levy, we were told it would provide funding for three years of operations. It instead has provided for four. Olentangy continues to be one of the fastest-growing districts in Ohio, and there's a reason for that. Olentangy is providing top-quality education at a lower cost than the other districts in our comparison group and even below the state average for all districts.

Olentangy added more than 1,200 students again in 2007, and yet our expenditure per pupil was $8,507. The state average is $9,586. The average of our comparison group, including Buckeye Valley, Big Walnut, Westerville, New Albany, Delaware and other school districts, is $10,424. This means Olentangy is spending nearly $2,000 less per pupil and yet providing the high-quality education that has earned the district the highest marks on the state's report card and provided tremendous improvement in academics, as measured by things like standardized test scores, Advanced Placement and honors curriculum, graduation and college-attendance rates, National Merit scholars and the like. This has been done with conscientious cost-cutting and prudent planning, and if you want to read about the millions of dollars the district has saved and other details of the upcoming issue, I urge you to visit and see for yourself.

Whenever there is a levy on the ballot, people trot out all the usual allegations of teachers and administrators who are too numerous and overpaid. They allege the pay raises are too generous and the number of staff too numerous. However, if we're getting the top-quality educational experience Olentangy provides at a per-pupil cost that is substantially less than all the surrounding school systems and well below the state average, then that's the bottom line. The argument ends there.

We have come so far here in Olentangy, and we have so much to be proud of in our schools. Failure of the March 4 issue would erase many of our gains and would dramatically change, for the worse, the overall educational experience our children receive.

The district has exceeded expectations and has been a good steward of tax dollars. It deserves our support. Our children deserve our support. I ask district voters to join me in voting yes on March 4.

Are the OLSD schools perfect? Absolutely not.

I've also not really appreciated the Kill The Puppy approach taken by school administration and board should the levy not pass.

I would rather see a vision for continued improvement with our schools, drastically improved services for kids at risk, and a total review of a busing system that seems confusing and inefficient at best.

Nonetheless, supporting the levy and bond issue is the right thing to do for our kids and I'll encourage others to support the proposal on March 4th.


Anonymous said...

Enjoy reading your blog. I will agree, Olentangy is not perfect, but we are working on it. Defeating the levy will stop progress.

I did want to let you know why the cuts the school district has announced if the issue fails are so drastic, it's based on the fiscal philosophy of not asking for money until it's absolutely necessary. For example, we could have asked for money in November 2007 when we were sitting on a pretty hefty balance. Had that issue failed, there probably would have been some cuts, but not as drastic as the ones now proposed. However, had it passed, the money from that levy would have been collected NOW. By waiting until March to go on the ballot, taxpayers like yourself get to keep their money in their pockets longer since passage means the taxes wouldn't be collected until 2009. However, this way of thinking also takes the district to the edge by waiting to ask for the money and thus risking the need to make drastic cuts.

Some school districts ask for money before it's needed, then if the issue fails, they make minor cuts and go back on the ballot. Dublin does it a third way by asking for money well in advance. Their voters will be asked to approve an operating levy in November 2008 but the district won't collect until 2010.

I don't know if any way is right, they are all just different. I just want to point out that Olentangy did make $6 million in cuts to future spending BEFORE even going on the ballot and we continue to look at how we can trim costs. The last opearting levy passed in 2004 and was supposed to last 3 years; we're making it last 4. Olentangy spends $1,000 less per student than the state's average and $3,000 less than Dublin.

I appreciate you keeping people in the loop and I'd like to invite you to attend a school board meeting. Also, I'm proposing that the district evaluate their communications so that the district residents are informed about financial issues all the time, not just when we're on the ballot. The School Board meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 pm at the Shanahan complex.
Julie Wagner Feasel, member
Olentangy School Board

Jim Fedako said...

Oh, please. They made cuts to future spending? Is that even possible?

The rest of the post is also pure nonsense; political doublespeak.

Why would the district threaten to cut $10.5 million when the deficit - as reported -- is only $2 million? And, given the financial report that Feasel received tonight, there may even be a deficit at all. Why threaten cuts?

Once the cuts are made, the district would report a hefty $8.5 million positive balance. Why threaten residents when the cuts would leave the district with a surplus that most districts in Ohio could only dream of.

Yet, Feasel only provides a long-winded non-answer.

Why does she want children to suffer so that district employees can get average salary increases of 6.5%, plus taxpayer-funded healthcare premium increases of 12% (on top of the $1005 that taxpayer contribute for monthly family health premiums)?

Why not instead reduce assumed salary and benefits expenses? The district is negotiating all contracts. Why isn't Feasel saying that the district will hold the line on costs and allow the levy to go another year.

That would keep money in people's pockets.

I have to say it is beyond me how someone can gleefully cheer hurting the educational programs in order to pass an unneeded levy. Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Jim Fedako is advocating that the school district spend down all reserves before asking for money. This is really not a smart move. First, it assumes you can pass the levy at that point when people like Jim will still find a reason to oppose it. Second, it will cost the district and ultimately the taxpayers more in financing costs. Look at what Dublin is doing to try and boost their reserves.

Jim's biggest mistake is confusing reserves with cash flow. Olentangy may have a positive reserve but they have a negative cash flow to the tune of $10.5M and then $15M and we need to start raising the money in 2009 to offset the negative cash-flow. Otherwise we will wake up one day in 2010 with bankrupt district that needs a large, instant cash infusion. That millage levy will be huge. It is smart to go with a smaller levy now that uses 2009 to begin to reverse the cash-flow trend.