Saturday, April 3, 2010

Those Who Refuse to Learn from History . . .

. . . are doomed to repeat it.

Several years ago, our district was in "Fiscal Caution".  It's fair to state that NObody wants to ever have that happen again - but in order to make sure it doesn't, we need to understand how we got there in the first place.

It was not an overnight thing.  Basically, former boards and the SEA refused to make some difficult decisions when they should have.  It isn't rocket science:  if you continually spend more than you take in, you will soon be in financial difficulty. 

When that happened in 2003-04, the "fix" was to put an 1.25% income tax on our residents, plus take out a $1 million loan to get us through until the income tax could be collected.  Of course, like all loans, this one to the school district also had interest charges to be paid back along with the principle. 

The SEA agreed to no wage increase on their base salaries - but they did NOT agree to a wage "freeze" as some have mistakenly thought.  They continued to receive their step-increases, based on level of education and length of service, which were between 4% and 7% back then I think (they are higher now).  Other teachers lower on the totem pole had to be let go - victims of the process.  Our curriculum suffered as certain courses had to be eliminated.  It was a terrible time in our history.

So - how do we avoid making the same mistakes of our predecessors?  Again - it isn't rocket science:  we need to make sure we do not spend more than we take in.

Now, to everyone's surprise, the income tax levy collected more than expected.  The district ended up with a carryover of several million dollars.  This may be likened to a personal savings account, in the sense that your regular job (or taxes coming in) continues and your expenses continue and you still need to make sure your outgo does not exceed your income, because you can only dip into that savings for so long before it's GONE.     

It is the same with the school district.  The carryover is finite - it will not increase.  We simply cannot incur ongoing expenses that we will not be able to sustain once that carryover is depleted.  Once it's gone, it's gone, baby!!  But if we have agreed to certain contract obligations that continue to go forward even when the carryover money is gone, we are right back where we started:  fiscal caution.

The October 5 year forecast filed with the State of Ohio showed our district with deficit spending in 2011, which grew larger each year thereafter. 

The treasurer is now preparing an updated 5 year forecast that will incorporate the recent acceptance of the agreement with the SEA for a 3% wage increase to the base and the administrators' contracts.  We haven't seen it yet - we'll get it at our April meeting - but I can guarantee that it will show quite clearly the end point:  where the carryover money has been used up. 

What will we have to show for it?  Will we have a new Middle School??  Will we have anything at all to show for those millions other than higher teacher salaries?  No one knows at this point.

It may interest you to know that certain members of the SEA have made the statement that the carryover is "their money".  I rush to clarify that not all of our teachers hold this view!  But unfortunately, some do and are encouraging that mentality in others. 

They are wrong in that assumption.  That money belongs to the taxpayers of this district, and that means ALL of us, not just the teachers (many who live outside the district). 

We would love to bring back some programs for our kids, but we are moving with caution because we don't want to bring back anything that we won't be able to sustain in the long haul.  What is the point of making band available to 5th and 6th graders if we'll only have to take it away again in a couple of years?  What's the point of adding back a particular elective in high school if we'll only have to discard it in three short years ??

The school board wants to utilize this money in the most effective way possible for our kids' education.  Your opinion has value in this process - what do You, the taxpayer, think?  What is your vision for the district now - 3 years from now - 7 years from now - 20 years from now??  It would be helpful if you would seriously think about it and share your thoughts with us. 

We are all in this together!  We are all interested in getting the most 'bang' for our 'buck', so that our kids are fully prepared to be productive citizens of American society.  Our teachers, secretaries, and other staff share that same goal.  If we can pool our thoughts and ideas, we should be able to reach that goal - but we must do it as a team.

Will you be on board?

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