Every School Board candidate promises to keep a careful eye on scarce resources, but what does that really mean? After almost 8 years of service on Worthington’s School Board and 4 years of service on Worthington’s Treasurer’s Advisory Committee before that, my experience tells me that it is a balancing act. You constantly have to balance the needs and wants of the district against the ability and willingness of district taxpayers to provide additional funding. In addition, you are dealing with a number of constraints, including state and federal mandates, collective bargaining statutes, the cyclic nature of student enrollment and many, many others.
It’s difficult to sum up an 8 year record in a few paragraphs. When I joined the Board in 2006, our district was on a path that would have required property tax increases approximately every other year in perpetuity. Our new Superintendent at the time, Dr. Melissa Conrath, knew that we had to restructure and for the next few years, we did just that. The result is a much leaner district and a new policy of “Reasonable Levies at Reasonable Intervals”. The district’s rate of expense growth has slowed dramatically as the district became more efficient in its operations. Today, the district is in great financial condition, thanks in part to the generosity of our voters, our success in lobbying for our fair share of funding at the State Level and our efforts controlling costs.
These links provide some financial information for our district as well as my record on finances and finance related speeches at Board Meetings.
· Moved a two year operating levy cycle to a three year cycle. When I joined the Board in 2006, the district was anticipating operating levies in 2006, 2008 and probably 2010. With the failure of the operating levy in May 2006 and the subsequent restructure, we went from 2004 to 2009 without requiring additional operating levies and we’ve committed to Worthington taxpayers that the minimum levy cycle will be 3 years. The most recent five year forecast suggests we could go 4 or 5 years without requiring additional local funds.
· Separated capital needs from operating needs. As part of the financial restructure after the May, 2006 levy failure, the Board and the administration decided to not seek additional operating funds as they were unnecessary, but we had to get capital improvement needs under control. Our buildings had fallen into disrepair, our technology (including computers) was ancient and our buses were reaching the end of their usable life. The “No New Millage” bond issue allowed us to repair our buildings and get them on a regular maintenance cycle, update our technology and purchase new buses, all without increasing taxes. The details are here.
· Lobbied successfully for our fair share of funding during the state budget cycles of 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. Our district is a donor district, meaning that we pay far more in state income and sales tax than we receive back in school funding dollars. During each budget cycle, the task is to lobby for those formula changes which will be most advantageous for Worthington. We had declining enrollment through 2011, so the most important provision in the budget was the continuation of a controversial provision known as the “Transitional Aid Guarantee”. This guarantee assured that we would receive no less in state funding in a given year than we received in the previous year. This meant our declining enrollment wouldn’t cause a decline in state resources. In 2013, with our enrollment once again on the increase, we shifted focus and lobbied for a continuation of the Tangible Personal Property Tax reimbursements. This funding, about 10 million dollars a year, was based on a business tax that existed in 2005 but was scheduled to be phased out. Thanks in part to our district’s lobbying efforts, state law now says these reimbursements will be continued in perpetuity.
· Transparency. Our Board has instilled a culture of transparency into our district and this is no more apparent than in our finances. We provide an array of financial information to allow citizens to understand our financial status. We provide high level monthly reports, in depth budgets, annual financial statements that routinely win awards and community newsletters with financial updates. In addition, our Treasurer’s Advisory Committee meets regularly to provide a citizens perspective on financial issues.
· Performance Audit. Our district voluntarily decided to have the Auditor of State’s office come in to evaluate our district’s spending against similar districts. The results of that audit are here. The data provided by the auditor’s report was used to increase efficiency in the district as well as in the last collective bargaining agreements.
· Lobbied successfully against a legislative proposal to use LOCAL property tax dollars in support of private school education. The proposal was House Bill 136. I testified in front of the House education committees with testimony receiving press coverage statewide.
· Consistently, and independently analyzed levy requirements to levy the lowest possible amounts consistent with the quality our community demands. When a levy is going to be needed, it is the job of the school board member to serve as an independent checkpoint and not just rubber stamp a recommendation from the Superintendent and the Treasurer. Our community deserves that independent voice. You can read some of my comments about the last levy cycle here and the financial forecast upon which is what based here.
· Treasurer’s Advisory Committee: 2002-2010, 2012-2013
· Board Finance Committee: 2006-2010, 2012