Monday, January 16, 2006

An interesting survey

I was called to participate in a survey yesterday. While my inclination is to say 'No thanks' and hang up when I get one of these calls, this one was about the Hilliard City Schools - a subject on which I have passionate opinions. The questions were interesting, and I found myself regretting that the only acceptable answers were in the form 'mostly agree,' 'disagee,' etc. I wanted to say much more.

Good thing I have a blog -- so here goes:

"What is the single largest problem facing Hilliard City Schools?"

I answered that I felt it is unbalanced residential versus commercial development. In the current funding structure, one-third of the money comes from residential property taxes, one-third from commercial property taxes, and one-third from state income taxes. When a new home is built, there is on average one new kid added to the student population. The property tax revenue from that house contributes one third of the cost of educating the new kid, and the income taxes paid by the parents should kick in another third. However, there is no new commercial tax revenue just because a new house is built. So where does that missing third come from? Well, the state surely isn't covering it, at least in the suburban districts. If anything, the state share is going down. So that means that the missing third must be covered by increased millage, which affects current residents and current businesses alike. EVERY TIME A NEW HOUSE IS BUILT, THE CURRENT RESIDENTS ARE SUBSIDIZING THE INCREMENTAL COST OF EDUCATION THAT NEW HOUSE CAUSES.

"Now that the Environmentally Sensitive Conservation District (ESCD) has been opened for the construction of a school, is that where a third high school should be built?"

Absolutely not. There are plenty of places within the school district where another high/middle school campus can be built without having to invade the ESCD. The real problem is that these places are outside the current and potential boundaries of the City of Hilliard. The Hilliard City School District is the #1 payer of income taxes in the City of Hilliard, and the city administration wants very much for any additional high schools to be within the city limits. But half of the kids in our district live in other municipalities, notably the City of Columbus. Why not build the high school in an area which is in the southern part of the district, but not in the City of Hilliard? The other issue is that there are developers who are clamoring to get their hands on the land in the ESCD. If we allow the construction of a high school within the ESCD, including all the utility infrastructure required, how much further is the leap to allow residential construction? Not much!

"What do I think about Board Member [fill in the blank]?"

I was surprised this question was even asked, and wonder if when the survey results are published, these items will be included? Many of these folks have been my friends for several years, so my responses were favorable.

"What do I think about the Superintendent?"

Complex situation. As an educator, I hold Dale McVey in very high regard. As an administrator, he seems to be very good. However, as a strategic thinker he seems to be weak. I'd prefer to think that than believe he is allowing himself to be influenced by the wrong people.

"What do I think about Mayor Don Schoenhardt?"

Don't trust him. He seems to be unwilling to take responsibility for the damage unbalanced residential vs commercial development is having on both the city and the school district. The opening of the ESCD for residential development is a bad thing unless he finds a way to bring a significant amount of commercial development in at the same time. Columbus, Dublin, Worthington, New Albany, and Gahanna all seem to understand this, and have already attracted most of the commercial tenants in our metro area. How can Hilliard now attract commercial entities to the city without offering tax incentives (e.g. Tax Increment Financing schemes) that bring no benefit to the schools or the whole of the city?

At the end, the million dollar question was asked: Would I vote for an $80 million levy if it were placed on the ballot in May? Understanding that I have voted in favor of every single levy placed before since we moved to the Hilliard School district 28 years ago, my answer was "no." It feels like the only vote I have to stop this irresponsible development is to make the schools unattractive for additional residents. Shame on our community leaders for allowing this to be the case.

[UPDATE: March 14, 2006]

It turns out that the school officials have no intention of publishing the results of this survey. Their claim was that the survey was paid for by the political committee which is supporting the levy issue, and therefore the results are their confidential property. I'm going to see what I can do to get the results declared to be a public document, because the elected school officials may have been given the opportunity to read them and use them in their decision making.

... Oh, and I voted in favor of the levy once again.

No comments: