Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Little Debate

Some discussions in the comments area are worthy of the front page. This is one such discussion under The Useful Idiots:

Reader:

Jim,

This is an area where I disagree with you, likely a first for me since following your blog.

While I agree that using a bogus standard as a baseline is well, bogus. However, since all other districts in the state use that same bogus standard means that it really is the STANDARD, the BASELINE for comparison.

Seeing that most of us send our kids to public schools, then we are all subject to the same bogus baseline. Thus, the bogus or validated discussion, becomes irrelevant. What does matter is how OLSD's "cost to build" compares to other surrounding districts using the same standard.

Assuming OLSD is building at a rate lower than other districts, it is fair to advertise that as sound use of our tax dollars. We, as tax payers, would be subjected to that same bogus standard if we lived in Hilliard, for example. However, in Hilliard, we wouldn't see near the return on our tax dollars that we do up here in OLSD becuase they spend more frivolously than we do. Does that make it right or validate spending on Corian counter tops for example? I suggest that it doesn't. Does that make the standard "right?" I agree with you and say "No!" But we can't fix the entire Ohio High School Education Association and I can't afford Private Schooling. So my only option is to ensure that OLSD is getting more than everyone else for the same buck, which it seems they are.

So long as they continue to do that, we're winning the losing battle.


My Response:

The problem is that as average costs rises locally and throughout the state, district costs can rise with the tide. And, in the face of costs rising at more than twice inflation[1], the district can claim that it is cost-efficient.

So, what to do? The district commissions a report that looks at cost drivers based on programs. The board reviews the report and presents the findings to the community. The board then uses the report to lower costs, and lower taxes.

Funny, the district did commission such a report; a report that was buried from board and community.

This report -- The State Standards Analysis Report (I uploaded most of it in prior posts) looks at costs by program. Now, there are problems with the report. It only addresses the operating fund, ignoring costs from other funds; costs associated with running a district (i.e. the cost of facilities is not included in (say) atheletic programs).

In addition, it does not apportion all costs to their cost centers (i.e. the salary of (say) the athletic director is not apportioned to the individual athletic programs).

Regardless, the report is a starting point.

What to do? Make changes. Look for ways to outsource functions, such as food service, transportation, custodial, etc.

Now, don't give me the "only public employees care about kids" line. That's like saying that the pharmacist at Wal-Mart is the witch to the local Hansels and Gretels (local children).

But, as long as you look to peer districts, and as long as you accept inefficient and wasteful state standards, the longer you will see rising tax bills.

In business, the rule is that when one store raises prices, others watch. But, when one store lowers prices, all lower the same day.

In government, the exact opposite is true, and will be true, as long as you allow the system to run by its own rules.

note:

[1] Cost defined as cost relative to the taxpayer; increased taxation.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why don't you give us your list of cuts. You've been so quick to criticize the district on their plan, what is yours?

Jim Fedako said...

I have repeated them over and over again. Once more:

1. Reduce the salary and benefits.
2. Reduce the fluff that is in every forecast.
3. Return staffing patterns to those from 2000.

With those three budget trimming measures, no need for a levy this year OR in 2009.

Simple as that. And, painless.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim. Great response and I've taken your recommendation and attended the School Board meeting last week and have the next 6 on my calendar. I intend to do everything I can to help drive down costs and eliminate the "nice to have" stuff that really isn't needed to drive a solid education.

We'll see what, if any impact, one person can have. If I can't impact anything, then I'll ask my nieghbors, you, the people on this board, to help. It is our money and it needs to be spent wisely. We need to leverage technology to drive out cost (copiers/paper/office supplies) and think outside of the box before we spend spend spend.

Keep up the good fight!

Anonymous said...

OK, what salary and benefits would you reduce and to what level? Please be specific.

What fluff is in the forecast? Again, please be specific.

Finally, what staffing patterns do you want? Again, specifics please.

It is easy to be an armchair critic. It is much harder to stand up and provide specifics to your criticism.

Jim Fedako said...

Armchair critic?!?

I sat on the board for 6 and one half years and criticized at every meeting... you post the occasional comment on this blog. So, don't accuse me of being an armchair critic from the comfort of your armchair. Some people!

1. The board reduces the total increase in compensation by $2 million. I don't care how the remaining $5 is split between salaries and benefits. Savings: $2 million.

2. Lately, the district budgets a couple million more in staffing than it actually spends. That is a sure sign of a padded budget. Keep in mind that the district knows exactly how many employees it will hire back in June (during the budget process), so there should never be excess at the end of the year. Unless, of course, the district never planned on hiring those staff anyway. This is but one example. There are numerous other examples of obvious padding. Savings (on the forecast): $2 million.

3. OFK and the district like to talk at the margin ... but, only when it's my money. Under Davis, there has been a push to reduce pupil/staffing ratios. Some of that is captured in two above (as it was in the forecast but never actually done). To the point, let ratios rise by one student per staff and you save $6 million per year.

The total is $10 million per year -- from each year of the forecast --without any change in programming. You even get to keep your transportation too. The same $10 million that the superintendent was threatening to cut.

See, it never was a finance issue, just a "we want raises and less work issue."

The State Standard Analysis Report showed closer to $20 million possible savings from the FY06 budget -- a much smaller budget.