In the direction of common sense – Part I

In the direction of common sense.

“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and form as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

–Thomas Jefferson.    

On the cusp of celebrating the independence of the United States of America, our Board of Education announced two summer courses on the Constitution. The timing is entirely a coincidence, but it perfectly frames the argument.

From the outside looking in, independently offered community education classes on the Constitution would use school district classrooms during the summer and after-school hours. This is wholly unremarkable. Similar courses are shared online, in hotel ballrooms and family living rooms across our country. But in Springboro, they engender headlines and panic, calls for Board members’ resignations and threats of legal action. Community education has been raised to scandal status.

Why?

Bringing classes like these onto our campus allows a unique opportunity to offer community education while also inviting families and taxpayers to review potential curriculum.

The hyperbolical efforts by a few to cancel these Constitution classes ironically seek to limit free speech and assembly. But as I work toward listening to all sides and representing the fullness of our school district, I examined the critics’ concerns.  I believe in the goal to teaching the principals of our constitution in a historically accurate manner.  To that end, I am unclear based on the controversy, if these programs can achieve that goal.

Our district’s recent debates over the Constitutional courses, controversial topics including creation and even negotiations point to a serious need for civil, reasoned dialogue and debate. It’s easy for us to look at the parchment of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution and see only the final page in its ideal form. However, history is rich with stories of argument and angst as the founders of our nation came together to form this union of states.

It is time to read and revisit, discuss and debate our founding documents. In doing so, the only religion promoted is what Abraham Lincoln called the “political religion of the nation.” In his speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois in 1838, Lincoln said “As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; . . . Let reverence for laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;–let it preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”

It is our common history. The founding documents transcend politics. As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s use their example to guide us in the direction of common sense.

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It’s Unanimous – School Board Adopts Children’s First Budget!

Educate Springboro

What is a child centric budget?  It’s a budget that provides all of the resources to educate children first, while investing in highly qualified staff at every level.  At every level, our administration and teachers strive for the highest standards of achievement and professionalism.  That is why a Children’s First Budget makes sense. 

It makes sense for teachers because we invest in the tools and equipment necessary to help them do what they do best – teach.  It makes sense for the taxpayer, because it allows a board of education to manage it’s taxpayer provided resources just like every person does in their homes.  But most of all, it makes sense for our students because it prioritizes what they most need, by targeting resources as necessary.  Why is this important?  It is important to assure public education in Springboro is supported and that it can achieve the highest grade possible.

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It’s Unanimous – School Board Adopts Children’s First Budget!

What is a child centric budget?  It’s a budget that provides all of the resources to educate children first, while investing in highly qualified staff at every level.  At every level, our administration and teachers strive for the highest standards of achievement and professionalism.  That is why a Children’s First Budget makes sense. 

It makes sense for teachers because we invest in the tools and equipment necessary to help them do what they do best – teach.  It makes sense for the taxpayer, because it allows a board of education to manage it’s taxpayer provided resources just like every person does in their homes.  But most of all, it makes sense for our students because it prioritizes what they most need, by targeting resources as necessary.  Why is this important?  It is important to assure public education in Springboro is supported and that it can achieve the highest grade possible.

Children First Triangle - Service mark copy

This triangle reflects the Children First Budget process which provides resources at every level.   At it’s foundation are this districts highly qualified teachers – they teach our children every day.  Moving up a level is where our operations, administration, drivers, custodial and other support services are funded.  And finally, we know our community will NOT accept a curriculum that meets state minimums.  This board is investing more in extras – curriculum, programs, training, and technology than ever in the history of public education in Springboro.  This allocates resources so that we teach your children in the broadest most advanced environment, while remaining fiscally responsible.  Why, because we have great parents (and taxpayers) in Springboro and we know you DEMAND IT!

Below, is the recommendation report presented to the Springboro Community City School Board of Education.  This recommendation report requested board approval of the May 2013 5-year forecast and it’s critical assumptions.  For the record, the board unanimously adopted the 5-year forecast and assumptions which was reviewed by the Committee and prepared by the Mrs. Tracy Jarvis, Springboro Treasurer.   The report reads as follows:

Budget & Finance Committee May 2013 5-year Forecast Recommendation & Comments
David Petroni, Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.  Forecast and assumptions prepared by Tracy Jarvis, Springboro Community City School Treasurer
May 23, 2013

By unanimous vote, the Board of Education established and authorized the Budget and Finance Committee to review all matters of forecasting and finance.  A 5-year forecast and set of assumptions are required to be updated twice a year per the Ohio Department of Education.  It is within this authority and process that district finances are evaluated and vetted.  In Springboro, the May forecast is used by the administration and board as the next fiscal year’s operating budget, which begins July 1, 2013.  This committee of the board only makes recommendations.  The recommendations are then presented to the full board for their deliberation and approval.

Tonight, the committee is pleased to present a budget and 5-year forecast that offers respect to the taxpayer and employee, is transparent to everyone, and is, at its core, child centric.  This forecast is investing at unprecedented levels in curriculum and tools for educators, while remaining fiscally responsible.  The forecast also recognizes the uncertainty about ongoing negotiations with the Ohio Education Association, potential revenue increases provided in the Governors new budget, and the risks associated with asking the community to support a levy.  Changes to any of these three areas can impact the projected fund balance in either negative or positive ways.

With those aforementioned caveats in mind, this forecast and its accompanying assumptions establish policies of the board that in recent history have not been accomplished without attempting to raise taxes. Like in both forecasts adopted in 2012, this budget does not need new taxes.

The goals and investments of the budget are targeted & measured, and timed to fit within available resources.  This fiscal management philosophy is to assure everyone in Springboro clearly understands that the district is diligently working to live within the currently approved tax revenues.

Naturally, every school district in Ohio, claims that children are their first priority.  Today in Springboro, we not only claim it, we own the naming rights!  The adoption of this forecast is the evidence that public education is fully supported in Springboro by this Board of Education.  The proof is in the fact that we are investing heavily in our infrastructure, both physical and technical, in our curriculum, and the safety of our children and staff, while recognizing employee concerns that will remain open until completion of negotiations.

Since instituting child centric investment policies last year, the results are remarkably visible.  Putting our children’s education first is good policy, it is good for public education, it is good for professional educators, it is good for our students for it WILL continue to help attract the best and the brightest teachers.  As outlined and conditioned in the assumptions, this district has never been on firmer financial ground.

There are a few noteworthy changes since our October 2012 forecast in board policy, revenues, and expenditures as follows:
1.  The Rocky Express Revenue collected will increase $2.4 million thru 2017.  This is not a tax increase on our community, it is an intangible tax on the public utility.
2.  Like in 2010/ 2011, the board again offered an early retirement incentive plan for all employees which is projected to reduce expenses by $1.266 million in salary and benefits. 34 employees took this early retirement incentive, which will pay them each up to $40,000 over a fixed term.
3.  The board approved Mr. Petrey’s plan to start preschool next school year that will increase Personal Services (Salaries) and benefits and reduce Purchased services (previous preschool contract).  The plan projects to capture a slight expense reduction thru 2017.   There may be additional money for preschool and gifted services in the Governors budget.  Since the State budget process will not be completed until June 30, nothing has been projected.
4.  Mr. Petrey presented an efficiency plan to the board that is projected to be net – neutral in cost.  This plan re-allocates resources based on student achievement data.  The administration demonstrated to the board it is possible to manage existing resources by shifting them to address defined gaps.  This is projected to be at no additional cost while improving the quality public education and the high standards expected of Springboro Schools.
5.  The combining of our elementary school buildings this year accounts for an approximate $150,000 in savings thru 2017.  Due to the efficiencies of operating Dennis and Five Points as one separate but unified building, it allowed the administration to balance class sizes and maintain current staffing levels for the next school year.
6.  To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in Springboro’s history, a comprehensive capital improvement plan identified $5.8 million in capital needs and deferred maintenance.  Based on projected tax revenue last year, this plan was recommended to only be funded at approximately 50%.  This year, based on updated revenue projections, the committee is adopting the administration’s recommendation to increase this spending by approximately $1.3 million to a total cost of $3.7 which will be spread throughout this forecast.  The residual balance of $2.1 million has been identified as an unmet need and shall remain a goal of the district if we are to adequately maintain our facilities.  Immediate and full funding of this plan would reduce the projected fund balance (Line 12.010)
7.  Project 21, the district technology investment plan, is a $1.3 million initiative and a model for others to follow.  The technology plan created by our tech department outlines a long-term investment program that provides tools for our teachers and creates a 21st century learning environment for our children in every classroom.  This plan purchases over 1,100 computers, and assures every building in our district has wifi capability to support the expansion of the bring your own technology (BYOT) program.  The investment is also designed to meet the on line testing required by the State’s adoption of the Common Core Standards.
8.  Over $2 million will be invested in a transportation plan to assure our parents their children will be safe traveling to and from our schools and while in our care traveling to extra curricular events throughout the year.  The plan proposes to replace 21 buses thru 2017.  11 buses were purchased today through the utilization of tax exempt bonds, which also allowed Moody’s to re-evaluate our bond ratings.  Moody’s findings are included at the end of the assumptions in total.
9.  In August of 2010, that board authorized investing $2.470 million in new textbooks and new textbook adoptions.  To date $600,000 has been spent.  The forecast includes the remaining $1.8 million.  An additional $600,000 has been identified as an unmet need based on the curriculum department’s recommendation.
10.  There have been reports out of Columbus stating Springboro may receive 6%, or approximately $1.8 million more in foundation money under the budget bill.  Until the budget process concludes, no increase in revenue has been projected.  Counting your chickens before the eggs hatch is never sound thinking.

Let me pause here for just a moment to celebrate all of this success.

It would be an understatement to say that these are exciting times for our children, teachers, and our entire community.

Fiscally speaking, the district budget has been built to meet the needs of our students, supporting our teachers, while showing deference and respect to the taxpayers who have continued their support of public education in Springboro.  How we treat our children today will determine how our district is treated by this community.

Open items that require more diligence, discussion, and study are pay to participate, our relationship with all our support organizations that surround extra curricular programs, student enrollment trends, housing growth trends, employee contract negotiations, and specific plan development for several noted unmet needs.

The unmet needs list if fully funded would reduce our current projected surplus fund balance.  These are wants that are not currently prioritized into the annual spending plan until such time revenue projections support the additional investments because quite frankly, rational and responsible choices must be made in determining the allocation of scarce resources.  We are not the federal government, who can print money whenever the need arises, we are constrained by the revenue the taxpayers of the school district provide us.

A critical component of this forecast is the inclusion of $9.2 million from the expiration of an emergency levy established 5 years ago. Since May of 2012, the revenue from this levy has been included in the assumptions and fund balance.  We pray the taxpayers accept our recommendation and the research performed that went into its making.

Based on this forecast and specifics defined by each assumption, the committee is recommending placing a levy on the November 2013 ballot with the  amount not to exceed the $9.2 million the district will lose when the previous emergency levy expires.

The first deadline for making the November ballot is August 2, 2013.  It is our hope that the caveats and uncertainties in our budget forecast will be clarified by that time.

In summary, the budget presented reflects an increase in our district fund balance from $5.8 million to $7.2.  I wish to thank the administration and all of our staff for their hard work and accomplishments of the past year.

The $7.2 million net fund balance, includes the passage of the $9.2 million levy and excludes the $1 mm board emergency reserve (forecast line 12.010).  Based on advise from our legal counsel, the assumptions around compensation and benefits remain consistent with no change to specific employee concerns until mutual agreement is reached through the negotiation process.   This process should be permitted to reach it terminus before any actions are taken.

This 5-year forecast has been developed in the sunshine in open meetings duly attended by the public; the budget expenditures have been aligned with our revenues; it is transparent to the EVERYONE, and it shows respect to the taxpayers of this district who have supported Springboro Schools for decades.

If the children are our community’s first priority, then the philosophy of Children First Budgeting makes sense.  It creates plans and prioritizes spending so that the things most important to education and student achievement are funded first.  It does not allow one budget item to absorb so much that other critical items are left wanting.

The one unifying principal we all profess is that ” it’s about the children”.  If that is indeed true, then let us set aside partisan difference, and rally for the education of our children, because the children must be our first priority!

In closing, it is the committee’s recommendation that the board accept the financial forecast and assumptions as presented for submission to the Ohio Department of Education.