In the direction of sustainability

In the direction of sustainability

Soon the long days of summer will evaporate into football games on Friday nights. In the stadium stands, we can see a basic truth: our schools and community are inextricably tied. In the sea of Panther blue and white, the preschooler and the alum from the 1970s, the cheerleader and the local business owner, the excited pee-wee player wearing his first jersey and the senior in the student section is almost indistinguishable. We are there for one purpose and we are all on the same side. 

Public schools serve the community. The community funds and supports public schools. The partnership between our schools and community can be described in many ways. It is a legislated relationship. It is a traditional bonding. It is symbiotic. It is real.

The Springboro school district stands in an almost unheard of position today. Even after plans to invest millions in technology, curriculum, buildings and buses, and even after providing every employee with raises, we are financially prepared to give something back to the taxpayer – to give back to our community by reducing their tax burden. The renewal levy on the ballot in November will be set at a lower millage rate to reduce taxes generated by that levy by nearly 15 percent.

With every step, we are proving that this district with its record of excellence is sustainable with an even lower tax burden. This is almost unheard of in school or local government today. The idea seems so foreign to some that there is even a call in our community to keep the renewal for the full amount.

There is an assumption that if we are cutting the taxes; we must be cutting back in our schools. This is simply FALSE.  The following needs are in the current budget through 2017:

         •        high school busing restored

•        over $2 million in text books and new adoptions

         •        over 2.1 million for new buses

         •        over $3.7 million in capital needs and deferred maintenance

•        over $1.5 million in technology (100% WiFi, 1,000 computers, 350 teacher laptops)

•        over $7.5 million for our staff in raises and benefit changes

These are met in the five-year forecast even with the lower renewal levy. This reduction of almost 15 percent millage is equal to $1,353,800 per year that we are giving back to our community.

How is this possible?

         •        The May 2013 five-year forecast included a surplus of    $7.55 million in 2017.

         •        After the approval of contracts with the teachers, classified and exempt staff, the five-year forecast still reveals a surplus of $7.2 million in 2017.

         •        Springboro Community City Schools will receive 6.5% more in 2013-2014 than in the previous year from the State of Ohio (approximately $828,000) as well as 10.5% more in 2014-2015 (approximately $1.2 million).

         •        Since 2012, 2013, the district has received $3.5 million per year as a result of a pipeline that has been completed.

         •        A second pipeline is possible; however, the district’s current forecast assumptions DO NOT include the additional funding it may bring to the district.

Not only have we proven that we can live within our means, but now every person in this district—our children and families, our staff and teachers, and the taxpayers–will benefit.

This is significant when placed in the context of five failed levies that sought to raise our taxes by up to $45,000,000. Our community sent a clear message again and again that there could be no new taxes. The board—elected by that same community—remembers that we are all on the same side in the pursuit of true educational attainment.  As it became clear through our due diligence into the finances of the district that we could meet our needs with less money, the board voted to request lower millage in the renewal levy in November.

If you budget $300 for a monthly car payment but you find the car you need with every option for $250, do you tell the dealer you’d still like to pay more? Of course not. We’re not selling a rundown clunker at the reduced price. We are meeting and exceeding state mandates as well as local expectations. We are building a technology backbone, investing in computers, curriculum, buses and buildings – we are putting children first.  Most important, we are being honest about what is needed through 2017. This is reform at the local level, and this is working together toward sustainability.


In the direction of unity….

In the direction of unity…..

With the first day of school upon us in late August, we enter into the comfortable routines of a new school year.  Each year begins with the hope and prayer of a fresh beginning on both sides of the fence, teachers praying for well-behaved students and children fervently praying for “nice” teachers.

The new year also brings with it new employment contracts with our support staff and our teachers. Combine that with the technology plan being assembled and implemented, new buses for our children’s safety, a sustainable facilities maintenance plan, a tax break for our taxpayers, and our district is in an entirely different situation from recent years when wave after wave of levy campaigns sought to raise taxes.

Circumstances may change; however, if we maintain our fiscal conservative spending patterns and husband our resources wisely, no new taxes are projected.

My place at the table is to represent the community—the taxpayer, the landowner, the voter. My fiduciary duty is also to this institution.  It is important to remember I represent the voice of those who pay for our local schools. Tonight, we step forward for our teachers and our community. In doing so, we are demonstrating that as our voices come together we can write a single, better, unified story. It is not a story of the past, always disregarding the needs of the district. It is not a story of teachers and staff holding out for more. It is not a story of higher taxes (in fact, just the opposite). This is a story where everyone wins.

Although we occasionally may disagree with the means to an end, the final goal is the same for all involved: a better education for our children.

Through Children First Budgeting, zero based budgets, sound leadership, plans that prioritize educational needs, infrastructure and our staff, it is possible and now proven that we can live within our means. These phrases imply debt or sacrifice, but that is not the case. Not only have we proven that we can live within our means, but now every stakeholder in this district—our students and families, our staff and teachers, and our taxpayers–will benefit from this board’s leadership.

First, our students benefit as we direct funds to textbooks, curriculum, new buses, technology, and we dedicate attention to supports for college and career—STEM, PSEO, AP courses and more.

I have stated in that past and it is worth repeating, that it is impossible to educate a child without skilled teachers and staff and without giving them the tools to be successful. With these new contract agreements, every teacher, every staff member, every employee, every custodian, and every bus driver of the Springboro Community City Schools will be paid more. They will be rewarded for their skills and commitment to our schools and our children.

In any negotiation, especially collective bargaining, each party must at least be willing to move forward knowing neither of us will get everything we want.  I am willing to make the commitment to pay our teachers as they requested and they are willing to take reformative steps in their salary schedule and health benefits that respect the values of our entire community.

This agreement with our teachers must be more than a promise that sits on the shelf. The agreement to establish a merit / performance pay committee and diligently work with the health care committee, will dictate actions that demonstrate accountability by both sides. We all must strive with our best intentions to make sustainability the priority—to work within our current revenue rather than insist we need more.

The community can see after just 18 months that Children First Budgeting works. It is transparent and inclusive, and it drives our attention and resources toward investments in facilities, technology and teachers. It is most evident in the new contracts.

But what will be most evident to the taxpayer is lower taxes. Even after plans to invest millions in technology, curriculum, buildings and buses, and even after providing every employee with raises, we are financially prepared to give something back to the taxpayer – to give back to our community by reducing their tax burden. The renewal levy on the ballot in November will be set at a lower mileage rate to reduce taxes generated by that levy by nearly 15 percent.

This reduction of almost 15 percent is equal to $1,353,800 per year ($6,769,000 over 5 years) that we are giving back to our community. That’s right, every homeowner in the Springboro Community City School District will receive a raise just like our staff!  Children First Budgeting makes sense and today everyone wins.

Steven Covey says that, “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” So now we put the words—spun in social media, exclaimed in online petitions, threatening as well as entreating, angry as well as earnest—behind us. We’ve emerged stronger than before.

Congratulations to our board, to our central office staff, to our teachers and students, and to our community. All sides were heard – and the outcome is fair to all sides. All have gained ground. And that success can only continue if we act in good faith to work together to put Children First.


In the direction of “fair”!

In the direction of “fair”

An online petition is circulating that demands our Board of Education “settle a fair contract with our teachers now!” I could not agree more. In January 2013, our school board requested that we open negotiations early, but the Ohio Education Association and Springboro Education Association refused stating there would be plenty of time. With the first day of school (August 26) waiting on the horizon, I only wish the teachers’ union had allowed us to open negotiations earlier. Indeed, the petition’s request is spot on, but the drama—the implication that school board members do not want to reach a fair contract–sadly continues to divide our community.

It all hinges on that word “fair.” We’ve received a lot of email appealing for “fairness,” but not one attempted to describe what is fair.  Fair is not one-sided.  It implies there are two competing interests, not just one.

If “fair” could be defined in concrete terms, years of debating funding formulas for Ohio’s schools would have been avoided.

What’s fair?

For example, the proposed re-instituted step salary schedule amounts to between 3% and 4.75% automatic pay increases per year for most teachers. Are step raises—automatic pay increases tied to nothing more than the calendar—fair? The idea of rewarding service and commitment over time sounds fair for some, while others would like to know why raises are not tied to student achievement? Is a salary schedule “fair” when successful  teachers are paid exactly on par with the unsuccessful? Who suffers most under this system that incentivizes mediocrity, our children and their education.

Is it fair that our teachers received a minimum increase of 1.5% per year for the last three years, but still called that raise a pay freeze? How can pay go up when it is frozen? Furthermore, during the recession, no teacher lost his or her job.  As a matter of fact, the Full Time Equivalents (FTE) in our district increased, while the rest of the economy decreased.  Would it have been fairerto pay our teachers in sync with our community when many in our community lost their jobs, received no raise at all, or made salary concessions to keep their employer in business and keep their job?

When the wealth of a community measured by residential property values decreases by 10% over the last five years, what is a fair salary increase for that school district’s employees?

When community members see health insurance costs skyrocket, is it fair that public employees maystrike to keep up paying only 15% for medical insurance? According to surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation as well as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, average private-sector employees with single coverage contribute 21 to 25% of health insurance premiums, and the average employee with family coverage pays 27%.   The average means that some pay less while others pay much more.

Is it fair to even have this conversation without mentioning our children?  Was it fair to them when previous administrations scuttled plans for textbooks, technology, major building repairs and replacements,  buses and more? While the district appeared to be sailing well, in reality it was drifting without clear direction. A year ago, our district faced a sort of “perfect storm” with needs for everything from buses and books to technology and staffing coming to the surface at the same time. Through good management and some good fortune, our once rudderless ship emerged from that storm with clear leadership and direction. Clearly there are still challenges, but we are moving in the direction of putting Children First.

At the core of Children First budgeting is our staff–making sure we have sufficient staff, that our staff have the materials and training they need to excel, and that they are fairly compensated.

Some assume we’re making catastrophic cuts while others assume we will need more taxes. Neither is true. There are dark rumor clouds swirling through Springboro that cuts will come through our current contract negotiations; rather we have offered every employee a raise.  Some would say that is not only fair, but generous given the fact our economy is still struggling in many sectors. A story in the Dayton Daily News notes that the second largest employer in the country behind Wal-Mart is now a temporary employment agency.

While many wish to cast a negative light on our school district and its leadership, I hope everyone can celebrate the agreement reached between the Springboro Board of Education and the Springboro Classified Employees Association (SCEA), the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching staff.  These are the support staff that makes our district go and many of these people literally have not had a raise in five years.

Highlights of that agreement include:

•           Step raises for three years. (Step raises are automatic pay increases built into an existing salary schedule generally to compensate for the effects of inflation.)

•           $1,000 annual stipend for three years for those who are not on steps.

             •           Employees will pay 20% for healthcare insurance; the district will pay 80% of the premium.

Now, I hope we find a balance that compensates our teachers in conjunction with the important investments to be made in our buildings and facilities, technology and curriculum. This is not an either or situation, both must be done with our given revenue stream to ensure a healthy district into the future.

To learn more for yourself, the contract proposals are online at Click on negotiations updates.

In the direction of common sense, continued

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

–Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

When the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in the summer of 1776, the population of our nation is estimated to have been about 2.5 million people. Today, the United States population is more than 315 million people. The Declaration has grown with our nation to symbolize individual and national liberty throughout the world.

Jefferson stated that, “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.    

At one time, it was both grand, and also common sense. With the Declaration, the founding fathers unified the 13 colonies in a single direction. Though we see perfection in it today, we know that Jefferson’s early draft was heavily critiqued and edited. Even though it was common sense, it changed the status quo. It changed the course and gave entirely new direction to the colonies, as they became an emerging and sovereign nation.

Events throughout history and even locally today bear some resemblance. What is simply stated common sense may appear to be the most radical. As we’ve sought to improve communications, transparency and budgeting in Springboro schools, we’ve seemed radical to some. But in fact, its common sense to put kids first, to form plans for purchasing textbooks and technology, and to attend to the basics such as roofs and buses. For too long, the district appeared to work very well, but it lacked clear direction. With no plan for textbooks, technology, capital improvements, buses and more, there was no larger course charted for our schools.

This common sense approach does not strip the district of its traditions or diversity. It does not ignore it accomplishments and honors, including “Excellent with Distinction.” It simply gives us a unifying direction that extends beyond any individual building or year.

Look for future blog posts to articulate how I believe we are leading the district toward success.

In the direction of common sense, Part II

In response to “In the direction of common sense” entry, a reader named School District Voter noted that, “Of almost equal moment to the Declaration of Independence was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Jefferson in 1779. The statute established the separation of church and state and the principle of religious toleration: “Almighty God hath created the mind free… all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do …the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time…”

While it’s not economical to include it here in its entirety, it is important to note that the statute ends with this action. “Be it enacted by the General assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, not shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. Indeed, “All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

History tells us that the founding fathers held diverse views. Instead of allowing differences to divide and defeat them, they found common ground. They found common sense within the harmonies of their arguments. Today, “argue” carries a negative connotation like fight or struggle. But argue simply means to support your point of view with evidence.

As parents, as educators, as a community invested in its youth, it is our responsibility to share the tools and skills for argument. We are free to profess and argue our beliefs. Are we preparing the next generation to exercise that freedom, to know the fullness of history, to profess their individual beliefs and to argue for them?