Edwards joins growing field in school board race
Robert Edwards, founder of school-finance website LevyFacts.com, has announced he will run for one of the three open seats on the Westerville City School District Board of Education.
Edwards joins incumbent school board member Kevin Hoffman and newcomers Tracy Davidson and the Rev. Rick Vilardo in the race for two seats on the five-member. Incumbent Kristi Robbins is not seeking re-election.
Edwards is a retired IT professional who now runs his own consulting business. He's lived in Westerville for seven years and has two children in the district.
In 2009, Edwards created LevyFacts.com to publish information on school finances, including pay and benefits information on all school employees.
Having been plugged in to district operations for the last four years, Edwards said he now feels he has the knowledge needed to help govern the district.
"After a couple cycles of seeing the (contract) negotiations and the levies, I felt like I had a pretty good feel for how it works," Edwards said. "I gained knowledge and experience, and I've worked with various people in the district."
Edwards said after studying the district's finances, he also believes he can help the district to operate while lessening the need and size of property-tax levies.
"When you look at the numbers, we're still in a deficit-spending model. We're still spending more than we're bringing in each year," Edwards said.
Edwards said he believes levies can be avoided by talking about employee salaries and benefits, which comprise about 80 percent of the district's budget.
Generally, during negotiations, the district will commit to raises for employees that automatically will send the district into deficit and cause the need for the next levy.
"The reason we're spending way more than what we're bringing in is the salaries and benefits. We're not keeping that in line with inflation," Edwards said.
By focusing on that, and planning five-year financial forecasts based on how much the district has earned in revenue and staying within that, Edwards said he believes the district can lower costs without cutting programs.
Edwards said instituting technology in classrooms and for administrators could lower costs by helping the district operate more efficiently and preparing students for the future.
He said he also would like to increase volunteerism in the district for all residents, which he said he believes could help heal the rifts caused by the contentious levy campaigns of November 2011 and March 2012.
From a programming perspective, Edwards said he would like to revisit the decisions made to cut programs after the failure of the November 2011 levy.
Not all programs would need to be restored, Edwards said, but the district should re-examine the cuts that have faced strong public criticism, such as the lack of middle school programming and the closure of the magnet program.
"If we become stronger in the financial area ... if we do good with our money, we'll be able to restore a lot of those programs that are cut and needed. I strongly believe that," Edwards said. "It's just really about numbers; if we are smart about how we spend our money, then we will have the money, without raising taxes, to bring back those programs."
Edwards was part of the anti-levy campaigns in November 2011 and March 2012.
He said he did not feel the November 2011 levy was a well-structured levy, and he felt the March 2012 levy attempt showed that the district was not listening to voters, who overwhelmingly voted against the November levy.
If elected to school board, he said he would like to change the way the district thinks about levies.
"I've always believed that we don't need to cut anything. We just need to be smart about what they spend," Edwards said. "I want to break the tie between levies passing and programs and services."