There's no getting around it. Levy issues, mills and the art of school financing are very confusing, and they're made even more confusing when people go out of their way to cloud the air with misinformation.
For the levy
There's no getting around it.
Levy issues, mills and the art of school financing are very confusing, and they're made even more confusing when people go out of their way to cloud the air with misinformation.
That's why we wanted to take a minute of your time right here and make everything crystal clear so you'll feel comfortable voting "yes" on the Westerville levy Nov. 8.
When I'm faced with a complex problem with so many facts and figures that it gives me a headache, I try to break it down to its simplest parts.
I ask myself, "What is the big nut I need to take away from this? What truly matters?"
For the Westerville school levy, I only have to ask two questions: One, how much do we spend per child in Westerville City Schools? And two, how good is the education those children get for our money?
The answers, as you can see below, are astounding. By the way, all of the numbers are verified by the Ohio Department of Education, so they're all rock-solid correct.
Where we rank in cost
Westerville schools' per-pupil cost is the 12th-lowest out of all 16 Franklin County school districts.
Westerville teachers' pay ranks 11th-lowest out of 16 Franklin County districts, even though 74 percent of our teachers have master's degrees or higher and 58 percent have more than 10 years of experience.
Westerville schools' pupil-to-administrator ratio ranks as the 578th-lowest out of all 609 districts in the state.
Westerville schools have the lowest cost per pupil of the seven districts in Franklin County that also received "Excellent with Distinction" ratings from the state. In fact, it is 25-percent lower than the average of the other six highest-rated districts in central Ohio.
Westerville's average administrative salary ranks 13th-lowest out of 16 districts in Franklin County.
Where we rank in quality of education
Westerville schools received the highest ranking by the state of Ohio for the second year in a row, "Excellent with Distinction," and we met all 26 standards on the state report card.
Westerville 2010 graduates received $25 million in scholarship offers.
Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South high schools were all identified by Newsweek magazine as being among the best high schools in the nation, ranking in the top 6 percent.
Westerville is one of only 12 public school districts in Ohio to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate Degree program.
What we've done to cut costs
Westerville schools reduced its cost per pupil from 2009 to 2010 by 3.5 percent.
Westerville schools froze administrative pay.
Westerville teachers gave back $1.4 million in salary increases to try and close the budget gap.
Westerville schools kept its promise to the community of keeping any levy requests off the ballot until now, despite the district losing $13.6 million in funding.
How the levy works
It's called a "hybrid tax levy" because it is part property tax - 4.06 mills or $124 per $100,000 of assessed home value - and part earned-income tax - 0.5 percent.
Earned income means people on Medicare, like senior citizens, will not have to pay anything for this part of the levy.
Why we're here
The district has seen a reduction of $13.6 million in state funding, dramatic reductions in property-value taxation and an increase in number of students in the district.
What happens if it fails
If this issue fails, Westerville schools will face the biggest budget reduction in its history, $23 million, knocking it down to the most basic programs required by law.
Deep cuts will be necessary in essential services such as transportation, building staff, teaching staff, course offerings, elimination of AP programs, increase in class size, elimination of magnet schools, possible building closures and almost all extracurricular activities.
Failure of this levy would be devastating, and it is not being overly dramatic to say that our schools and even our community might never fully recover from a hit like this.
Please, look at the facts, consider the importance of your decision, and vote "yes" on Issue 20. Vote for Westerville schools.
Mark Hopkins is a spokesman for Our Community, Our Schools, which is in favor of the levy.
Against the levy
There is a better way, and there is a better plan.
Unemployment is more than 9 percent. Household incomes are down 7 percent from 2007 to 2010. Home devaluations are at unprecedented levels. Homeowners entering foreclosure are up 14 percent from the second quarter.
Even with these numbers, the Westerville school board and administration are not controlling spending.
Instead, they want to permanently increase the average property and wage earners' taxes by about 18 percent to support their exorbitant spending.
We don't need a tax increase; we need better management.
With better management, the school district can provide the same services without laying off one teacher, without reducing programs and without reducing busing. This can all be done without putting an additional burden on taxpayers.
One example is the employee health care plan. A district resident showed the board how to save more than $4 million per year just by changing to the New Albany school's health care plan. That suggestion has been ignored.
District employees are some of the higher-paid education employees throughout the state. The board awarded the superintendent a wage increase after the 2009 levy increase, and now that position costs the taxpayers more than $297,000 per year in salary and benefits.
The board grants large compensation packages. For example: $111,500 for guidance counselors. In addition, the taxpayers pay for the entire retirement and benefits package for 72 administrators.
Census numbers show average household incomes for Westerville residents have decreased to $47,000 since 2007. During this same period, income for a majority of the district's employees increased by nearly $14,000. This is unsustainable fiscal management by the board - let alone in these economic times.
How does that in any way represent the financial picture of the taxpayers in the district?
Others are stating we need this tax increase to keep our "Excellent with Distinction" record. Ask how that makes sense when 51 percent of the districts in the state with the same rating do it with a lower per-pupil cost. Two of those are Olentangy and Pickerington.
The district also tries to show a decrease in cost per student from 2009 to 2010, which by one calculation may be true.
But they don't mention they were in the red by $5 million in 2009 or that costs increased by 9 percent the next year.
Also, a closer look at the facts shows their budget increasing a whopping $9 million this year, adding $600 to their per-pupil cost.
Guess what? The levy will not solve the problem. With the passage of the levy, the district will still need to make budget cuts. Even with this permanent increase, three years from now, the board will ask for another levy - likely another $20 million.
One reason given as to why taxpayers approve levy increases is because of their trust in the board and administration. The bigger reason just may be the threat of cuts in opportunities to the students of the school district if levies are not passed.
The board has a list of activities and programs that may be cut if the tax increase is voted down. Not one of those items on their list addresses the elephant in the room, which is the growing cost of salaries and benefits of the employees in the district, which is currently 82 percent of the district's $155-million operating budget.
This tax-and-spend cycle can continue or it can end. With better management, the school district can provide the same services without laying off one teacher, without reducing programs and without reducing busing.
On top of the 34 percent in tax increases in the last four years, here are examples of how this levy will impact taxpayers:
• A taxpayer with a $150,000 home and $35,000 household income will see a new 10-year total in taxes of $26,407.
• A taxpayer with a $200,000 home and $50,000 household income will pay $35,376 over 10 years.
• A taxpayer with a $300,000 home and $100,000 household income will pay $54,314 over the next 10 years.
• A taxpayer with a $400,000 home and $150,000 household income will pay $73,252 over the next 10 years.
These details, and many more, can be found on the LevyFacts.com website. Taxpayers for Westerville Schools urges a NO vote on Issue 20. There is a better way to make our schools affordable and give our students a quality education, all without increasing taxes.
Mike Jones is a spokesman for Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, which opposes the levy request.