"We" is me.
My name is Vicki Kerman, and I live in Morrow County, Ohio. I am the mother of two teenagers, one of whom attends the local public school, and the other who just recently graduated.
How Did This Study Come About?
In November of 2010, our school district went out for an emergency 8.5 mill levy, and it failed 2:1. In January, 2011, it announced it was going out again in May of 2011 for 2.25 mills.
Having moved here two years ago from a district in which our property taxes had more than doubled in 10 years, I was sensitive to the boiling-frog method with which taxes are increased.
With both a business and an education background (MBA in Finance, MEd in Early Childhood Special Education), I was curious whether the district really needed this additional funding. Just how effective had it been in utilizing the taxpayer money it was already receiving? How did its performance and per pupil spending rank with those of other districts?
I started poking around the Ohio Department of Education website and found a true treasure chest of data. Raw data on performance scores, expenditures and revenues, district demographics ... you name it. Using these data, I wrote an Excel macro to synthesize it, comparing our district's performance and expenditure levels to both state and "similar district" averages.
Districts around Ohio vary tremendously in their performance and in the amount of money they spend per pupil. How do you compare them? What I needed was a measure for evaluating the productivity with which to make consistent comparisons. A measure of "bang per buck," or "Return on Investment," is needed to be able to compare among districts in order to hold district personnel accountable for their performance and stewardship of taxpayer funds.
Because this analysis served as real eye-opener regarding my own district's performance, I figured that folks in other districts (both taxpayers and educators) might find such an analysis useful for them, too. One thing led to another, and I ended up generating reports for all Ohio districts, known as the "2011 Productivity Index Study."
Then, in November of 2012, the school district yet again went out for a property tax levy. The levy failed by 11 votes. As a result, the district has had to make nearly $700,000 in cuts, including the elimination of four full-time high school teaching positions.
I followed up with another study, the "2013 Salary/Income Study" which compared the growth in teacher salaries to resident incomes over the period 2001-2010.
In May of 2013, a .75% earned income tax levy failed by 11 votes.
In the summer of 2013, I published the "2014 Expenditure and Performance Study."
In November of 2013, a .75% earned income tax levy prevailed by 15 votes.
Also in November of 2013, I was elected to the school board.
This "2015 Expenditure and Performance Study" is an update to those previous studies, and incorporates not only the latest data, but also some methodologies which I learned from generating them.
Nothing has changed in my thinking over the last 5 years. School district finances as they exist today are unsustainable. Districts simply can not keep asking taxpayers, who are barely keeping even themselves, to subsidize district expenditures which are increasing at a rate far greater than either their incomes or inflation.
On average, 50% of district expenditures are due to salaries, and another 25% due to benefits. Employee compensation includes both of these elements.
Contractually-stipulated base and step-and-column salary increases and reduction in force policies which retain the longest-tenured staff result in a district's average teacher salary increasing steeply. This also affects retirement benefits, which are a percentage of salary.
The other benefit, the district's healthcare premium contributions, have doubled in the last 10 years and are expected to increase yet another 20% next year alone with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. For some districts, health/dental/vision contributions account for as much as 20% their budgets.
School financial projections are based on evaluating overall annual increases in the various cost elements. Salary, the retirement benefit, and healthcare premium subsidy are all part of an employee's compensation package and need to be viewed as such when looking at personnel costs. Tradeoffs among them need to be evaluated in order to keep district expenditure increases within the reach of what taxpayers are willing to support.
How to Reach Me
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me at (419) 946-1505, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time.