Monday, November 21, 2011

Merit Pay

Last week, I was contacted by a government student at Worthington Kilbourne High School who was doing a paper on Merit Pay. He wanted to interview me as his teacher told him I was a proponent of Merit Pay. Because of the difficulty in scheduling, I told him to send me a list of questions and I thought the responses might be an interesting blog post. Here are the questions (and answers) from the "interview". The questions are in normal type and the responses are in bold.

1. How do you feel about the current, mostly seniority based system for determining teachers pay and why?

Before answering this question and some of the others, I think we need to reach some understanding of why people get paid what they get paid. Why does Mark Sanchez, QB for the New York Jets, make 15 million dollars per year while the guy selling beer in the stands makes $10/hour. How and why do corporations pay what they pay.

This is a complicated question but the short answer is that in the United States and in most capitalist societies, there is a law of supply and demand. If the New York Jets could hire a similar quality quarterback for less than they are paying Sanchez, they would do it. If you couldn't find workers willing to sell beer in the stands for less than $20/hour, you would have to pay that much to attract workers.

Now let's look at teachers. How much do we have to pay to attract quality teachers into the profession and retain them once they are employed? There answer is - no one knows because a free market does not exist in the education profession. In a perfect world, since we are using public taxpayer dollars, we would pay exactly what we must to attract the quality we desire, no more and no less. Lacking a free market, there is absolutely no correlation between what you spend and what you get. You can spend $90,000/year and get a horrible teacher who makes that much money because they have been there 30 years, and you can spend $40,000 to get a fantastic teacher who works 5 times as hard but makes that much money because they just started teaching. Furthermore, because there is no free market, experienced, quality teachers cannot go to other districts and negotiate their own raises. In fact, after about 10 years in the business, teachers are forced to stay in their current districts or take a pay cut.

There is also the reality that some teaching jobs are harder to fill than others. In Worthington, we needed to hire a high school physics teacher. We received 3 applications of which we thought 1 was qualified. Each year, we also need to hire elementary school classroom teachers. We get literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of applications for each one of these positions. Clearly, this is because the person qualified to teach high school physics is also qualified to work in the private sector, and those jobs pay more so few qualified individuals want to go into teaching. I want to pay high school physics teachers more so I can attract them to Worthington but I am not permitted to do so by the seniority system. Likewise, I can attract quality elementary school teachers for much less than I am paying now. If I was permitted to do so, I would be able to employ more teachers, lower class sizes and increase offerings for students.

With that as background, the answer to your first question is that I think the seniority system for determining pay for teachers does a disservice to the taxpayers, the students and the teachers. We should be able to pay great teachers more, we should let market forces work for determining how much taxpayers must pay to attract quality and we should be able to provide the best education experience for the students without the artificial constraints imposed by the seniority system. Please note, however, that this first question did not address "Merit Pay". There are two concepts which are sometimes confused. The first is "Merit Pay", the ability to pay teachers extra for better teaching or for a better quantifiable result, the second is "Differentiated Compensation" which is the ability to pay teachers based on supply and demand or for quality.

2. Can teachers performance be effectively evaluated by testing? Why or why not?

Not completely and sometimes, not at all, for a variety of different reasons. Whole books have been written on this subject. Standardized tests will provide some insight into how well a teacher performs their task, but there are a multitude of other factors that one must consider when determining teacher quality. I'll offer two (fictitious) examples to illustrate the point. Let's say that you have an Algebra 2 teacher at WKHS. In her class are kids who took Algebra 1 from a variety of teachers at McCord, some good and some not-so-good. The kids who did not have quality instruction in Algebra 1 will not do well in Algebra 2 through no fault of the Algebra 2 teacher. The second example is even more obvious. Some kids are not prepared to go to school each morning. Their parents are struggling to make a living, they don't have time to help the kids with homework, they don't have internet access at home and they can barely afford breakfast. Other kids have the best of everything, including tutors if they need extra help. Any attempt at evaluating teachers must take these factors into consideration.

In addition, there are some areas where testing is subjective. For example, how would you judge a theatre teacher or a music teacher lacking standardized tests. In these situations, other metrics would need to be used. Finally, there are a range of categories where some teachers excel in ways that don't show up on tests. For example, a student may reach out to a teacher in a time of crisis in their life and the teacher's actions might have kept the student from making a serious mistake, getting on drugs or worse. Some teachers get that connection with their students and others go through the motions. All of that must be part of a teacher's evaluation.

3. Many say that paying teachers based on years of teaching experience is unfair, and often results in lower pay for the best teachers. Is this a common problem?

To the extent that quality can be measured (a prerequisite for determining who the "best" teachers are), most studies show no correlation between quality and seniority, therefore, there is also no correlation between pay and quality. Since there is no correlation between pay and quality, it is fair to say that the "best" teachers will sometimes receive lower pay. In your own high school experience, did you have really good teachers who were just starting out, or really bad teachers who were older? How often this occurs would be difficult to measure but to the extent that it does happen, the pay differential would be unfair.

This is one such study that you can use for background information:

4. The goal of merit pay is to reward the best teachers. Is this ideal and is this possible?

First, I do not agree with the premise of the question. The purpose of strategic compensation is to advance the goals of the organization. School districts are best served with quality teachers, therefore, the purpose of strategic compensation in a school district is to attract and retain quality teachers. Merit Pay is a component, a small component, of strategic compensation. Arguably, a district with merit pay might be more attractive to a quality teacher than a district without merit pay. The other thing to keep in mind is that as we look at teaching as a profession, we need to fix the fact that there is no career path for teachers that does not lead to administration. A teacher essentially has the same job in year 30 as they did in year 1. We need to define that career path and recognize that there are other ways to reward teachers than with money. For example, a "Master Teacher" designation, in addition to carrying a higher salary, might receive greater autonomy, the ability to serve on state committees, the ability to write and teach new courses and so forth. If we are just talking about merit pay as a small incremental for achieving good test scores in a given year than no, I don't think you accomplish much of anything. We need to look hard at the teaching profession and start treating teachers as the professionals that they are.

5. Could merit pay create hostile competition between teachers?

Sure, but that's no different than what some teachers feel today. If you are a great teacher working 70 hours a week doing everything possible for your students, and you are making half as much as the teacher next door who does the bare minimum, that might also foster negative feelings. It is human nature. As long as compensation is administered fairly and always with an eye towards advancing the goals of the organization, strategic compensation would yield better results than the status quo.

6. Some opponents of merit pay say that teachers don t become teachers for the money. Does this mean incentives for higher performance do not work?

Choice of career is a function of a large number of variables. I didn't become a software developer for the money either, I did it because I enjoyed working with computers and I had a passion to learn everything about them. Did that mean that as my career advanced, I didn't take advantage of opportunities to increase my pay? Of course not. The notion that teaching is the only profession whose practitioners are never motivated by money is silly.

There are volumes of research on the question of whether incentives for higher performance work and I assume as part of your study, you will cite work on either side of the argument. I think you are asking the wrong question. What you need to ask yourself is whether a system of strategic compensation works better than the existing system. With the existing system, there is no correlation between quality and pay. Don't take my word for it - try to find such a study. Research shows that we are pulling teachers from the bottom 33% of college classes. That would seem to indicate that we are not paying enough to attract the best possible candidates to the profession, or, that the best candidates for the profession have many options for career choice and the thought of going through 35 years of a career with no opportunity for advancement is not appealing. Either way, we can do better. One thing is for certain. With the existing system, we are surely limiting the pool of possible teachers to those who are NOT motivated by money and excluding those who are, and that can't be healthy for the profession.

7. Private schools are often cited as successful examples of merit pay. Could this success be translated to public schools?

I don't agree with the premise of the question, that private schools are often cited as successful examples of merit pay. There are many merit pay experiments occurring in both public and private schools, however, I am aware of only a few that use strategic compensation to attract and retain teachers. For example, 60 minutes did a report earlier this year on a public school in Manhattan that paid all of their teachers $125,000/year. They wanted to hire the absolute best. This would not be merit pay, this would be strategic compensation. This was the report:

8. Would merit pay distort the goals of teachers for better or for worse?

Sure, but no more so that the incentives and disincentives built into the current system. For example, to pass a state standard might require 75% of the kids to achieve a score of 60 on an achievement test. A teacher might spend more time with kids bordering on 60 to pull them over the top and spend less time on kids at the top or kids that have no chance to pass the test. That's why you have to be really careful when designing the goals. If I were to ask you what the goal of the Worthington School District should be, how would you answer? It is not an easy question because there would be many goals - selecting only one would be quite a challenge. Is it to produce National Merit Scholars? What about kids at the bottom? Is it to see that everyone graduates? How does that serve kids that are most gifted? See what I mean?

Bottom line is that merit pay, as an adjunct to strategic compensation can certainly further the goals of the organization but the organization itself needs to understand those goals first. If the organization understands what it is trying to accomplish, formulating a merit pay scheme to move everyone in that direction is possible.

9. Obviously there are a lot of compromises that must be made to create an effective system. Please describe what you view to be the best method for determining teacher salaries.

I'd need a bit more time to answer this one, but you get a sense of the alternatives from my earlier answers. Market forces must be allowed to prevail. We cannot not continue to treat teachers, one of the most important professions, the same as assembly line workers at GM. We need to use strategic compensation to attract and retain people in the profession. There is one question you should have asked that you did not. If the market says that to attract quality people, we need to pay more, can we afford to do so. My answer is yes, because if we can fix public education, I believe that a significant percentage of money currently being spent on social services would no longer be required. We are going to invest money anyway, either in education or in social services - I think society is best served by investing in education at the front end.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wireless Communication Device Policy.

A few weeks ago, I asked Superintendent Tucker to look into the issue of whether our board policy (Page 73) that disallows the use of Wireless Communication Devices during the school day should be looked at. A WCD could be anything from an internet enable cellphone to an IPAD or other tablet device to a small netbook. I made the request because it makes no sense for kids to have to power down when they enter our buildings. We've spent a lot of money enabling WIFI in the buildings so perhaps it is time to maximize that investment.

As with most policies, there are pros and cons. The biggest objection is that the WCD will be misused, taking inappropriate photographs, texting (or worse) with friends, spending too much time on Facebook and perhaps even reading board member blog posts.

My response is that we should punish the behavior if inappropriate, but not ban the tool. Within a few years, WCD will be ubiquitous, spanning all age groups and income levels. It is the nature of technology. Furthermore, the world that our kids inherit will be filled with this kind of technology - isn't it best to learn how to use it in a controlled environment.

Superintendent Tucker commissioned a task force to look at more permissive policies employed by other school districts around the country. Several look promising. The consensus is that Worthington's policy, assuming we change it at all, should look something like this.

I see great value to the use of WCD in educational settings but I also understand that there are risks. There is also an equity issue as our district cannot afford to provide devices to all students, but many students have them already. We will simply not require them to be turned off when they enter our buildings.  Over time, as the technology matures,  the equity issue will disappear.

As always, our entire board values constituent input and any new policy will go through the normal process of a first reading at a board meeting (probably in December) and a vote in January. In the meantime, please feel free to share any thoughts on this topic on the blog or by contacting me directly.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interest Factoids on Value-Add

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Colonial Hills PTA where the subject of "Value-Add" came up. Value-Add is a metric that measures student growth - whether the student, grade, school or district achieved a years worth of academic growth for a years worth of time. Being the left brain type that I am, I wanted to understand in detail the algorithm that was used to determine this. Much to my surprise, the algorithm is not published and is not available, not even as a public record. I've been told that the algorithm is enormously complex and that disclosing it would not demystify it. In any event, I came across an interesting article on the efforts by the State of Ohio to smooth out the rough spots on the value-add calculation and make it a more reliable indicator. As you go through the article, make sure you click on the value-add primer and on Doug Clay's article on the yo-yo effect. The article is here:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Superintendent Tucker on the Radio

Worthington's new Superintendent, Dr. Thomas Tucker, participated in a discussion about the state report card on Ann Fisher's program "All Sides" on WOSU radio. Ann Fisher pressed Dr. Tucker about the difference between "Excellent" and "Excellent with Distinction".  Dr. Tucker  correctly points out that other districts in Central Ohio received the "Excellent with Distinction" rating with worse scores than Worthington but because they had more "growth", they received a higher grade.

Let's use a football analogy as we celebrate the start of the football season. Let's say that Mark Sanchez throws 30 touchdown passes for the Jets this year and receives an "A". Now let's say that Tom Brady throws 15 touchdown passes for the Patriots this year and also receives an "A" because of the low standards for getting an "A" that the NFL has. Fast forward to next season where Sanchez throws 31 passes and again gets his "A" but Brady improves to 22 passes and earns an A+ (excellent with distinction) because he "grew" more than Sanchez even though Sanchez clearly had the better stats.

You can catch Dr. Tucker's comments on the WOSU podcast starting at around the 27 minute mark.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Convocation 2011

Convocation in Worthington is part giant-staff-meeting and part pep-rally. The day before school officially starts, teachers and staff members are welcomed back and a short program is provided featuring addresses by the Superintendent, Board President, WEA President and WESP President. This year, convocation was tinged with sadness at the retirement of Dr. Melissa Conrath and excitement as we welcomed Dr. Tucker into the district. Before the speeches this year, the legendary theatre teacher at TWHS, Bronwynn Hopton, in conjunction with teachers at Evening Street produced a play called "The Wizard of Worthington".  It was too good not to share. It is in two parts and you can access them here:

The Wizard of Worthington Part 1

The Wizard of Worthington Part 2

Friday, May 20, 2011

Superintendent Search Update.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, our superintendent candidates met with the Board, a group consisting of Worthington School District Staff members and a separate group consisting of parents, community leaders, community volunteers and a student representative.  I want to take a moment to extend a note of thanks to all of these people who took time out of their schedules in this busy time of year to put in two very full nights with our Superintendent candidates.

The Board of Education intends to proceed in a very deliberate fashion. Last night, the Board met in Executive Session for approximately 3 hours and started going over the volume of information we have collected on all four candidates, including the evaluations  from community and staff. There is a lot of material provided by the candidates in their applications and a lot of research into the history, background and accomplishments of each of these educational leaders and the Board is doing its due diligence to go over all of it.

The Board will again come together to continue our discussion after our regular board meeting on May 23 and we have scheduled another executive session on May 26 where we hope to conclude this process. No decision will be announced prior to May 26. I thank the Worthington community for all of their emails and phone calls (keep them coming) and also for their patience.

If you'd like to email or contact the Board or any of its individual members, you can get our phone numbers and email addresses here:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Superintendent Search - Finalists Announced

The Worthington Board of Education met in executive session on May 9 and selected four candidates to advance to our final round. Clicking on the candidates name will direct you to their application which would include biographical information as well as personal statements of why they are interested in the job. The candidates are:

1)  Dr. Trent Bowers - Assistant Superintendent Intern at Worthington City Schools.

2) Dr. Michele Evans - Superintendent, Canton City Schools.

3) Dr. Thomas Tucker - Superintendent, Licking Heights Local Schools.

4) Mr. Michael Trego - Deputy Superintendent, Dublin City Schools.

These four candidates will meet with the Board, a representative group of staff members and a representative group of community members on May 17 and May 18. Based on the results from those interviews, the board may name our next Superintendent at our May 23 meeting,  or, if the decision is close between two candidates, we may hold a forum for the public at large to weigh in.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Superintendent Search Update

The Worthington Board of Education met in executive session last night to finalize our selection of the Superintendent candidates that we will invite to first round interviews.  It was a difficult evening because there were so many qualified candidates. Clicking on the candidates name will direct you to their application which would include biographical information as well as personal statements of why they are interested in the job. The board looks forward to interviewing:

1) Dr. Trent Bowers

2) Dr. Michele Evans

3) Joyce L. Hackett

4) Dr. Blane McCann

5) Dr. Todd Nichols

6) Dr. Lisa Wendell

The Board will interview these candidates on May 2, 3 and 5. On May 5, the board will select candidates to move into second round interviews and also to meet with community representatives.

In addition to these 6 candidates, the search consultants are continuing their efforts to directly recruit candidates. Those candidates, if they choose to apply, will participate in second round interviews with the Board and will also meet with the community representatives later in the month.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Superintendent Candidates

As of April 22, 19 candidates have completed their paperwork and applied to be Worthington's next Superintendent. This excellent field includes current Superintendents from school districts in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, candidates from large districts as well as smaller districts (including one from right here in Worthington) and candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences. In addition, there are a handful of candidates who have started but not completed their applications so this list, while accurate as of this blog post,  may grow.

In addition to this list, our consultants  are continuing to directly recruit candidates for another week or two.  These recruited candidates, if they choose to apply, will meet with board members and community groups the week of May 16.


Candidate: Dr. Walter Calinger, Current Position: Superintendent
Woodland Hills School District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Candidate: Dr. Steve Castle, Current Position: Past Immediate Superintendent
New Albany-Plain Local Schools, New Albany, Ohio

Candidate: Dr. Michele Evans, Current Position: Superintendent
Canton City Schools, Canton, Ohio

Candidate: Dr. Craig Fiegel, Current Position: Superintendent
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, Plymouth, MI

Candidate: Dr. I.V. Foster, Jr.,  Current Position: Superintendent
Prairie-Hills School District, Markham, Illinois

Candidate: Dr. Thomas Gay,  Current Position: President and Chief Executive Officer
The Quality Schools Group, Lapeer, Michigan

Candidate: Dr. Trent Bowers, Current Position: Assistant Superintendent Intern
Worthington City Schools, Worthington, Ohio

Candidate: Scott Hartley, Current Position: Superintendent
North Fork Local Schools, Utica, Ohio

Candidate: Tod Hug,  Current Position: Superintendent
Ayersville Local Schools, Defiance, Ohio

Candidate: Dr. Kathleen Jenney, Current Position: Superintendent
Galion City Schools, Galion, Ohio

Candidate: Dr. Paul Long,  Current Position: Acting Superintendent – Chief Executive Officer
Pennsbury School District, Fallsington, Pennsylvania

Candidate: Dr. Blane McCann, Current Position: Superintendent
School District of Shorewood, Shorewood, Wisconsin

Candidate: Dr. Todd Nichols, Current Position: Superintendent
Bucyrus City Schools, Bucyrus, Ohio

Candidate: Dr. Blair (Andy) Riggle, Current Position: Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Accountability, and School Improvement 
Hilliard City Schools, Hilliard, Ohio

Candidate: Mark Robinson,  Current Position: Superintendent
Ashland City Schools, Ashland, Ohio

Candidate: Theresa Rouse, Current Position: Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Division

Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Santa Cruz, California

Candidate: Dr. Lisa Wendel, Current Position: Superintendent
Mississinawa Valley Local Schools, Union City, Ohio

Candidate: Michael Yonnotti, Current Position: Elementary Principal
Hamilton Local Schools, Columbus, Ohio
Candidate: Joyce Hackett, Current Position: Director of Curriculum/Intervention Programs
Columbus City Schools, Columbus, OH

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Written Testimony on House Bill 136.

Submitted to the House Education Committee.

Chairman Stebelton, Ranking Member Luckie, thank you for allowing public participation in this process. My name is Marc Schare and I am the President of the Worthington City Schools Board of Education, however, I write to you as an individual taxpayer concerned that through House Bill 136, property taxes that I and other Worthington taxpayers voluntarily agreed to pay for a quality school district will be redirected away from the Worthington public school system and sent elsewhere.

Let me start by saying that I believe strongly in School Choice and I believe wholeheartedly in the policy initiatives embedded in House Bill 136. In my experience, competition works every time it is tried and I think that competition will make public schools better. I also believe that most people in my community will choose a Worthington public school experience even if the private or charter school experience is free. My problem with House Bill 136 is primarily philosophical. I do not believe the State of Ohio has the moral authority to redirect local taxpayer dollars that are raised as the result of a voluntary property tax levy to an alternative provider.

Quoting from the LSC analysis of the legislation:

PACT scholarships are funded by first counting the scholarship students in the average daily membership (ADM) of the resident school district in order to calculate the district's state aid, and then deducting the amount of the scholarship from the state aid sent to the district

Under the funding formula contained in HB153, Worthington will receive approximately 12.35 million dollars in state aid and approximate 12.85 million dollars in TPP reimbursements in FY12, however, as the grade levels eligible for the PACT scholarships increase, our TPP reimbursement will decrease, eventually going to zero. When HB136 is fully phased in FY15 and assuming stable enrollment, we’ll be down to 19 million dollars from the state, inclusive of TPP reimbursements, or approximately $2000 per student. This proposal indicates that the value of a PACT scholarship is anywhere from $2313 to $4626 depending on income level. This means that proportionately, up to $2600/student receiving one of these scholarships will be paid for by local property taxes. A similar model applies to special education scholarships except that the local taxpayer contribution is dramatically higher.

Asking my neighbors to increase their taxes to benefit my school district is not something that comes easy to me. When a community makes that choice, it is simply not right to have those dollars ripped away from the cause which justified the tax increase and sent elsewhere, and I say this while agreeing that in many cases, the “elsewhere” may be a better option for the child and the family. It would be as if this legislature took dollars from a local police levy and used those dollars to fund home security systems. They might do a better job for some people, but that isn’t why the money was generated in the first place.

I’ve heard the argument that this is fair because the public school district no longer has the responsibility to educate the child. If Worthington spends $12,000 per student and the state takes $4,600 but removes the student, I should be $7,400 to the good. The argument is incorrect because removing a student here or there does nothing to reduce my fixed costs. If all students receiving special education or PACT scholarships were in the same part of my district and I could reduce staff or close a school, the argument would be correct, but they are not. Just as adding a student does not increase my fixed costs, decreasing a student does not help my bottom line.

I’ve heard the argument that this is fair because my neighbors voted their tax dollars to educate the children in the community and those children are still being educated with those tax dollars. Most levy campaigns are run using a variation on the theme that a strong public school district maintains strong property values and that there is some inherent benefit to living in an area with strong public schools even if you don’t have children using those schools. Most campaigns also use an explicit or implicit threat that items that a community values such as busing, extracurricular activities and so forth are at stake. No campaign ever has or ever would make an argument that the local money is needed so that your neighbor’s kid can go to a private or charter school. I hazard a guess that most levys would not be successful using that tactic, yet, HB136 would have exactly that result.
Members of the committee, the legislative session began with HB30, a bill that promised to repeal some of the recent unfunded mandates inflicted on school districts. I submit to you that HB136 is a huge, unfunded mandate that dwarfs any savings I might get from HB30.

In summary, I applaud the policy objective; however, I believe that if the state wants to mandate PACT and/or Special Education scholarships, the state should pay 100% of the cost of those scholarships. You can accomplish this with one minor change. If a student accepts a PACT or Special Education scholarship, do not add that student to the public school districts ADM and have the state pay the provider directly rather than using the public school district as a middleman. I thank you for taking the time to read my submission and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the phone number or email address listed above.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ohio's Next Budget - Part One.

Budget watchers all know that the budget is a four part process. First, the Governor will submit a budget to the Ohio House of Representatives. The House will eventually modify the proposal and send it along to the Senate. The Senate will further modify the proposal and either gain concurrence by the House or a conference committee will be formed to work out the differences. Finally, the bill goes back to the Governor who can line item veto any provision in the budget. The line item veto can then be overridden by the legislature. Sounds complicated, doesn't it?

In Part One, we'll discuss the Governor's budget proposal and what it means to the Worthington School District.

The state budget primarily concerns itself with money. HB153 impacts Worthington in 4 ways.


First, the federal stimulus dollars are not replaced. Worthington’s current budget (five year forecast) did not include a replacement for those dollars. In fact, Worthington was very smart to preserve, to the extent possible, the Edujobs money it received from federal government in 2010.


Second, the state foundation was reduced from $13,775,064 to 12,357,372, a loss of 10.29%. The Treasurer had forecasted a loss of 10% so this was no big surprise. In fact, if the FY13 number (an increase of 4%) happens, we’ll do slightly better than what was in the forecast.
Worthington’s loss in foundation dollars is a result of a temporary provision in the state budget that starts with FY11 funding and applies a multiplier based on property valuation. The higher the valuation, the less money a district would receive from the state. This is quoted from the LSC analysis.

The bill enacts a temporary formula to fund schools for the biennium in anticipation of a permanent system to replace the EBM. Under that formula, the Department of Education must compute and pay each city, exempted village, and local school district, for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, an amount based on the district's per pupil amount of funding paid for fiscal year 2011 adjusted by its share of a statewide per pupil adjustment amount that is indexed by the district's relative tax valuation per pupil. The statewide per pupil adjustment amount must be determined by the Department so that the state's total formula aid obligation to school districts does not exceed the aggregate appropriated amount.

This has a number of interesting side effects. The Kasich budget does not mention the transitional aid guarantee. The guarantee has provided Worthington flat funding for over a decade despite declining enrollment. We were concerned that if the guarantee was eliminated, Worthington would suffer deep declines (essentially, a decade of accumulated enrollment decline) but because the new budget used the old budget as a base, we won’t suffer from the loss of the guarantee.

The problem that Worthington has with the budget’s philosophy is that it still uses property valuation as a measure of district wealth, and the wealthier the district, the less state funding you received. While Worthington might have high property wealth, the income levels of school district residents have been declining for a long time now, meaning that many residents are house rich, cash poor. A better metric might be to use median income as a barometer for district wealth. Note that every state budget has used property wealth to effect a robin hood redistribution so Governor Kasich’s budget is not out of the ordinary in that respect.

This link:

contains the OBM spreadsheet that concerns foundation payments, including the percentage loss in foundation from FY11 to FY12. Worthington seems to have suffered more than most, but in our area, Dublin, Upper Arlington and Olentangy took much larger percentage hits to foundation funding.


To put this into context, one has to realize that the state constitution only allows you to budget two years at a time. Sure, politicians make long range plans all the time, but the musings of one general assembly are not binding on the next.

In 2005, Governor Taft eliminated the tax on Tangible Personal Property Tax on Business. The tax was burdensome and Ohio was one of the few states that had it. The problem was - the tax was not a state tax, it was a local tax. Of course, business didn't care whose hands were in the corporate cash register, all they knew is that they had a business expense. Governor Taft eliminated the tax and replaced it with the Commercial Activity Tax. Unlike the TPP tax, the CAT tax is at the statewide level. Essentially then, the state replaced a local tax which Worthington Schools benefited from with a statewide tax which Worthington Schools did not benefit from. To make that change easier on school districts across the state, Governor Taft promised that school districts would be held harmless (meaning, they would get the exact amount they would otherwise lose) until 2011 and then gradually, the tax reimbursements would be phased out, presumably after the schools had a chance to adapt to no longer having that revenue source.

Fast forward to Governor Strickland's first budget in 2007. Governor Strickland elected to keep the CAT tax and the Phaseout schedule. Worthington's 5 year forecast at the time reflected Governor Strickland's decision:

Fast forward to 2009 and Governor Strickland's second budget. Now, the TPP phaseout was on the radar screens of school districts because it showed up in their five year forecasts. School districts were lobbying the Governor to keep the reimbursement coming forever, a permanent reimbursement of the business tangible tax. In fact, this was passed by both the Ohio House (controlled by Democrats) and the Ohio Senate (controlled by Republicans) but Governor Strickland used a line item veto to strike down the measure. In its place, he agreed to extend the reimbursements until FY13. Here were some comments I made at the time:

The problem is, Governor Strickland, the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate had no more control over extending the TPP than you or I did. One general assembly cannot mandate what the next general assembly does. Fast forward to 2011. The state of Ohio is broke, Governor Kasich is elected and he needs to solve a 4 billion dollar budget problem (the 8 billion dollars that everyone talks about is for 2 years). To help solve the problem, Governor Kasich elects to stop reimbursing school districts for their losses that stemmed from Governor Tafts decision to eliminate the business tangible tax in 2006.

The Kasich budget treats TPP reimbursement like this. For any district whose TPP reimbursement was less than 2% of its total revenue, the new TPP reimbursement is zero. For all other districts, the FY12 TPP reimbursement is defined as FY11 TPP reimbursement – (2% of total revenue). This formula will be maintained until your TPP reimbursement falls below 2% in which case, it is eliminated entirely.

This chart shows the progression of Worthington's expectations for FY12 and FY13 over the years.

After the state budget was passed in 2007, we expected we would receive around 12 million dollars in 2012 and around 10 million dollars in 2013. After the state budget was passed in 2009 and based on the promises of the general assembly and Governor Strickland at the time, we expected we would receive around 15 million dollars in both FY12 and FY13. Governor Kasich's budget takes us back to around 12.5 million dollars in FY12 and 9.7 million in FY13 which is not as good as where we were before, but better than we were in 2007.

Does this hurt Worthington disproportionately?  In a way, no, because it treats all districts the same with regard to the TPP reimbursement phase-out, however, it absolutely destroys those districts that were dependent on the tangible personal property tax in the first place. No one believed that this money was ever going to be phased out, so no one prepared for it. The temporary reprieve offered by Governor Strickland lent credence to the notion that eventually, this money would be reimbursed permanently or a funding system would be put in place so that it didn't matter any more. The bottom line is that Worthington will lose 15,000,000/year between now and 2022. The 15,000,000 figure works out to a new 8.33 mill levy to make up the difference.

I have to give kudos to Worthington CFO Jeff McCuen who noted in his last forecast that the state had not identified a revenue source to pay for the reimbursement promised by the legislature. He was right - there was no pot of gold waiting in 2011 and Governor Kasich's budget reflects that fiscal reality.

The Governor's budget includes a controversial provision that decreases the taxpayer percentage of pensions from 14% of salary to 12% of salary. In Worthington, this works out to 1.5 Million dollars in FY12. To put this into perspective, this opportunity for savings is more than the loss of state foundation money.  Some organizations have pointed out that this provision would knock the pension funds off the road back to fiscal solvency. Others have argued that it is simply unfair to change the burden on public employees. Stay tuned to see if this provision survives the legislative process.


Worthington is slammed by the budget, but I don’t think an objective view would say that we were disproportionately slammed. Governor Kasich wanted to protect funding for districts reliant on the state and he wanted to use CAT tax money to balance the general fund and he accomplished those objectives. Worthington and other districts can argue the morality of the TPP Phase Out (replacing a local tax with a state tax and then eliminating the reimbursement) but that discussion was held in 2006. All this budget does is speed up the process by 2 years. I will continue to push so that Worthington gets its fair share of state funding, but I think our better shot at relief will come from the elimination of state mandates and a roll back of some of the charter school provisions that fund state scholarship programs with local taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Superintendent Search - Interviewing the Search Firms.

The first step in Worthington's process for hiring a new Superintendent is to contract with a search firm to assist us in the process. We solicited and received 3 proposals. A board subcommittee consisting of me, Dr. Melissa Conrath and Board Member Charlie Wilson will be interviewing representatives from each of the search firms on Friday. The board hopes to make a decision on Monday, March 7.  Comments and/or questions for the search firm are welcome. The proposals are here:

Ohio School Boards Association

Educational Service Center of Central Ohio

School Exec Connect

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Superintendent Search.

This morning, Worthington's Superintendent, Dr. Melissa Conrath announced her intention to retire at the end of 2011. Our district owes her our thanks for guiding us through some pretty rocky waters these last 5 years.

The selection of a Superintendent is the single most important responsibility that a local school board has. The Superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer of a 120+ million dollar organization with over 1000 employees with a crucial mission - the education of thousands of children. It is imperative that the Superintendent matches the priorities our community has told us they want for our district - Absolute Excellence and Exponential Impact. In addition, the Superintendent must be cognizant of the harsh economic times we are in and manage the district accordingly.  

Our search process will be open and transparent with many opportunities for community engagement and feedback. At any step in the process, Worthington residents should feel free to pick up the phone and call us or email us. In addition, the district will be setting up a virtual suggestion box on its web site so constituents can provide feedback on the qualities and characteristics desired in Worthington's next superintendent.

Our board has put together a tentative timeline for the search. These things are always fluid but in general, the search should go something like this:

Now Through Early March:  BOE interviews and selects search firm and develops documentation on what Worthington is looking for in a Superintendent

Early March Through Mid April: Search firm collects Resumes

Mid April through Early May:  BOE interviews candidates

Mid May: Finalists Selected

Mid May - Late May:  Finalists interviewed by BOE, administrators, staff, community leaders and possibly members of the public

Late May - Early June: Selection made or, if no suitable candidate is found, restart search

August 1: New Superintendent Starts.

Once again, our entire board welcomes community participation in this process.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Congressional Visit

Yesterday, the Worthington School District and Liberty Elementary School were blessed to host a visit by United States Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15). Never let it be said that Congressman Stivers is afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty as you can see from this short clip.

As the Congressman walked into the classroom, Liberty Elementary School first graders and fifth graders were engaged in a project on how to keep earthworms from escaping into the classroom, a vexing problem on the way to solving the broader problem of cafeteria waste presented by our district's superintendent. The theory is that the earthworms would eat the waste, but the earthworms instead chose to flee. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from our congressional visit, but I didn't expect to see a member of the United States Congress with earthworms crawling all over his hands, but as our guest  put it "My 17 month old daughter would LOVE this". Congressman Stivers spent about an hour with the kids, talking about how a bill because a law (Sorry Congressman, you'll never explain it better than this), what's it like to be in Congress and everything in between.

I think it's important for legislators to see what goes on in a modern elementary school. No longer do we always see 5 rows of 5 kids each listening (or not)  to a teacher in the front for hours at a time. Kids are engaged with smartboards, project(problem) based learning and are expected to demonstrate skills other than the mere regurgitation of facts. Liberty Elementary School, through its renewal proposal, is at the forefront of this mini-revolution. Sometime this year, "No Child Left Behind" will be up for reauthorization. Hopefully, through school visits such as this one, Congressman Stivers and his colleagues in Congress will see that each school has a unique personality and culture, each school can approach the standards differently and trying to force thousands of schools into a federal mold is problematic at best. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Personal Financial Literacy in Worthington Schools

At the January 21, 2011 work session of the Worthington Board of Education, we had an in depth discussion about Personal Financial Literacy. At the heart of the discussion was whether or not Worthington should require a semester class in Personal Financial Literacy as a graduation requirement.

There is little doubt that the lack of personal financial literacy is a societal problem. Surveys show that kids graduating high school lack the skills and knowledge necessary to make good decisions with regard to personal finance at the very time in their lives when they need to start making those decisions.

Ohio requires the study of economics and financial literacy,  however, the law was non-specific as to what had to be taught and how much of it had to be taught. These decisions were to be left to local school districts, however, a committee was formed to recommend guidelines. Worthington elected to fulfill the requirements by modifying the graded course of study for American History and teaching the content standards over the course of a week or two at the end of the school year.

Instituting a new local graduation requirement is unusual, but not unheard of. Worthington requires one semester of speech, for example, even though it is not required by the state of Ohio. No one doubts the importance of personal financial literacy, the question is whether it rises to the level of importance given to other required classes.

According to the Jump$tart coalition, 4 states already require a semester of personal financial literacy with others considering such a policy. The third recommendation of the Ohio Financial Literacy Commission was to require a class.

What is the downside of requiring a semester of personal financial literacy. In Worthington, our high school students have a rich variety of electives that can spark an interest in all kinds of subjects. Mandating a semester of personal financial literacy would remove the opportunity to have selected one of those electives. Arguably, some students already know the subject matter and would therefore be wasting their time in the class. A Time magazine article suggested that students who have taken such a class are no better off than those that have not.

After considering all the data, I am leaning in favor of Worthington Schools modifying our graduation requirement to include a semester of personal financial literacy.  I believe that we must do all we can to arm our graduates with the knowledge necessary to make good financial choices as they start college or enter the workforce. The requirement would be able to be satisfied in a number of different ways, including economics classes, a business class or even our new mathematics class titled "Financial Algebra". Thanks to Ohio's new Credit Flexibility law, students that already have the knowledge would be able to test out of the requirement  and students would also have the ability to satisfy the requirement through independent study, online courses or internships.

Agree?  Disagree?  Discussion?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why we need a five year forecast

Today's edition of the Columbus Dispatch brought the unwelcome news that the Ohio legislature is contemplating removing the requirement for a five year forecast and substituting instead a three year forecast requirement. The legislature correctly believes that the fourth and fifth years of the forecast are usually inaccurate, state revenues will always be unpredictable and therefore, there is no value in providing them in the forecast. I disagree. While it  is clear that forecasting 5 years out when the state is on a two year budget cycle is problematic, the value of the five year forecast goes way beyond this relatively minor issue.

For example, the entire expense component of the forecast can be predicted with an acceptable margin of error given the relatively stable nature of the workforce and the relatively narrow range of employee compensation and there is value in doing so. Forecasting through the entire 5 year period allows school districts (indeed, requires school districts) to work towards a planned levy cycle. Currently, Worthington is planning its next levy for 2011 or 2012, but the fourth and fifth years of the forecast are required to determine how large the levy should be and when the next levy would be.  The forecast serves as documentation for internal and external audiences that the next  levy will be required and why. Cutting the forecast to three years would make it more difficult to build community support and community understanding of a planned levy cycle.

Worthington is currently struggling to find a path to long term financial stability. One aspect of this project is to convince our constituency that change is necessary. The 4th and 5th years of the forecast are exhibit A in this effort. In addition, reducing the forecast period would serve to obfuscate the  cost of employee labor agreements and ongoing requirements such as employee health care.

Indeed, even the one component of the forecast that cannot be forecasted accurately, state revenues, derives benefit from a 5 year requirement. The permanent reimbursement of tangible personal property taxes, an issue of significant importance to many Ohio school districts only came on the radar screen of many school districts because the lack of said reimbursement caused  revenues to take a significant hit in the 4th and 5th year of current forecasts.

It's my hope that the legislature reconsiders this change.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ohio School Boards Association Award of Achievement.

The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) is an organization that represents the 3000+ school board members in the state. Districts join OSBA using taxpayer funds. For large districts, the charge is 70% of the District's Cost Per Pupil, so in Worthington, that works out to $9261/year for 2011. For your $9261, OSBA provides a number of "free" services, some of which are significant such as providing lobbying support for districts and legal advice on school board related matters to board members.

OSBA also has many opportunities for "training". These are fee-based classes that school board members can take to become better, more informed school board members. I've attended a number of OSBA sessions, notably the OSBA Capital Conference, and have found them to be helpful in understanding various aspects of school board governance.

The other day, I received this communication from OSBA in the mail and it inspired this blog post. The mailer describes the OSBA "Award of Achievement". How does one get the "Award of Achievement". Simple. Enroll is as many OSBA taxpayer funded classes as possible.

Now, I'm a big believer in board members learning everything they can about the business of education in the state in order to best represent their constituents, however, I am not a fan of spending taxpayer dollars to do so. Every dollar that board members spend on themselves is a dollar that is taken away from the teachers, students and programs that they are able to offer. This mailer seeks to use the ego-boosting "Award of Achievement" as a way to artificially get board members across the state to take classes and spend taxpayer money. In fact, it goes beyond that. It also introduces the "Master Board Member" as one who takes even more classes over an extended period of time.

Now, don't misunderstand my rant. I'm not saying that all OSBA classes are bad or a waste of money, I'm ranting against OSBA's self-serving "Award of Achievement" and "Master Board Member" status symbols as a way to drum up business. By all means, board members should take classes if they feel the need to get educated on a particular topic, but they should make sure they are doing so for the right reasons. If OSBA wants to recognize board members for excellence, it should pick criteria that does not make profits for OSBA. Otherwise, it would be like Kroger issuing an award of achievement for buying a certain amount of groceries over the course of year which is to say.. meaningless.