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Reaction to a levy failure

Published: Tue, April 3, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Reaction to a levy failure

Recently the Vindicator published two page one articles about the budget challenges in Poland schools. A March 20 headline read “Poland voters’ rejection of tax levy for schools paves way for pay-to-play.” Having been a senior administrator in school districts in various parts of the U.S. for 25 years, I must suggest a different headline: “Poland school leaders’ failure to plan causes headaches.”

We could focus on the oldest maxim in strategic planning — “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” — but doing so would divert us from a critical issue which received only passing mention in the March 20 article. It does not involve the red herrings of busing or pay-to-play, but was a comment at the board meeting by retired Struthers’ superintendent Sandra BiBacco. It centers about the classic “elephant in the room” fact that sometimes is whispered but seldom is discussed openly: 80 to 85 percent of a typical school district’s budget is tied-up in such “fixed costs” as salaries and benefits. These personnel expensesrange from teachers and teachers’ aides to cooks to administrators to coaches to custodians to anyone on the payroll.

Few are the districts with the vision to conduct a periodic and objective review of all their programs and staffing, and reallocate funds accordingly. Few are the districts willing to map out — and follow through on — the planned obsolescence of programs. Few are the districts willing to respect the voters’ choice when a levy fails and do not pound, pound, pound on the taxpayers until they pass a levy on a second, third or fourth offering.

Some districts are quick to point-out “give backs” and “concessions,” and use them as public relations soothers coupled with press releases saying “We’ve done our part.” Some staff then sleep well, while others know they have taken but a small step or two up the steep slope to fiscal responsibility.

Neither fear nor guilt are good motivators. It is much easier — and honest — to “sell” a desire for excellence to voters. All readers know that success is contagious, and that Poland has a history of being a successful — indeed, excellent — school district. The failure of this levy should not cause them to think differently about that truth. However, it should cause the leaders in the district to renew their commitment to excellence, including the frequency and quality of communications with the district stakeholders — especially the ones who pay the bills.

Gilbert H. Noble, Austintown


1DontBanThisDrone(732 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Gilbert, the elephant is the pensions.

"Having been a senior administrator in school districts in various parts of the U.S. for 25 years..."

You wouldn't happen to be retired, would you? Could that possibly be why you "forgot" to mention them? lol


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2UNCOMMONSENSE(520 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Gilbert, very good letter.

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3nemo0723(19 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I never understand what people are complaining about when they cite the fact that schools spend so much on salaries and benefits. It's a building, filled with people. They don't really buy raw materials or transport finished goods. Constantly pointing to that really illustrates that people don't understand the basic principles of how a school is ran. Yes, of course, they should do better at managing those costs. But seriously, the only capital a school has is human capital.

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4meagain(85 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I’m so glad we live in a free country in which everyone is entitled to voice their own opinion. While I respect the perspective of this letter there are a number of concerns I have with message it is trying to convey.
First off it appears as if the writer is of the belief that teacher salaries and benefits are to blame for the financial woes of Poland Schools. On average teacher salaries in Poland are on par with averages across the state. If salaries were the sole culprit for the finance issues every district would find themselves in a similar mess. They don’t. If it’s salaries why isn’t every district in this same boat?
Speaking of salaries, I find it hypocritical that two former administrators are pointing out an “elephant” in the room. That “elephant” was good enough for them and their colleagues and now suddenly salaries are to blame.
While 80% of funding may go to salaries and benefits, schools are in the “service industry.” The majority of service oriented industries spend the bulk of their funding on people. That’s what service is, people. Where else is the funding supposed to go?
As for lack of planning, I don’t think all the planning in the world could have predicted such an anti public school trend coming from Columbus. While schools like Poland only get 20% of their funding from Columbus that drastic and sudden amount of a change will certainly have an impact.
Couple that with a community unwilling to uphold their 80% that the state expects and districts like Poland find themselves financially falling apart. As for repeatedly asking for a levy, the state requires that districts show a plan for being financially sound. Short of a revenue windfall they basically force districts to repeat levy attempts. Other districts opt for things like say - open enrollment.
Poland runs very lean as it is. There isn’t a whole lot of obsolete programming to delete. Taxes haven’t gone up in Poland for the schools in over 9 years. Nothing costs what it cost nine years ago. Honestly, they’ve done a pretty darn good job all things considered.
There aren’t enough cuts to make in order to reverse this financial ship and that includes salaries, benefits, pay to participate, school closings or any other idea floating around. Eventually the members of this community will have to step up to the financical responsibility the state expects from them based on their school funding model or beat a path to Columbus and insist the way schools are funded is changed. This is a not a lack of planning, not a lack of vision or foresight nor an over salaried faculty and staff. This plain and simple is a funding issue.

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5Philo(99 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Do the employees of Poland Local schools pay 10% of their retirement and 15% of their healthcare as SB5 would have mandated? Funny how all of the anti-SB5 crowd said these contributions weren't the problem. Apparently they were the problem. I wouldn't even think about passing a levy until every employee starts making these meager contributions to their own benefits. I hope the voters remember the way public employees take advantage of the taxpayers like this when it comes time to vote to allow Ohio to become a right to work state.

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6BoardmanBranch(42 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

To meagain:

Are you kidding??? Where do people pay 10% of their healtcare premiums for a plan that covers just about everything at almost no cost to the employee? Where to do employees move up the salary scale as quickly as they do in Poland, and earn substantial raises as they go up? I'm a public employee in a service organization myself and I assure you I pay much more for my healthcare and our pay scale is much more spread out, with more time needed to move up the scale and with a lower percentage of increase between the steps. This is your definition of operating on the lean? Shows how out of touch you are. Time for you to join the real world.

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