ThisWeek Community News – Upper Arlington
UA 9-12 Project
Residents question health-care, per-pupil costs
Upper Arlington school leaders answered questions that ranged from why the district’s per-pupil costs are so high to why teachers don’t pay more of their health-care costs at a public levy meeting held last week by the Upper Arlington 9-12 Group.
Superintendent Jeff Weaver and district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld addressed members of the community and UA 9-12 Group members at a meeting Thursday, Aug. 16.
The audience submitted questions on index cards after Geistfeld and Weaver presented an overview of school finances and the district’s need for the 5.8-mill operating levy on the November ballot.
Geistfeld said the 5.8-mill levy, if approved by voters, would generate about $9.2 million per calendar year for the district and would meet its operating needs for three years. He said the levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per $100,000 in property valuation.
District expenses began to exceed revenue this year, Geistfeld said. Projected expenses in 2013 are $82.1 million, with revenue predicted at $74 million. Although the financial forecast shows a positive fund balance of more than $23 million by the end of fiscal year 2013, he said that number could drop fast, since expenses will continue to exceed revenue.
The fund balance is expected to be down to $12.3 million at the end of fiscal year 2014, with a deficit of $444,000 predicted for 2015.
School district residents last approved a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent improvement levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that going for operating funds.
Cat Hackett, director of the 9-12 Group, facilitated the meeting. She said her group’s goals are to “educate residents on school and community issues” and promote pride in the community and the Constitution.
“This is our first formal presentation in the levy campaign,” Weaver said. “We believe a school levy is an investment in education and property values. I’ve worked at school districts in five states and I have never seen a community with such pride in the issues surrounding their community.”
Weaver gave out a “Points of Pride” sheet that described 47 recent achievements by the district and its students, including an “Excellent with Distinction” rating on the state report card last year. He said the district has been rated “Excellent” for the past 11 years.
“We also had students playing in Carnegie Hall; placing nationally in science competitions; and our seniors won more than $6 million in scholarships,” he said. “I think our student opportunities are unmatched anywhere.”
Those student opportunities come with a price, though, according to one of the questions asked: “Why is Upper Arlington’s cost per pupil higher than many other school districts?”
According to Ohio Department of Education data, Upper Arlington’s cost per pupil is $15,172. Cost per pupil for Columbus City Schools is $14,967; Bexley City Schools is $14,337; Worthington City Schools is $13,305; Gahanna schools is $11,625; and Westerville schools is $10,890.
Geistfeld said per-pupil costs are largely based on teachers’ salaries and how much experience they have, because more-experienced teachers get higher salaries. “As teachers get more experienced in other districts, they will be paying more per student also,” he said.
Weaver said 42 experienced teachers retired from Upper Arlington schools this year. “In most cases, we can bring in teachers with less than five years experience to replace them, so it will be less expensive,” he said. “In three to five years from now, we may also be paying teachers differently.”
He said state changes in education indicate teacher salaries will be performance-based instead of the current system, where negotiated contracts call for automatic step increases based on years served.
Geistfeld said teachers also are paying more of their health-insurance costs. “We were one of the first districts to go to a high-deductible staff health-care plan,” he said. “We have also changed health-care providers twice over the past five years to better manage premiums.”
He said teachers now pay 15 percent of the total cost of their premiums. “It may not sound like much, but the trend is moving toward staff members taking on more and more of their health-care costs,” he said.
Another question concerned casino proceeds and asked why Geistfeld did not include those expected dollars in his five-year financial forecast. Geistfeld said the district saw no additional money from the state lottery, so he did not include any projected casino proceeds in the forecast.
“If we do get any money from the casino, we will use it to stretch the levy further than three years,” he said.
Weaver said the casino money “is like what was promised from the state lottery.”
“Our estimated revenue from the casino money is about $500,000 a year, but that is not much in an $80 million budget,” he said. “Yes, any extra dollars can help, but the state trend is to take money away at the same time they are giving it to us.”
Another question concerned people moving out of Upper Arlington because of the high tax rate.
Weaver said a property tax comparison this year shows Upper Arlington tax rates are lower than those in Worthington, Dublin, Westerville, New Albany and Bexley.
“This levy is to continue our same school program into the future,” he said. “I would say a home in Upper Arlington and education in Upper Arlington is a pretty good value. Our school program is unmatched by any other programs and I think that is what the community wants.”
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‘Nonpolitical’ group slates levy meeting
Calling itself a “nonpolitical principals and values movement,” a local community group dubbed the Upper Arlington 9-12 Project has scheduled an Aug. 16 meeting about the school district’s November levy request.
Julie Klusty, a member of the Upper Arlington 9-12 Project, said the meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Little Theater in the basement at the Tremont Branch of the Upper Arlington Public Library, 2800 Tremont Road in Upper Arlington.
“This is an important meeting for us,” she said. “Dr. Jeffrey Weaver, the Upper Arlington Schools’ superintendent, and Andy Geistfeld, the district treasurer, will be joining us to talk about the need for the levy.”
She said Upper Arlington school board members have also been invited.
Klusty said the Upper Arlington 9-12 group has about 300 members. Its website is at ua9-12.com.
“Our goal is to educate our citizens on local issues,” she said. “We know the school board members and administrators have a lot of business to do at their meetings and not a lot of time to answer questions at those meetings, so this will give people an opportunity to ask what they want to know about the levy.”
The website says the movement, founded in April 2009, is “designed to bring us back to the place of community we felt on Sept. 12, 2001.”
“The day after our country was attacked, we did not care about Red states, Blue states or political parties,” the website says. “We were united as American citizens, standing together to defend the greatest nation ever created.”
Its mission statement says the group aims “to take effective, peaceful action to hold our elected officials accountable for the oaths they have sworn.”
“We hope to hear school administrators clarify their need for a levy and want to educate residents so that they can make an educated, informed vote in November,” Klusty said.
The Upper Arlington Board of Education voted June 27 to proceed with a 5.8-mill operating levy for the Nov. 6 ballot.
Geistfeld said even though the district’s five-year financial forecast shows a positive unreserved fund balance of $23,210,000 by the end of fiscal year 2013, district expenses began to exceed revenue this year.
The fund balance is expected to be down to $12.3 million by the end of June 2014, with a deficit of $444,000 predicted for June 2015.
The 5.8-mill levy, if approved by voters, would generate approximately $9.2 million per calendar year for the district and would meet its operating needs for three years, Geistfeld said.
He said the levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per each $100,000 in property valuation.
Geistfeld said it has been five years since the district’s last operating levy was approved. Each year it delays another levy and is in deficit spending, “the higher the millage number would have to be for the next levy,” he said.
School district residents last approved a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent improvement levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that for operating funds.
In 2004, voters approved a 7.5-mill operating levy.