School levy promotional material mistakes and exaggerations

Published October 22, 2014 by justicewg

Effective Prop TaxSchool levy supporters can be expected to find the best supporting data to show the school needs to pass a levy. They ignore the numbers that don’t help their case. Sometimes they stretch the truth. This year they have posted some numbers that appear to be just made up.

I received a message from a Grandview parent who wanted to talk about the untold story of the levy financial information. The quotes to follow are from that parent, the comments between them are from me.

The supporting documents for these criticisms of the levy campaign come from the levy supporter’s own website.
Another source of numbers at the school is the fiscal documents page on the school website.

The quality of our schools is critical to our children’s and our community’s future. We have a school system we are all proud of thanks to the hard work and dedication of our terrific teachers and staff. Adequately funding our schools is important to ensure they remain as good as they are.

It is also our school board’s and administrators’ responsibility to make the best use of our hard-earned tax dollars. Issue 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot is asking for too much, too soon. And, unfortunately, the levy committee has misled voters with its campaign.

Here Are 7 Things They DON’T Want You To Know:

  1. The levy committee has told us that “The time is NOW”. What they haven’t told us is that the school’s current cash balance is $4,000,000. By the schools’ own projections, they wouldn’t spend that down until the 2016 fiscal year – that’s without the levy.

Grandview has often a huge cash balance, well over anything it needs for a “rainy day”. That excess cash does nothing positive for the school, and supports the view that taxes are too high.

  1. They like to say that “…the state has reduced its funding by more than $2 million in recent years”. The truth is that the state reduced one portion of its funding by about $600,000 which was phased in four fiscal years ago. Our schools continue to get almost $3.5 million in state funding, so the reduction was actually less than 4% of the school budget.

The possibility of future cuts in state funding are emphasized in school planning documents. Maybe that will happen – and if it does, we can vote for an appropriate new levy, based of real numbers, not hypothecticals.

  1. The campaign says that the Grandview Yard “…has resulted in an increase of less than $250,000 in the district’s annual revenue.” Receipts from the Grandview Yard were actually $1.5 million in 2013, $687k in 2014, and projected to be at least $736k per year into 2017.

These Yard numbers are straight from the levy supporters own documents. I don’t know where that $250K number on the levy supporter website came from, it appears to be fiction.

  1. The levy committee has told us that, “Through sound financial management, the district was able to stretch that time period by a full year. Several measures have been taken to keep costs down.” But what they haven’t told us is that under this “sound financial management” this year expenses are projected to be $1.1 million more than revenue.

This is the paradox that school levy supporters always struggle to explain, if the school board is doing such a good job keeping cost down, why is the requested levy so high?

  1. When it comes to impact on taxpayers, the campaign uses small numbers, saying “For every $100,000 of appraised value of your home, it will cost just $17.29/month.” $17 is not a lot. But according to the Franklin County Auditor, the average assessed value of a home in Grandview last year was just under $250,000. If Issue 2 is allowed to pass, the average annual property tax would increase $516 and that would be on top of the increases coming from the triennial assessment. Also, there are around 1000 residential properties in Grandview with values and taxes above the average.

That $100K number is always used, and it is way out of range of the average Grandview home. Do you know any home in Grandview that is worth $100K?

  1. Our school tax rate is one of the lowest in Franklin County.” While the committee compared the effective school tax rate of a hand picked selection of schools, what they did not mention is that of the top 20 public schools in the whole state on the recently release State Performance Index, Grandview enjoys the 3rd highest per-pupil expenditures: $13,167.

There are some other tricks being done with that effective tax rate table that supporters use. Here is the table from the school treasurer website, compare it to the table on the levy supporter website.

Effective Prop Tax

How to make a school look better than it is – first, throw away two of the schools that are lower in effective tax rate. Next, don’t mention the average effective rate in the county (49), because if you compare it to the Grandview rate (43), the truth comes out that our rate is – a little better than average.

  1. If we support our schools now, the levy will be collected based on current values – not the increased values that go into effect soon.” The school administration and board decide how much to ask taxpayers for and can easily adjust down the millage to a more appropriate and fiscally responsible level in the next election cycle in May.

That “pass the tax before the property values go up” reasoning from levy supporters was always a red herring. The assessed property value of our homes will go up, they will go up no matter what we do with our voting on taxes. It make just as much sense to say, “Don’t pass the levy now, we will be able to vote a lower tax millage in the future when property values go up”. The school needs some number of new dollars in the future, the value of our homes has no effect on that number. The questions is, what is the correct number?

(Nov. 4) Grandview likes taxes! 62% in favor, this is identical to the 2005 results. The last failed levy was May 2002, when voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy. After the final votes are posted it will be interesting to see the results of voting with the new Grandview Yard voters.


7 comments on “School levy promotional material mistakes and exaggerations

  • Thanks for posting this, lots of good info to consider. One point, however, requires further explanation: The per-pupil expenditure. It’s my understanding that the per-pupil expenditure includes building maintenance costs. Since GHCSD buildings are really old, our maintenance costs are (per building) much higher than say New Albany or Olentangy since most of their buildings are very recent. And capital expenditures for buildings and land to build them aren’t included in the calculation of the per-pupil expenditure.

  • Re: “Since GHCSD buildings are really old, our maintenance costs are (per building) much higher than say New Albany or Olentangy since most of their buildings are very recent.” Take a look at those schools’ budgets and you’ll see that that’s probably not true. More importantly, building maintenance is (for now) negligible in the context of the budget as a whole.

    The schools have said repeatedly that around 85% of their budget goes to salaries. Looking at that forecast table, the growth in spending is coming primarily from salaries (2.25% per year on average) and fringe benefits (7.3% per year on average). I wish my job had those kinds of benes!

    Plenty of board members and administrators have complained about the age of our physical infrastructure, but none have actually disclosed what is spent on maintenance that otherwise wouldn’t be spent on newer buildings. Kind of like they like to complain about the “drastic” state budget cuts that actually turned out to be 4% (and dropping) of the budget.

    My point is that it’s important to dig below the surface of what school administrators and board members are telling tax payers. As these revelations indicate, the numbers don’t support that rhetoric.

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