What does a diploma from Hilliard City Schools signify? How does it stack up to the diplomas bestowed by other high schools? And in a year when a school levy is going to be placed on the ballot, how do we know we’re getting our money’s worth?
There is perhaps no more subjective yet important topic in public education. It’s a large reason why we have all the state-imposed rules for standardized testing, graduation requirements, and district report cards. All attempts to assure us as taxpayers that the billions of dollars spent in Ohio for public education is money well spent.
So why do we spend $11,260 per student per year in Hilliard, and not some other number? The statewide average is $10,984 so we’re not far off. But the range is huge, from a low of $7,183/student in McDonald Local Schools near Youngstown to nearly $21,628/student in Orange City Schools, in suburban Cleveland.
Which one is spending the right amount? Is a diploma from Orange worth twice as much as one from Hilliard? You certainly can’t make that conclusion from looking at the state report cards.
Those of us who work in the private sector are used to being evaluated, and having the outcome of evaluations affect our compensation and continued employment. We want teachers to be likewise evaluated, paid according to merit, and fired if they don’t measure up.
But most private sector jobs aren’t like teaching. If a kid is supposed to finish 4th grade with a certain set of math skills, but fails to do so, what is the reason? Certainly, it could be because the 4th grade teacher wasn’t effective in teaching math, and needs some coaching. But maybe it’s because the 3rd grade teacher didn’t complete the 3rd grade curriculum, and the 4th grade teacher had to invest valuable time catching up. Or maybe the kid is getting no support at home. Or maybe the student has an intellectual or behavioral deficit that’s getting in the way.
There are way too many variables in the system to use isolated data points for evaluation. The better approach is to gather lots of data over a long period of time, using consistent criteria. We do that here in Hilliard Schools, but it’s challenging when the lawmakers keep changing the standardized tests.
Are we producing graduates who go on to succeed in life? Unquestionably, the answer is yes. Our students have the opportunity to get excellent instruction, if they do their part of the job. The millions of dollars of scholarships offered to our graduates is impressive. They are admitted to the top universities in the country. Many go on to have exceptional careers in many different fields.
Our students also have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular programs that perform at very high levels. Check out the athletic championship banners hanging in the gymnasiums, and the display cases full of trophies won by sports teams and music ensembles. Our drama groups have performed on the international stage. That level of achievement requires successfully coaching our kids in commitment, teamwork and leadership.
So are we getting our money’s worth in the Hilliard City School District? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. If you have school age kids could you get the home you want for the price you want, with taxes you can accept if you move to a different school district? Will your home hold its resale value there?
What if you’re a retired empty nester, as am I – how do you vote when there’s a levy on the ballot? Many of my neighbors are retired seniors who chose to live in Hilliard because their kids and grandkids are here. Homes in our age-restricted community sell very quickly because of this factor. But property tax increases hurt retirees living on a fixed income. Our lawmakers need to find a way to ease the burden on those folks, perhaps through an expansion of the homestead exemption.
The best way to keep our property taxes lower, for both residents and businesses, is to recruit more and more businesses to come here while limiting the rate of residential development. The “Assessed Property Value per Student” in our district ranks tenth in the set of fourteen comparable local suburban districts. The higher this ratio is, the lower our property taxes will be. Dublin’s is a third higher than ours.
Could we spend less per student in our district? Of course, but it would be a different school district. We spend nearly 90% of the budget on compensation and benefits, so cutting the budget means cutting the number of teachers. Reducing the number of teachers means cutting programs and increasing the number of students per classroom. Nearly all of the money raised by the levy we will put on the ballot on November will be used to cover rising personnel costs. That’s the way school economics works in Ohio.
So my answer is yes – I feel we get good value for our school tax dollars. But we also need the help of our city leaders – Hilliard, Columbus and Dublin – to pace residential growth to commercial growth to keep our taxes affordable.