Category Archives: Xenia Community Schools

Comprehending Xenia Schools’ F Report Card

By Daniel Downs

Xenia City Schools didn’t do so well on Ohio standardized tests. The XCS district got an F on their report card. As explained in a number Gazette articles, achievement levels were increased. State legislators raised grade level achievement requirements for reading, mathematics, and other subjects. I heard one of the key sponsors of the education reform bill SB2 comment that they raised the percent of students required to pass each test from 30 percent to 80 percent and from 8th grade level graduation tests to 12th grade level. In other words, our schools now have to give taxpayers an adequate return on their investment and students a globally competitive education.

Of special interest are the language skills and language skills in particular. All of us who have an education–such as it is–have experienced reading comprehension quizzes and exams. Those of us with degrees in English education know how to create them. Therefore, failure of our students to pass a reading comprehension test reflects the failure of our teachers and parents to teach a most basic skill necessary for future learning, careers, and social life. And, maybe that why our society seems to have a problem remembering, and consequently to comprehend, the value and purpose of important principles of our past as well as past issues and problems that have arisen because of forgetting them. For example, the value and purpose of the Protest Reformation, which was freedom of the press especially the printing of bibles in the common language and the freedom of religion in terms of reading and interpreting the bible. If it had not occurred colonizing of America by Protestant Puritans would have never happened. Another example is the American Revolution against the legal, social and economic abuses committed by the parent government of the colonies, the British King. The abuses accredited to him (and actually the British Parliament) were enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. For early American history to mean anything, American citizen must comprehend it, value it, and consequently, remember it.

But, so what?

During the era of the Revolution and the remaking of our national constitution, one of the principle reasons for both was forgetting the past. The British government forgot the ancient rights of colonial Englishmen, why and how they came to be, resulting in the war for Independence, which in turn necessitated those in the Constitutional Convention to consult many works of history and law in order to establish a body of national law that fulfilled the principles and rights declared in the compact of Independence.

America is facing the same problems today.

Did I mention that the failure lays on the shoulders of both teachers and parents and I should add on all of our institutions. In the classroom, developing the skills of evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, and enjoying literature of all kinds is a continual process. But, actually that earning these begins at home when parents teach their children the symbolism of language. This takes place while helping them learn the words for dogs, cats, trees, flowers, noses, ears, running and walking, cars, trucks, wheat, corn, apples and peaches, dog chasing a cat, a boy running after a rabbit, bear hold its cub, a girl cuddling her doll, and all of those symbols and there meaning of life. Parents are responsible for continuing to motivate their children to read and to learn. Those skills cannot fully develop in a classroom. The corporate media, entertainment, professional sports, governments, and even religious institutions all contribute disincentives to read and especially to comprehend the truth about our past. The one media that offers a vast array of reading materials including classics of all subjects e.g. fiction, politics, law, finance, science, and et cetera is the Internet. Ebooks are much cheaper than print media and books, but some still prefer library books. Free is good.

By the way, our schools have no reason to blame on-line testing as part of the reason for poor performance on last year’s state achievement tests. Teachers, parents, students, and anyone else (even me) had access to examples of all on-line tests. Teachers and parents could have had their student practicing to become nearly perfect.

Ohio government is now holding our schools to a higher standard. May be a dumbed-down education is a thing of the past. Before new schools were built, the achievement gap was mostly closed at least as represented by one year of achievement tests. With the new gap, restructuring students and classroom instruction per student level of prior achievement may be necessary.

Passing the Xenia Schools 6.5 Mill Emergency Property Tax Levy: The Bottom Line (corrected)

by Daniel Downs

Since the Xenia City School District attempted to pass a 1.5 earned income tax levy in August, not much has changed. The economic situation is still uncertain. Employment is still near 8%, and growth is still very slow. The Congressional Budget Office estimates remain the same as is the outlook of economists like Nouriel Roubini and financial experts like John Mauldin. (see Passing Xenia Schools Income Tax Replacement Levy)

Also unchanged is the claim by Xenia School officials of a huge deficit looming over the election season horizon. On November 6, Xenia Community School officials want voters to agree that there is a dire need for landowners whose property value is $100,000 to pay an additional $200 per year in taxes. That is on top of the bond issue tax, the half-percent income tax, three or more previously renewed property taxes, Greene County Career Center taxes, city taxes, county taxes, state taxes, federal taxes, utility usage taxes including electricity, gas and communication taxes, sales taxes, business taxes, and many other taxes.

Why do school officials need more money? Past budget cuts made by the school district was due to rising costs of health insurance, utilities and diesel fuel costs, according to a recent Xenia Daily Gazette article. A Dayton Daily News article claims passing the emergency property tax levy will alleviate the looming budget deficit. Of course, giving Xenia schools $200 dollars more of your hard earned income each year will meet the most important need of all, benefiting student learning.

Will it not also assure administrators and teachers that they will continue getting union determined pay raises, health insurance that is continuing to rise, retirement, and other benefits?

We can thank our union President Barak Obama and congressional Democrats for rising health costs, and Capitol Hill bureaucrats and oil cartels for rising gas and utility pricing, part of which is funding research and development of new energy technologies.

But, what about the budget deficit? Here I want to make several observations based on the school district’s current 5 year budget forecast. The estimates assume a continual decline of daily attendance, which also means less revenue. The amount of taxes dollars returned to our school district by the state is determined by the number of students enrolled and attending. The forecast estimates that there will be 200 fewer students attending Xenia schools in five years. If we begin with 2012, the estimated decrease in the number of students attending our schools adds up to 430.

In a presentation to the Ohio School Boards Association, Randy Overbeck said, “the district enrollment has been fairly consistent over the past 15 years. ADM (average daily attendance) has remained around 4800-5100.” The school district estimated attendance to be 5,028 in 2012, 4,748 by 2013 and 4,548 by 2017, which figures are historically unprecedented.

The school’s 5 year budget forecast also assumes property and income tax revenue growth without a new levy. Actual property tax revenue was $17,092,007 in 2012. By 2017, property tax revenue is estimated to be $18,687,908. Income tax revenue estimates follows a similar trend. It grows from $3,197,402 to $3,239,094. While personal property taxes are still being phased out, the state was still reimbursing our school district over $2.9 million in 2012. It is estimated that the state will continue compensating our school district with over $1.8 million for the next 5 years. With the amount of personal property taxes still being collected, our school will continue receiving over $3 million, according to the budget forecast.

Of course, Xenia School District payroll expenses will continue to grow by 41.4 percent over 5 years. That is an annual increase of 8.3 percent, 90% of which covers insurance and retirement benefits. When the contracted services are included, payroll expenses increase to 54 percent, an annual increase of 10.8 percent.

Consequently, while the number of students served by Xenia Schools is estimated to significantly decline, Xenia taxpayers are expected to increase their tax burden to cover the presumed loss. If the decline turns out to be real, the school district revenue will certainly decrease because the state funding is based on daily average attendance.

There is a problem with Xenia school officials blaming the state funding formula for declining school attendance. It is even worse when they assume voters are dumb enough to believe that the nearly $4 million going to charter, STEM, and other nearby school districts is a real expense. It is not a real loss because the school district received revenue for those students to give to the school public school of their parents’ choice. How terrible it must be for families to have the freedom to choose how and where their children will be educated. Yet, the same school officials fail to inform the public about how much they receive from students from other districts enrolling and attending Xenia schools.

Xenia school officials are not loosing tax revenues because it was never theirs. Unlike county and state governments redistributing local tax money, it is unfortunate that Ohio law mandates the primary local school district to distribute tax dollars to other public schools like charters, STEM school, and now other nearby school districts.

Whether the estimated decrease of 200-430 students over the next 5 years is the supposed to be the result of families moving out of Xenia or attending other nearby schools is a question that is anyone’s guess.

What is not unknown is the ultimate goal of the proposed emergency property tax levy. That goal is same as identified in my last post about the school’s earned income tax levy. It is to increase cash flow so that school officials have an on-going year-end surplus of $5-6 million. The budget forecast estimates a $2 million surplus at the end of 2013 and $700,000 at the end of 2014. By that time, Romney may have been able to move the economy forward to a growing economy and 6% or less unemployment. Many more taxpayers would be making more money and would be able to afford giving schools $200 or more for five years and thereafter.

In the final analysis, Xenia School officials estimate a steady decline in student population, steady income revenue, and significantly rising costs. Most of the increased costs are due to above inflation employee benefits. Unless taxpayer annual income increases about 10-12 percent, Xenia taxpayers will not be able to afford the emergency property tax levy or any additional taxes. Based on the school’s estimates, the budget forecast is unsustainable. That is the bottom line.

May 3 Ballot: Renewing School Levies Issues 3 & 4

On May 3, Xenia voters will determine Xenia School officials will have enough money to convert one of the abandoned elementary schools (i.e. Arrowwood) into a new office building.

Voters should remember that they passed 1/2% income tax levy with the passing of the bond issue. By renewing the 1/2% income tax due to expire, taxpayers will be paying 1% of their incomes to our schools. In addition to the property taxes.

It would be a dream come true if voter turnout was nearly 100 percent or at least comparable to November turn outs. However, public officials depend on low voter turn out during off-season elections. That is because those showing up at the polls are mostly those officials have convinced to support their issue.

Nevertheless, the issue is whether our school officials actually need more of our incomes to either convert good school buildings for their preferred uses and/or to maintain the 3 other schools. I answer is no they do not.

The $5 million projected budget deficit may be real. But seeing budgets are always bloated by about 10% for contingencies, it just as likely the deficit is on paper only. In other words, it justifies their plans to close schools for the building program and to convert one into a new office complex.

To prove public institutions over-budget by around 10%, let’s look at the 2009 City fiscal audit.
The City projected operating expenditures would be $16,497,434 but actual reported expenditures were $15,195,407. This shows the budget was 8% over actual costs. The was true of revenues. City management’s estimated budget 8% higher than actual income ($16,457,683 budget and $15,096,409 actual). After looking at the schools financial audits, it appears that the officials have consistently over budgeted projection to around 3 percent. That means the school budget was $1.4 million less than actual expenditures last year.

The last fiscal audit showed a district-wide operating deficit of a little over $3 million. The reasons were all related to the recessionary economy except for an increase of salaries and benefits. It looks like the increase was in the range of 4-6 percent or $2-3 million.

Repeating the question, do school officials need another 1/2% of our income, which by the way amount to nearly $2 million? Should taxpayers funded converting usable school facilities into new offices?

What school officials should do is repair the old historic building they currently occupy. With appropriate renovations, the landmark could be restored to a well-functioning office building. In fact, all of the continuing income tax dollars could have been used to do that long ago. The other 1/2% income tax levy should be sufficient for maintenance and repair of the high school and the two middle schools.

The previously mentioned $2 million might do more to help the local community if spent at local businesses.

For those all of those reasons, Issue 4 should not be renewed. The school district actually does need the operating levy (Issue 3) renewed.

What to Expect From Consolidating Xenia Community Schools

By Daniel Downs

From the 1930s through 1970s, a national school consolidation movement occurred that was inspired by educational reformers like Ellwood Cubberley and James Conant. Thousands of small schools across the state and nation were closed. Larger school districts were created and larger school buildings were built to accommodate the new students in smaller classes. The sales pitch for school consolidation was cost saving efficiency, more curricular choice, higher wages for teachers, and, consequently, a higher quality of education resulting in higher student achievement.

The recent outcry of both politicians and businesses point to a failure to deliver the goods. Although more money is spent per capita on public education than any other nation, American youth are underachieving in science, math, and often failing in reading and writing. These were the same problems used to justify increased spending on schooling in the 1980s and in the 1960s. Moreover, the same problems of school drop out rates and the education gap remain the ballyhoo of professional educators, businesses, and politicians. The latter problem has been glaringly evident in big cities where school consolidation was supposed to show the greatest results.

Xenia Community School district is a by-product of that consolidation reform. Like neighboring school districts and others throughout the nation, inter-school district consolidation is the cost-saving reform movement of the 21st century. It is being funded by dirty “tobacco money” and will prove to produce in-kind results.

In previous articles, I presented education research demonstrating that small neighborhood schools enable the best learning environments in which quality education becomes possible. Smaller schools enable more interaction between administrators, teachers, and students. Parents are often more involved in their children’s schooling. Teachers enjoy teaching more and student achievement is greater in smaller schools. Because crime, vandalism, truancy, dropout, and other behavioral problems occur less in smaller schools, everyone is able to achieve more. As a result, a much higher percentage of students graduate and later obtain college degrees. These are common factors in the many studies and reports on small schools.

When reviewing the research literature again, I found the maximum school population was wrong. The studies I previously had used claimed the above benefits were consistent in schools up to 400 students, but new studies claim the upper limit should be less than 300 for elementary schools. For example, a 2003 University of Missouri study found that elementary aged students form low socio-economic households performed better in small schools. These findings are similar to many other studies as well. Students in Missouri schools with enrollments 200 and under achieved the highest SAT-9 test scores in reading, math, science, and social studies. Interestingly, the Cincinnati-based Knowledge Works Foundation funded a study titled “Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools.” In the study lead by educator Barbara Lawrence, an upper enrollment level of 150 for grades 1-6 and 200 for grades 1-8 were recommended based on a review of all relevant studies.

Because small schools benefit students from lower income households, one third or more of Xenia students can expect a poorer quality of education if forced to attend larger consolidated schools.

More important possibly than educational quality research are studies on the return of schooling. A return on schooling refers to the economic returns on an investment in schooling and in this case public schooling. While most studies focus on either the number of years of schooling or qualitative factors like academic achievement, a research study by Christopher Berry of Harvard University addresses economic impacts of school size. In his research paper titled “School Size and Returns to Education,” Berry finds the only consistent factor negatively impacting income levels is school size. That is men who had attended small schools earned more income later in life than those who had attended large schools. He analyzed teacher salary, class size, district size, and state funding finding only school size impacted future income. With an increase of 100 students, Berry calculated the average decrease of future income would be 3.7 percent. If the average income is $50,000 and school size is 300, then those who had attended schools with 400 students will likely earn only $48,150 or those of a lower socio-economic class whose members on average earn a yearly income of $25,000 can expect to make about $24,000.

Therefore, Xenia students can expect to earn less income during their careers because they attended larger consolidated schools.

The argument that larger schools cost less to operate is true. However, it is also true that smaller schools cost less per pupil because of higher graduation rates, higher attendance levels, and fewer behavioral problems, resulting in a higher quality of learning overall.

Whether or not it is too late to change the rebuilding plan–only lawyers would know, it is certainly not too late to force the state to change its enrollment policy and to make future plans for Xenia Schools. For example, instead of settling for five larger elementary schools, a new plan should include rebuilding or building small schools near Arrowwood, Spring Hill (without a basement), possibly Wright Cycle Estates, and elsewhere.

Sources:Why Small School Are Best,” Xenia Daily Gazette, April 28, 2008 and “It’s All About the Money,” Xenia Daily Gazette, April 29, 2008. John Alspaugh and Rui Gao, “School Size as a Factor in Elementary School Achievement,” University of Missouri, April 28, 2003. CR Berry’s research has been republished in the book Beseiged: School Boards and the Future of Education Politics, 2006 and in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, April 2010.

Gov. Kaisch’s State Budget: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

In my opinion, Gov. Kaisch is not the handsomest dude on the planet. I suspect his wife may have a different opinion.

What the governor lacks in appearance he makes up in statesmanship. His speech to the legislators on the budget was downright inspirational. Not only that but he even dared to praise the members of the opposing party for their work and accomplishments on a number of issues.

It almost made me cry.

I did say–almost!

Seriously, the budget itself is a mixed bag of missed opportunities (the bad) and a number of advancements for Ohioans and their economy (the good). Of course, it all depends on who you talk to, or, in this case, whose report you read.

According to the report by Matt Mayer, President of the Buckeye Institute, the governor’s budget missed some important opportunities. The bad news is the general revenue fund will be $1.26 billion greater for 2012 than in 2011 and $1.73 billion for 2013. That is a biennium increase of 12 percent. This is the second highest increase since 1990.

So how can the Governor increase spending with an $8 billion deficit? According to Mayer, the governor’s budget shows total revenues exceeding the deficit by $8 billion, which causes Mayer a lot of concern. It shows Gov. Kaisch has chosen to continue the same old policies of the past that eventually resulted in the present fiscal crisis.

Equally disturbing is the governor’s cuts to local governments. Instead of innovating new strategy to fund both state and local governance, the governor chose the slash-and-burn approach. This easy money strategy doesn’t reduce the size of state government and thus return local tax dollars back to local governments who must continue or fund new programs. Gov. Kaisch simply cuts funding to local governments to increase spending and balance the budget.

The $5 million budget deficit proposed by Xenia city and school officials may be nothing more than advanced notice of the state budget cuts. On the other hand, the budget deficit could be the typical 10% inflation budget estimates for contingency purposes; all institutions increase budget estimates for unforeseen costs. Budgets are based on previous year revenues, expenditures, known issues that will increase costs, plus 10% for unknown costs usually in addition to a contingency fund for emergencies.

Be that as it may, Mayer wishes Gov. Kaisch would have made the difficult choice of cut government employee compensation a little as well as cut the executive and legislative branch budgets. If he had cut the death tax, the bill making away through both houses, he would have as much money to spend, and many others will wish he had less money to throw at his program agendas.

Mayer did find some good in the Gov. Kaisch’s budget. The governor made noteworthy strides in such areas as prison reform, healthcare cost containment, and education funding. He included alternative sentencing approaches to non-violent offender that along with reforms nursing home service costs to Medicare will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Some think his nursing home reforms are ugly and bad too.

Gov. Kaisch chalked up a few more good points with a number of his educational reforms. For example, his “support for Teach for America and doubling of EdChoice scholarships are vital lifelines to the most vulnerable and will inject more competition into our broken K-12 system.” Scraping the previous governor’s unfunded, evidenceless, one-size-fits-all Evidence Based School-Improvement Model will end the veiled attempt to increase dues-paying membership for unions. At the college level, the governor calls for professors to use fewer assistants for classroom instruction and a three-year degree. (Here, it is assumed that also means high schools will be required to ensure college-bound student meet the once first year prerequisites whether through coursework in high schools, college campuses, or virtual schools. That in itself would not only save a lot of money but would also be a systemic great achievement.)

Many of us may like Governor’s enthusiasm and business acumen, but analysts like Mayer give us reason to doubt his ability to help Ohio innovate its way to a better future and greater prosperity. If he cannot find innovative ways to fund government, can we expect he will achieve his inspiring goals for Ohio? Unless his goals are primary for big corporate concerns, maybe not.

To read Matt Mayer’s report on Governor Kaisch’s budget, visit the Buckeye Institute website: http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/reports.