How To Beat A School Levy: The impact and future as seen through the eyes of Lakota

I received a request for interview by a reporter that sent me some prep questions that were quite good and well thought out. I thought I’d go ahead and post them here since I’ve received so many requests from other school districts, from people desiring to organize their own groups to defeat their school levies. The information I am sending to this reporter for her article, much of it won’t find its way to a short article anyway, can have immediate use to other anti-levy leaders that are looking for information to defeat the tax increases in their respective districts. The districts may be different, but the problems are all the same.

Interview Community Profile, West Chester

1. What was your involvement with the Lakota Levy?

a. I am currently the spokesman for No Lakota which is a group of residents and businessmen living within the Lakota district opposed to further property tax increases. For many years we all worked separately from our various positions, but when it comes to the business of defeating a Lakota Levy we pull our resources together to finance the campaign portion of such an endeavor and run a unified campaign. I handle the media contacts and campaign strategy in conjunction with a core group of approximately 22 motivated members at the front of the effort, each handles specific obligations from data collection, legal needs, financing, and content design. My specific obligations were to collect all that information and project it through the website of and other media outlets.

2. What is your main reason for not supporting the levy?

b. The only way to sustain the education budget at Lakota is to stop the inflating costs. Education is going to have to get leaner, not larger. School Choice is going to force competition, so Lakota must adapt if it hopes to continue to be a choice school for students moving to the district. Online classes are proving to be more efficient for some forms of education, such as foreign language and mathematics. Blind obedience to older forms of education are proving to be devastating to our national culture, so throwing more money at an average, or outdated system is not wise, and the teacher contracts that we are currently obliged to at Lakota are inflating the budget in an uncontrollable way, the average teacher makes over $62,000 per year and the step increase obligations are increasing that budget each year. Real estate movement has frozen as a result of the Housing Bubble crash of 2008 and taxes need to actually go down to attract business and residential growth to the area, not up. Passing a levy would only make this problem worse and far less attractive. Potential business development and residential expansion will move to Franklin, Trenton and Monroe if taxes continue to increase which is not the direction we want to go to in Liberty Twp and West Chester.

3. You say that to pass the levy it would just be putting a band-aid on a much larger problem. Is this problem the mismanagement of state funds in your opinion?

c. My opinion is that education has grown to expect too much funding. It has become used to a large bureaucratic system that funnels money without question under the umbrella of education and those dollars are not getting children the education they need. The band-aid is a term to that describes the levy increase is only to pay for an inflated budget driven by step increases from a teachers union that told the press they took a pay freeze, yet the budget needs continue to expand because of those step increases, so the statements to the press and community were very deceptive. Throwing more money at the situation will not improve the educational lives of the children in the community. In fact there is no evidence that more money will solve anything. What we need is competition introduced to all school districts, through programs like School Choice. This will force school systems like Lakota, and Mason, and all others to bring down their per-pupil costs which are currently hovering around 10K per student. That’s a ridiculous sum that as a society we cannot allow that cost per student to increase to 11K or 12K in the coming years. Those costs need to go in the other direction so we can sustain education far into the future. Not just till many of the district employees currently in the system reach retirement. Our concerns are for the health of the district. Not the current employees.

4. With the levies not passing, what effect do you think this has on the West Chester community?

d. Unfortunately in the short run busing has been cut, electives cut, lay-offs of some of the newer teachers, who probably shouldn’t have been cut because they were new and full of energy. Sports have been cut, but all these cuts are really cents on the dollar. They are intended to impact the community negatively in order to secure future funding, and that is an unfortunate game to play. The healthy aspect of not passing the levies is that it has helped create the need for a bill such as S.B.5 which will give our school board the ability to control its costs. One of the primary complaints I’ve heard from the school board is that there is very little they can actually do, because the union contract is so restrictive. That kind of restriction costs an enormous amount of money in compliance. So because of the failures of these levies, we have been able to get advancements of programs like School Choice, and S.B.5 which will allow our school board to continue to manage Lakota as a highly sought after school district. The most devastating event that could have happened in recent history is when the teachers union threatened to strike in 2008, which immediately drove up the labor costs within the Lakota School district, and this has had a very negative effect on real estate that is cautious of such high taxes and the ability of the school system to remain solvent. I have been asked, as many in the No Lakota Group have, why I don’t run for school board to help solve these problems. Well, when S.B.5 becomes law I can think of about 50 people right off the top of my head that would then be ready to help run the school district properly, businessmen that are successful in the West Chester area. They won’t do it now because the unions are a radical group showing no flexibility or understanding of fiscal responsibility. I personally would not deal with such people, and many of the people I know won’t either. What we can do at this phase is deny more money to a broken system. That forces them to live within a budget. The district really should look at lowering their 160 million dollar budget to something below 120 million. We’re not asking them to do that. We’re asking them to work with what they have without increased costs. Just under 100 students were added to the Lakota School System after 2009 because the housing market froze. That lack of growth occurred well before Lakota failed a levy. It is a direct result of a poor housing market, and extremely high taxes. More tax increases is an insane and treacherous path that will force a decline in what we’ve all worked hard to build in West Chester and Liberty Twp. We need to drive our costs down instead of up and by voting no we are forcing that discussion to take place. We’re not taking away their money. They are choosing to respond to the small cuts instead of getting their payroll under control. The same amount of money is still flowing in their direction. And that figure will go down if they continue to make Lakota appear to be a bad district for sports, busing cuts and electives, driving residents away which will further lower the taxable income the district receives. The district must be responsible, work with the budget they currently have while keeping Lakota a desirable district attractive to parents while using S.B.5 to get their costs in line the moment it is passed.

5, Do you think the education or school system reflects on a community?

e. No, that is a popular myth. The school system is a reflection of the community not the other way around. The kids that go to Lakota are good or above average because the parents that send those kids to school care about their kids. Whenever parents take an active role in their kids those kids will perform higher. The school system will be good because the people in the community are good. Money has nothing to do with it. Things are good or great because of the people involved. Paying people well does not make something good. It only says you appreciate the work they do and you pay them more money so that they won’t leave and go someplace else. Lakota was a good district when there were cows next to the school buildings and there was not air-conditioning, because the residents that were attracted to live in the district are good people, and they still are. Because of that long-standing success Lakota has attracted people from other places within the city. But these are the first type of people who will leave and turn their backs on the district in the crises we currently face, because they falsely believe that money is the key to success. It is not. Success is a state of mind. And because Lakota has good people it will remain a good district.

6. Do you think with the school levies not passing people will be discouraged from moving into the West Chester community?

f. I think some of the parents that are looking for a great school system with a foot half in half out will be, and those types of people are the first to leave when something goes wrong anyway. They cost our community more with their short-term investment hoping to get excellent schools for their kids on the backs of the tax payer while not making a long-term commitment to the community. They usually move away when their kids grow up and downsize. I don’t have much sympathy for those types of residents. As a community we need to build a strong community with residents that are willing to invest in our district and maintain that investment, and not sell at the first sign of trouble. To do that we need to lower taxes. We need to lower our overall operating budget and still provide the services that other districts have cut to maintain their costs. We need to think outside the box and not allow ourselves to sink in obligation to union contracts that are outdated and forced upon the community through coercion. Coercion is exactly what the strike threat in 2008 was and that behavior has no place in our district. There are a lot of great teachers out there and we want them in our schools. We’ll offer them good pay, a nice community to teach in, and pleasant students with parents that care. Those are all benefits. But we cannot afford over 400 personnel that make over 65K per year. That’s way too expensive. The teachers union should have recognized this and renegotiated their contracts to bring their costs in line with the community at large that is considered statewide to be affluent, yet average just around 50K per year per working professional.

7. What are some positive aspects for the community with the levy not passing?

g. It is forcing the discussing of how we can cut costs and still maintain the high level of service that Lakota has built a reputation around. If successful, Lakota will be one of the first school districts of its kind to remain excellent while reducing their budget, which is a process that must happen. It’s not an option. Once we bring costs down for education then West Chester can explore the possibility of lowering tax rates and attracting growth back to the region from the imposing tax rates that we are currently experiencing. This should be the first desire of the school board, to provide a quality education and to do so within the allocated budget. Not passing the levy has stopped the blind obedience to union step increases by exposing them for what they truly are.

8. With the levy not passing, do you think Lakota schools are cutting appropriate aspects to fit with their budget?

H. Absolutely not. They should not have cut busing. That is less than 3% of the total budget. They should not have cut sports. Sports are less than busing as far as budget significance. They should not have laid-off any teachers. They should not have cancelled electives before they explored reducing their inflated labor costs. All teachers with tenure are not worth 65K per year. If we reduced overall payroll by 30% Lakota could have saved nearly 30 million dollars which more than solves the budget problems. But making such decisions requires true management understanding and making tough decisions, which are unpleasant, especially with a teachers union that is very contentious. After all, it was just 2008 that they flooded the school board meeting in October and threatened to strike. Once S.B.5 is passed, teachers will not be able to extort more money with such manipulative methods that are destructive to the community at large. If those employees seeking unreasonable sums of money wish to teach someplace else, they are free to leave. But they will not be able to strike and stop work hurting our children in the process. The problem starts when we have superintendents like Mike Taylor that feed the teachers union with comments saying “I don’t think teachers make enough money,” this coming from a former teacher himself that has obviously lost touch with the cost value of services in the private sector. The superintendent, reports to the school board. The school board reports to the community. All the teachers report to all above and what has been forgotten is who the manager of funds is. It is not the teachers unions that threaten a community with striking in order to drive up their labor costs. It is the community itself that has had to deny funds in order to stop the excessive bleeding of tax payer dollars that has been corrosive to further development of our area out of sheer greed. No, the cuts have not been made in the proper place. A real manager understands that the excessively expensive employees are better off to go someplace else while the hungry, appreciative employees that are in the business for all the right reasons come out of college every year and are there for us to hire. Labor is not in shortage so the advantage goes to the manager, the community. Our school board will need to begin thinking like managers of the community’s money instead of trying to hold back a wall of threats by a teacher’s union that wants more than any community should ever be expected to pay.

9. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I. It is unfortunate that the perception that passing a school levy is actually good for kids. This was created by union marketing and has no basis in reality, absolutely zero. What is good for our children and our communities is competition and options. The current level of school funding at 10K per student is too much and relies on broken models of tax collection from unconstitutional property tax acquisition. It is my conclusion after watching the behavior of education costs for over a decade closely and fighting 6 school levies that the union influence has been detrimental to community management of school district costs. The trend in the future will be less funding from the state so more finance dependency will have to come from the local communities all over Ohio. That means that the teachers unions will have to either become much more accommodating and realistic or must be eliminated completely in favor of a system dictated strictly off competition. For myself, I simply don’t want a single dollar of my tax money going to union activity; because I do not, or have ever support them. I think they are bad and devastating to the American economy and I think it’s the wrong kind of thing for any children to be exposed to. I’d personally like to see children striving to be much more self-reliant and competitive, which I don’t see happening in public education. But that aside, it is the costs that everyone in the community must consider, personal issues aside. And it is labor costs that are the most extraordinary part of the budget that must be handled. This should not be a difficult concept for tax payers to understand. This is exactly why sports teams have salary caps, so a team cannot spend above a maximum set budget. School systems need to have a funding cap that the community establishes and the school board must figure out how to live within that cap. For Lakota that number is somewhere between 150 million and 160 million, which is a lot of money to spend on educating 18,500 students. If that means Lakota has to drive the costs down to 7K per pupil or even 6K per pupil, then that’s what the district must do, and still meet the excellent rating of the community. If they refuse to provide this service, then School Choice will be implemented and parents can send their kids to Mason, or Little Miami, or Fairfield in order to get the services they want as parents. This is the reality that is arriving, and it is expected that Lakota will embrace this challenge and emerge as a leader, because failure is not an option. And neither is higher taxes. If they can’t think out of the box to drive down their costs, then they need to step aside so people who do think this way can take control and get the budget under control.

Now, to support some of what I put down here I point you dear reader into the direction of two articles. These two articles describe the problem of public school from two angles, but centering on a common theme. Public school has a monopoly over education, where it shouldn’t, and that monopoly exists to protect the financial structure of its employees and nothing else. If we ever hope to truly educate our children properly we will eliminate this monopoly in favor of real, competitive education that has genuine value and a benefit for the communities that support it.



New Report Shows Vouchers Benefit Public
and Private School Students

INDIANAPOLIS — A new report by the Foundation for Educational Choice finds that out of the 10 “gold standard” studies examining school voucher programs throughout the nation, nine showed that vouchers contributed to the academic improvements for students who use them.
The report also reviewed all 19 empirical studies on how vouchers affect academic performance in the public school system, finding that 18 of these studies show vouchers improved public schools.

“A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers” reviews the studies spanning 20 years, including some recent ones. The empirical research consistently finds school voucher programs have improved the academic achievement of both the students who transferred to private schools and those who remained in public schools.

The research, by Greg Forster, a senior fellow with The Foundation, examines randomized experimental studies and other high-quality empirical studies evaluating school voucher programs conducted by researchers at Harvard University, Stanford University, Cornell University, Princeton University and the Federal Reserve Bank among other respected research institutions.

Forster, a senior fellow with The Foundation, says that test scores and graduation rates would have improved more dramatically if the voucher programs were offered to all students and not restricted based on income and other demographic factors, or capped to a certain number of participants.

“We are seeing some benefits thanks to vouchers, but we would see much more improvement with much more choice,” Forster said. “The more competition, the more pressure there would be to improve public education. With a lot more choice you will likely get improvements on a much broader scale.”

There are 26 school choice programs in 16 states and Washington, D.C. The first limited voucher program launched in Milwaukee in 1990. More than 190,000 students nationwide use public funds to attend the private school of their choice.
“Choice works,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of The Foundation. “We have known that for a while now. This review of all the research underscores it. What we need now is more choice for more kids to achieve more success.”
About the Foundation for Educational Choice

The Foundation for Educational Choice is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, solely dedicated to advancing Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children. First established as the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in 1996, the foundation continues to promote school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America. The foundation is dedicated to research, education, and outreach on the vital issues and implications related to choice and competition in K-12 education


NH Supreme Court: homeschooled girl must go to public school against mom’s wishes

CONCORD, NH, March 17, 2011 ( – The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a lower court order Wednesday that sided with the father of a homeschooled student and forced her into a government-run school against her Christian mother’s wishes.

The court made clear that it was not addressing larger religious liberty and homeschooling concerns and was basing its ruling only on the narrow and specific facts of the case.

“While [the case] involves home schooling, it is not about the merits of home verses public schooling,” stated the justices in their opinion.

“We affirm the decision on the narrow basis that it represents a sustainable exercise of the trial court’s discretion to determine the educational placement that is in daughter’s best interests.”

The court heard oral argument in the case on Jan. 6.

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorney John Anthony Simmons, who represented the mother, who is divorced from the father, argued that the burden of proof was on the father to prove harm in order to change the schooling arrangement. Because no harm was demonstrated and the girl was acknowledged to be academically superior and socially interactive, even by the court, Simmons argued that the homeschooling arrangement should not have been changed.

However, in the original order issued in July 2009, Judge Lucinda V. Sadler reasoned that the girl’s “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view.”

“Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children,” responded Simmons. “Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views. That’s precisely what the lower court admitted it was doing.”

“The lower court held the Christian faith of this mother and daughter against them,” Simmons said. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court bypassed this issue and wrote this off as a ‘parent versus parent’ issue without recognizing the very real underlying threat to religious liberty.”

Nevertheless, ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco said that the law firm appreciates the Supreme Court’s choice to limit “its decision to the facts of this case,” which should ensure that the decision “cannot be used as a battering-ram against religious liberty or homeschooling.”

The “ADF will be vigilant to make sure that it’s not,” he concluded.

“We are disappointed that this young girl is being forced to attend a public school over her mother’s, and reportedly her own, wishes,” said Michael Donnelly, the attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA had submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case.

“However, the NH Supreme Court confined its ruling to this case and these facts avoiding any collateral impact on the rights of other parents in New Hampshire who homeschool their children,” he continued. “While the lower court’s decision could have been read to create a presumption in favor of public education over homeschooling, the court emphatically rejected this notion.”

Rich Hoffman!/overmanwarrior

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