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Letters to the Editor

Recent letters Inaccurate; board, schools responsible

 

 

To the Editor:

 

The letters from Jeffrey Kircher and Sam Renzetes printed in the August 20 edition of this paper both asked, in slightly different terms, "What is it about no that you don't understand?"  Mr. Kircher encouraged us to "Get all the facts." but both letters contain assertions that are inconsistent with the  facts.

 

Mr. Renzetes wrote "...expenses for extracurricular activities and special education programs goes far beyond the intent of a basic education". Special education programs are not optional, nor can they be considered in the same category with extracurricular activities. Westerville City Schools (WCS), like  all public school systems, is under state and federal mandates to provide  programs such as special education.

 

Mr. Renzetes referred to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program as costly and for only a fraction of 4,000-plus high school students. IB courses are open to students whether they pursue the IB Diploma or not and IB  courses can serve as required courses for graduation. Thus, the IB program at  the Oregon high school visited by a Westerville delegation had approximately  600 students enrolled in IB courses. It is easily within reason that a similar  number of Westerville students may take IB courses.  This number of students  could represent between 12 to 15% of the 4000 or so students referred to.  Given a potential student enrollment in the hundreds, the costs of this  program are not nearly as expensive as Mr. Renzetes implies. Furthermore, the  decision to adopt the IB program was made during a considerable period of  study by parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members. To imply  that this program is being foisted upon the community is erroneous. The fact  is, the community studied it, the community asked for it, and the Board and  Administration responded to that effort. The WCS administration and Board of  Education (BOE) have provided a number of information meetings to present the  IB program over the past year. Parents and students, and the voters of  Westerville, have yet another opportunity to get the facts about this program,  and most importantly, to have their questions answered at a meeting on August 26, 2003.

 

Mr. Renzetes wrote "I don't want to pay for every little program or gimmick  (like the hand-held planners - a waste of tax payer dollars) you have a whim  about". This comment, like others that have preceded it, appears to be based  upon equal parts of misinformation and innuendo. A small number of personal  digital assistants (PDAs) was purchased with a specific, targeted intent - not  a whim. The intent, which was followed, was to study how this technology  could be used to measurably improve the delivery of instruction and learning.  The findings, and a demonstration of what the students were able to achieve,  were presented at a BOE meeting earlier this spring for anyone who desired to  learn the facts about this program. Subsequent to that meeting, I learned that  the New Albany district has adopted the Palm Pilot with specific software as a  replacement for a previously required graphing calculator. Other districts are  beginning to do the same. The reason is that the PDA provides the  functionality of the graphing calculator (and depending on the model of PDA,  can do so for a price that is not very different) but then offers tremendous  additional functionality to the students. They are closer to very small  computers, at a fraction of the price. Most professionals I know switched long  ago from paper-based organizers and address books, and experienced increased productivity. Finally, there has been no suggestion that WCS purchase PDAs for  all high school students. That responsibility and decision will remain with  the students and their families. In the end, a small dedicated group within  WCS conducted a study that answered the question of whether this would provide  an educational benefit to the students; the answer is yes.

 

Mr. Renzetes wrote: "I wish taxpayers, like the state, could reduce their property taxes going to the school district". First, Mr. Renzetes, you are correct on this point. The state has indeed decreased its contribution to local school systems. This is one reason we are in the current fiscal situation. The state has done this in two ways. First is the concept of phantom revenue. The state presumes that as your property value increases, your taxes due to school levy millage will also increase. The state has been decreasing its contribution to match the presumed increase from local property  taxes. At this point, taxpayers should pay close attention: When your property  value rises, the tax you pay to the school system stays level. So the state  assumes that WCS is collecting more in taxes as your property value increases,  and decreases its contribution accordingly. But since your taxes to the WCS do not increase, WCS absorbs the loss. This gradual process has helped to put us  in the current fiscal situation. A second factor is more acute: Due to shortfalls in tax revenues at the state level, the state has further decreased  its contribution to local districts.  Westerville is therefore to receive a cut  this year of more than

$700,000.00 from its expected state funding.

 

Mr. Kircher and Mr. Renzetes both imply that because the number of homes in Westerville is increasing, that the revenue to WCS from property taxes is  increasing and that this should easily cover the cost of running the schools.  Only the first part of this relationship is true. More houses do bring more  tax revenue. The assumption that this revenue is more than equal to the cost  of educating the students from those homes is false. Your property taxes pay  only for a portion of the cost of education. The other portion is born by  other sources. For schools in Franklin County, the expenditure per pupil in  2001-2002 ranged from $7,321 to $10,750.  Take any figure within that range - how many of you pay that amount in property taxes? And remember that only a  portion of your property taxes goes to the schools; the rest goes to other  local services. The fact is that in Westerville, most, if not all, of us pay  but a fraction of the cost to educate our students.

 

Mr. Kircher wrote "but what happens when the state pours additional millions later into the school districts?  Will we be told about that?  I doubt  it."  I agree with his earlier assessment that our country's economy has  suffered a downturn over the past four to five years. and I will not hold my  breath waiting for the extra millions to arrive, but we already have evidence  that WCS would indeed tell you about it, and act in your interest. Genoa  Middle School came in under budget and the BOE returned the extra funding to  the taxpayers. You did not receive a rebate check, but those funds were used  to reduce future needs for funding. Both writers imply that WCS and the BOE  are fiscally irresponsible and unfamiliar with current economic reality. To  that notion, I offer the following examples:  With the recent reduction in  interest rates, the WCS treasurer brought a proposal to the BOE to refinance bonds that were issued to pay for school construction in Westerville. WCS saved several hundred thousand dollars by negotiating a smaller increase in  health care premiums with the carrier of the health care plan for WCS  personnel. And when the operating levy was defeated in May, the much maligned  administrators of WCS received job cuts and a wage freeze.  Before any of  that occurred, WCS already ranked 17th out of 18 Franklin County area school districts in expenditure per pupil for Administration. That means that we paid less for administration than the state average, less than Columbus, and less than every district near us save one.  Do these sound like the actions of an

organization that does not react to economic realities?  Mr. Kircher and Mr.  Renzetes, there are former WCS employees without jobs today as a result of  your votes. You can argue that this is justifiable given the times, but please  do not imply that it did not happen.

 

Mr. Kircher wrote "Get all the facts. Vote your conscience on the levy,..."  I agree.  The facts about the Westerville schools were not found in the letters  published last week, but they are available. You can find much of this information on the WCS web site. You can hear and see it at school board  meetings. And despite the assertions of others, when I have asked questions of  the Board, the Administrators, and anyone else in this district, I have  received answers. Get the facts. I believe you will find, as I have, that WCS  runs a very effective, and financially lean educational system. A levy is  needed to maintain this lean and effective system and the dollars you approve  will go straight to the education of your children.

 

Michael J. Kelley

 

WEsterville Voters On Target for Education