Columbus district looks for ways to better communicate

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At the Oct. 16 meeting of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education, Superintendent Gene Harris discussed ways of communicating with the public.

Board member Carol Perkins expressed concern with the communications methods the district is using in regards to transportation.

"Are there processes in place if parents want to know where the busses are? I don’t know if it’s feasible or not, if it takes 10 people or 20 people, I just want to make sure the process is in place so parents aren’t waiting on the phone 20 25 minutes just to find out where their child is," said Perkins.

Harris said this is something the district is working on but it is somewhat difficult, since by that time of day it is after normal schools hours so the secretaries and other staff are gone.

"The challenge is to have enough staff on hand, you can’t necessarily anticipate there’s going to be an accident or something that delays the bus, so our challenge is to determine what we can do to make sure we have enough staff without overstaffing and overflowing our budget while communicating with the parents," said Harris.

Harris also noted the district has a GPS system on the busses, which has helped in this type of situation.

Board member Terry Boyd expressed concern on this provision that not enough empirical information is given about whether the message is getting out to people the district does not normally reach.

"There’s an Ohio study that shows only one in four people knew the graduation rate was raising. I imagine that would shock people considering the number of  times we hear it over and over again, but just because we hear it over and over again, that doesn’t mean the public at large hears it over and over again," said Boyd.

Harris responded that because there are so many different means of communication, the district’s communication strategy must be purposefully broad and it does take seven times to communicate a message before it finally gets through.

"We’ve had to tighten our belts so we try to use the most cost effective means," said Harris.

Financial forecast

Also at the meeting, board heard the five-year fiscal forecast from Chief Financial Officer Michael Kinnear.

Kinnear noted Ohio state law requires such a forecast is done by school districts in Ohio by Oct. 31, as well as another forecast by May 31. Kinnear explained this forecast is meant as a guideline for the board, which gives a financial projection from the current fiscal year through the end of the fiscal year in 2012.

"I always make this caveat, once (the fiscal forecast) is adopted, it’s the board’s forecast, not the treasurer’s or the superintendent’s forecast," said Kinnear.

Kinnear said due to House Bill 66, personal property taxes that relate to business tangible property, such as manufacturing machinery and equipment, public utility properties for local telephone companies and railroad property, are being phased out, starting in 2007.

"The district will be held harmless, that is, made whole for the loss of that personal property tax by the state of Ohio," said Kinnear.

Kinnear said the state makes up for the losses not only from the personal property tax phase-out, but also reimburses the district for monies lost as a result of the Homestead Exemption posted under Property Tax Allocation on his forecast.

Perkins asked how the higher ratio of foreclosures affects the district’s ability to collect taxes to fund the district.

"Actually that may help us. I know that sounds mean and contrary to what you might believe, but as people are unable to pay their taxes and if they do, for whatever reason, find their home in foreclosure and it goes to a sheriff’s sale or is purchased, the first thing they have to do is pay the taxes," said Kinnear.

Kinnear also said the delinquency rate for payment of taxes to the district this school year is about 40 percent.

Kinnear stated the average cost per teacher, which includes benefits such as medical and dental coverage, retirement, workers’ compensation, military benefits and overtime, is projected at $65,898 for 2009 and goes up subsequent years by 4.8 percent annually due to cost of living increases, making it $75,850 by 2012.

Perkins then asked if the managers in charge are held accountable for the overtime they are responsible for and what percentage of that average is for overtime.

"It’s already in our budgeting process; we actually do anticipate overtime based on past trends and that kind of thing, and budget managers are given what they have to live with," said Superintendent Gene Harris.

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