Thursday, March 06, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 3-9-03
By Jeff Gill

Our area has much to be proud of, and the tone of last Monday’s public meeting before the Lakewood School Board goes on that list.
With tough choices and painful decisions in front of everyone, the discussions were, as the diplomats say, "a full and frank exchange of views."
Except when a State Department spokesman says that, he means the ambassadors threw plates and chairs at each other. In virtually every case, the statements were heartfelt and fair, passionate and respectful. Mike Call did well to commend early on in the evening all of the "No" voters, who at least showed up to vote, and even more so to the "No’s" who came to the meeting and shared their views in person.
I’d guess about 550 or a bit more were present, and 50 were clearly opposed to any new taxes for any reason. . .and 500 some were willing to do whatever it takes to keep extracurriculars, band, and athletics. As someone said after the evening was over, "without new revenue, we’re not looking at cuts or even amputations; we’re being asked do we remove the heart or the brain of the patient."
And since that’s true, that even with these heart-rending cuts proposed now we’ll be making academic cuts in a year or two with no other change in income (calculus, languages, classroom music), some answers to the reasons to vote "no" seem very much in order.
After the case was clearly made by Superintendent Phil Herman that our taxes are effectively as low as they can be, the lowest in all Licking County and the surrounding Buckeye Lake region, and that passing this levy will move us from dead last to (drum roll) next-to-last, someone stood to claim that he moved here from California five years ago and his taxes are twice what they were.
A little research quickly shows that yes, California drastically lowered property taxes a few decades ago; and after spending a decade with the lowest education spending in the nation and seeing the effect on their economy and quality of life, they started increasing the sales tax, to where you can now pay up to 8.25%. I’d ask that family which is more regressive, more difficult for the poor, the elderly, and the fixed-income: property taxes, or sales taxes on your everyday purchases?
Another case was made by a parent of a student that extracurriculars don’t end at the school door, such as 4-H or FFA, and no one helps pay for those. Quite true, and may I note that Prime Producers 4-H, 30 young leaders-in-the-making from around Hebron, is having their meeting this Sunday night at 6 pm in Hebron Christian Church to elect officers for the coming year! And for what it’s worth, your correspondent is also a district official with the Boy Scouts in Licking County.
Neither 4-H, Scouting for boys or girls, nor a number of other very worthwhile groups get any "money" from the school district. But I can assure you that, without access to buildings that may be necessarily locked up at the end of the school day, without the teachers and school staff who are often the advisors and committee members of our organizations, we would find it very difficult to go on as we do now.
I would personally add that, sadly, we have trouble serving all the youth we would like right now due to a chronic shortage of adult volunteers available nights and weekends when youth activities are scheduled. Shift work, rotating schedules, working in Franklin and Delaware Counties, all limit our adults’ abilities to help us reach all the youth who might participate.
Let me say unequivocally that, with the elimination of school based activities, our other groups will not be able to fill the gap. And what do you think will fill the void in kids’ schedules?

There’s more to be said, but I do want to get back to news and views next week with our Ohio bicentennial activities past and upcoming. Just let me close with two more answers to questions thrown around.
The $15 million dollar budget for Lakewood is $3 million lower than comparable schools. That says something about our administrative efficiency, right? But some ask, "why close to $2 million in cash reserves?" OK, again a fair question, but make sure to hear the answer Phil and board president Larry Harmon are offering. They employ about 300 people, and carrying two month operating expenses is what my church, the Scouting organization that I also serve, and my own household tries to have "accessible" in the bank. That’s not slush, that’s pure prudence. We can spend it down, and then when we have a roof blown off and a boiler blow and the state gets jiggy all in the same month, won’t you ask why we we’re ready to deal with that?
And finally on the ol’ "we didn’t used to spend that much to educate kids" point, our $6683 per pupil number, lower than both the state average and similar districts, is low. Low, low, low. AND they are currently providing a quality education for that, for which everyone involved can be proud. They need a bit more to keep doing that job, which after 10 years at that rate seems perfectly reasonable.
So for the "used to spend" debate, if you use an inflation calculator, our per pupil costs equal $514 in 1930’s dollars. What did we spend per pupil back then at Hebron or Jacksontown High? That, and our usual load o’ history and fascinating trivia, will be back at the Hebron Crossroads next week!

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church, and gave up coffee for Lent; if you want to carefully approach him with news of the Hebron area, call 928-4066 or e-mail