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READ: Q&As Submitted for Live Levy Presentation

April 27, 2023

Superintendent Larry Hook and Treasurer Alana Cropper continue to provide information and facts related to district finances and operations ahead of the upcoming 6.9 mill combination levy that will be on the ballot for the May 2 Primary/Special Election.

On Tuesday, April 25, the superintendent and treasurer delivered a live informational presentation on the details surrounding the levy and also answered questions submitted by the community. You can watch a recording of that video on YouTube here.

Due to technical difficulties, it may be difficult to hear Communications Coordinator Josh Bazan read questions from the community. The list of questions below begins with those that were addressed during the live stream, in the order they were addressed. Video timecodes will be listed for each question that was included in the live presentation.

This article contains all questions specifically submitted for the livestream and their corresponding answers. If the question was answered during the livestream, we will indicate which person spoke on the topic and include a summary of the answer provided. Check out the Levy Frequently Asked Questions informational sheets for other common questions: Levy and Taxes and District Finances.

Multiple questions about enrollment were submitted via email and verbally from people in the community. Is enrollment declining, by how much and what impact does that have on staff/programs and spending?

  • Treasurer Cropper at 26:22
  • The five-year forecast projection is based on past trends that are applied to future years. Initial enrollment counts are used in the current year. From 2016-2022, enrollment declined on average by about 29 students per year…so that trend is applied to future years
  • If the district experiences a decline of 29 students per year moving forward, it will take many years for that to be significant enough to impact necessary staff levels. Think about that number spread across nine buildings and 12 grades. It is only 2.4 students per year per grade level.
  • It is important to note that the enrollment count in the forecast does not include preschool students and counts all kindergarteners as one-half of a student, even if they’re enrolled in all-day kindergarten. Therefore the state  base cost funding doesn’’t include pre-school and all day kindergarten counts.  That’s a difference of almost 400 students.

Will anyone receive raises if the levy passes?

  • Superintendent Hook at 28:01
  • FHSD is about to enter negotiations with the three organized labor groups. It would be improper to discuss the district’s approach prior to entering those talks, but we can tell you that any change in salary is not dependent on the passage or failure of this levy. There are many other factors taken into account and we are required by Ohio law to negotiate in good faith when these contracts come back up.
  • Treasurer Cropper provided additional context:
  • People who are looking closely at the page 14 of the five-year forecast may notice projected increases in personnel costs. Those increases don’t entirely relate to actual increases in staff salaries, but are related to the end of COVID funding.
  • In 2021, 2022 and for a small part of 2023, the District was able to use $6.6 million in COVID funds to pay salaries that would have typically been funded by the General Fund. Those COVID expenditures do not appear in the five year forecast. When the expenses were moved out in 2021, the personnel expenses in the forecast show a negative six-tenths of 1% DECREASE. The 2023 and 2024 fiscal years show a larger than typically increase as that salary expense is returned to the General Fund. Since our last levy that was passed in fall of ‘19 through the end of the forecast period in FY27, our personnel increase is an average of 3.4% per year.

Hamilton County will reassess our property values soon. I assume values will rise. Will the amount we would pay for this levy also rise, or is it set based on current property values?

  • Superintendent Hook at 32:46
  • The amount is based on your current property value. House Bill 920 prevents the district from receiving any additional funds based on increasing property values for voted levies.

Why are our roofs leaking when we supposedly have $2.7 million in the Permanent Improvement Fund?

  • Treasurer Cropper at 34:52
  • Not all the funds in the permanent improvement fund are available for roofs.The Permanent Improvement Fund contains special cost centers, which are required by Board action or existing contracts to be spent on specific areas. Those funds cannot be used for unrelated capital projects. The available funds do not come close to covering the estimated cost of roof projects or overall facility needs.
    • $2,867,176 (Current Fund Balance 003)
    • -$524,371 (Outstanding Commitments for Future Projects)
    • -$811,926 (District Turf Funds)
    • -$138,019 (Titus Auditorium Funds)
    • $1,392,860 (Available Funds for All Permanent Improvement Needs)
  • Priority Maintenance Plan (Link)
    • Total for Roof Projects: $2,681,458
    • Total Estimated Cost for Future Project (including roofs): $12,082,344
  • Superintendent Hook added that the Permanent Improvement portion of the combination levy will be able to be used for any of the needs listed on the Priority Maintenance Plan.

Concerns about consolidation and rebuilding or replacing the Anderson pool. Is there a failsafe that guarantees the levy funds may only be used to fund "existing costs and educational programs" (the 5.4 mill operating levy), and "the district’s most urgent capital improvement needs to maintain the function and safety of our facilities" (1.5 mill permanent improvement levy),as stated in the " Levy and Taxes FAQ"?

  • Superintendent Hook at 38:30
  • This levy has been calculated to fund the current makeup of Forest Hills School District. This levy is expected to provide adequate funding for the current number of school buildings for a minimum of three years. I am not aware of any potential for these funds to be directed to other projects.

As a taxpayer I feel blindsided that our schools are in financial trouble. Mr. Hook you are NOT responsible but how did we get here?

  • Superintendent Hook at 39:49
  • We’re not the only district facing these challenges. It is not a question of mismanagement, it is a problem with school funding in Ohio.
  • Ohio law known as House Bill 920 also protects homeowners and residents from facing inflationary tax increases as property values increase. This means when property values increase, the effective tax rate in a district decreases because only the amount approved by voters can be collected. As a result, most school districts across the state ask voters for tax levies every few years in order to maintain normal operations.

Do my tax dollars go toward all of the signs, website and literature posted around town?

  • Treasurer Cropper at 41:57
  • No tax dollars are used for any political campaign purposes. All signs and literature advocating for passage of the levy are paid for by Citizens for Forest Hills. The school district website is used to provide factual information to the community and does not advocate a position on this ballot issue.

You've said that if the levy does not pass the district will cut costs by starting most school days earlier and increasing class sizes. Does that really make a difference? Can you speak to what effect those changes have on student learning and performance, based on your decades of experience as an educator?

  • Superintendent Hook at 42:55
  • These reductions will have an impact financially and will save the district significant money. But there is also a big impact on student learning, academic performance and emotional wellness.
  • Increased class sizes will naturally mean reduced one-on-one support from teachers and fewer personalized learning opportunities. 
  • There is research that indicates later middle and high school start times benefit student academic success and emotional wellness.

How has the state budget for public education changed in recent years and what effect has it had on the district's general fund? Has that had any effect, positive or negative, on the need for a levy?

  • Treasurer Cropper at 46:47
  • This year, the state provided only 26.5% of our General Fund budget, compared to 32% in FY 2019. The portion of state funding in our overall budget has gone down in recent years.

The last levy was passed [in 2019] with the primary goal of making repairs and updating systems. How can it be that everything is in disrepair within 4 years?

  • Superintendent Hook at 47:47
  • That was not the purpose of the 2019 levy. It was an operating levy that did not include any permanent improvement plans. The 2014 bond was the last time major improvements were planned at our buildings. It helped at the time, but Anderson’s roof was not included. There are other areas that need addressing now.

I've heard some people say that FHSD is "top heavy" with too many non-teacher administrators. What percentage of funds are spent on classroom instruction, and how does that compare to other similar districts throughout the region and state?

  • Treasurer Cropper at 49:39
  • FHSD spends a higher percentage of our funds directly on classroom instruction than the average school district in Ohio. (According to data from the Ohio School Report Cards)
    • Forest Hills 74.0%
    • Hamilton County Average 72.36% 
    • Ohio Average 68.1%

Are there any funds or plans set aside to add another resource officer to the district? Or plans to improve child safety going forward?

  • Superintendent Hook at 51:04
  • The state of Ohio recently awarded FHSD with $500,000 to make safety improvements. Starting this summer, we are increasing the security of our school entrances and improving video surveillance technology, in addition to other measures.
  • Governor DeWine recently discussed additional funding for School Resource Officers in the state budget. That piece is no longer included in the current version, but we are watching to see how the debates play out in Columbus this summer. We are looking at alternative funding opportunities to assist with the cost of additional SROs, but we need to be sure we can sustain this long-term.

The following questions were submitted for the Q&A, but were not able to be addressed during the livestream due to time constraints. FHSD is including them here along with brief answers to be transparent about what questions were asked. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions for the event.

With such a high percentage of funds spent on classroom instruction, is it easy to cut the budget without directly affecting students in the classroom?

  • No. Only 26% of FHSD’s budget is left toward non-classroom needs, such as facility maintenance and repairs, transportation, food services, administrative support and oversight, and other areas.
  • Only about 5% of our annual budget is discretionary, the rest are fixed costs that continue to rise due to inflation and other factors outside the district’s control.

Are we still voting in the regular place even though schools are in session on May 2?

  • Most of the FHSD schools are polling locations and will have signage outside to direct voters. Be sure to check for your polling location on the Hamilton County Board of Elections website in case they have made any adjustments this year.

Someone told me that passing the levy raises the district's annual revenue, but doesn't necessarily affect the cost per student. I don't understand this. Can you explain how higher revenue next year wouldn't mean more cost next year?  

  • If this levy passes, the district will build up reserves in the early years and use them in later years as operational costs rise due to inflation and other factors. For that reason, there may not be a significant impact on Cost Per Pupil.

The Ohio State legislature is discussing the budget, including possible increases in public education funding. Would an increase affect how much money we need for a levy? Would we still need future operating levies? 

  • This would not eliminate the need for future operating levies since it does not change the structure of school funding in Ohio.
  • It’s impossible to know what impact a change would have in the district’s need for a levy now, because nothing is finalized and it is subject to change every two years with the Governor’s biennial budget.

I've heard people claim that the levy will cost the average homeowner "thousands of dollars per year." Is that true? According to the county auditor's files the median home value in FHSD is $227,035, meaning that the auditor values half the homes in the district at or below that amount. How much would the levy cost a homeowner of a median-value home? (FHSD could not independently verify the information referenced in this question)

  • A home valued at $227,035 would pay approximately $45.70 per month in new taxes with this combination levy. That comes to approximately $548.43 per year. This calculation is based on the fact that a $100,000 home market value would be responsible for $20.13 per month in new taxes. FHSD encourages all homeowners to visit the Hamilton County Auditor’s website for the most accurate information:
    • Visit the Hamilton County Auditor's website.
    • Click "Property Search" on the left side of the page.
    • Search for your property by address or name.
    • Click the "Levy Information" link on the right side of your property page. The levy information tab now shows a projection of what the levy will cost in taxes on an annual basis for your property.

How does FHSD's effective tax rate compare to other districts in the region?

  • Hamilton County School District Average: 43.66 mills
  • Forest Hills School District: 38.89 mills

The county auditor is updating property appraisals here in 2023. Will those updates affect how much this levy costs for me (or was my cost locked in when the board put the levy on the ballot)?  

  • Answered above.

How does FHSD fare compared to other districts in the region and state in terms of total spending per student?

  • Based on the Ohio Department of Education’s calculation of Cost Per Pupil, which is contained in the Cupp Report, FHSD ranks 18 out of 22 Hamilton County School Districts. That means 17 other districts have a higher cost per pupil than FHSD. See the chart here.

All the mailings we receive say our schools have an excellent rating and the proficiency of students is wonderful. Taxpayers need transparency. So what is really true? (Previous question was about bad financial position).

  • Performance was addressed in the video presentation.
  • AHS and THS are in Top 5% of Ohio high schools (U.S. News and World Report)
  • Six “Hall of Fame” elementary schools (OAESA)
  • Best Communities for Music Education–just awarded AGAIN on Wednesday (National Association of Music Merchants)
  • District-wide PBIS recognition of excellence (Ohio PBIS Network)

The city of Cincinnati is talking about tax abatements and the effects on school funding. Does Forest Hills have tax abatements that take away from school funding?

  • This question requires additional research. An answer will be posted in this article when more details are gathered.