A Grim Reality for Lakota Employees: Life as they know it will change dramatically

As my readers here know, I love to read and write in the early morning—and occasionally I like to do these things outside so I can hear the birds. In fact many of you might wonder if I have some dire obsession with birds. But believe me, my relationship with them is one of mutual benefit. I put food out for them, and they in turn land on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. Some of these birds come directly from the Lakota School System and tell me things that are going on there, which I appreciate.

One such little bird landed on my shoulder the other day and tweeted a wonderful message that I found very interesting. It was a report that Lakota West is graduating 1000 students this year and is not replacing them with new students next year. In fact West Chester as a community lacks start-up oriented homes that most young people can purchase and will not be adding any students in the subsequent years and that this is a concern within the halls of Lakota Administration.

Most parents with school age children simply cannot afford the $250K homes that populate most of West Chester and Liberty Twp until they’ve invested in a starter home first to accumulate the down payment on a larger home off the value gained from their starter. But with real estate values flat lining due to the recent bubble that has burst all over the country, an investment in a starter home ($100K or less) is not happening. Compound that small fact with the reality that many young people are coming out of college without a high paying job to build a life with, and instead find themselves with over $50K in student loan debt and a job at a local fast food restaurant to pay their basic bills.

The Lakota School System and their minions of latté sipping levy advocates have thought and still do that anyone who opposes a school levy increase is the embodiment of an evil to them of the worst sort. What they haven’t accounted for was that levy fighters were always preparing for this day where the explosive growth that the teachers union salivated over in Liberty Twp and West Chester would bottom out, and the community would have to adjust if it wanted to remain successful. And driving up costs on businesses and per pupil costs in the classroom is a recipe for community failure. Just look at the Princeton School District, once considered the best in Cincinnati. Their per pupil costs are over $15K per student, because their expenses are tied up in high salaries established in the days of economic boom, which is now gone. Lakota, and Mason were the benefactors of Princeton’s decline and will experience the same cycle.

The values of many homes in the affluent communities of Lakota are tanking, not because the school is bad, or the fight over tax hikes scared away potential investors, it’s because there are not enough qualified candidates able to buy a $300K home at the start of their child rearing years. So to sell that $300K home, it might only be attractive to a new family who will only buy the home off foreclosure for $200K which pulls down the value of everyone’s homes. That’s very bad for all the families who bought homes expecting a 5% to 10% increase in their home values, because like their 401K’s, they will lose that perceived value. It’s guaranteed at this point, a reality that must be faced.

Lakota as a community must adjust if they want to stay great in the coming years and survive this next period of easy growth that the real estate agents who advocate on behalf of school levies drool over. They are of course upset because if you’re in real estate, it’s easy to sell a $300K home to a duel income professional family in their early 30’s and convince them to sign up for a $4000 yearly property tax bill because the money comes easy to these young parents and they are still kids themselves—and unsure of how they will perform as parents. So the knowledge that a school can fill that insecurity makes for an easy sale of an expensive home. But along the way, affordable homes were not built, so if those jobs went away for those young professional couples, then so would the ability to buy such large homes, and the market would dry up.

Liberty Twp—the little bird told me—has stabilized its growth, but it appears that Lakota will have to remap their district. There will soon be empty buildings in Lakota West because of the exodus of students and no young people to replace the graduating classes, so some of the students from Liberty Twp will have to be bused down to Lakota West buildings to fill their vacancies. This will create another problem that the union at Lakota will have to confront—there will be massive job losses at Lakota as there will not be a need to keep so many employees on staff.

Currently Lakota is staffed to handle 18,000 students, but that number could easily decline to under 15,000 students in just a few years as the community of West Chester is emerging into more retirement aged residents without children in the district. Lakota has acknowledged that their salary and benefit packages are comparable to our current Social Security models and are unsustainable. This is why they are hoping that the state of Ohio will change the way schools are funded, because with declining property values paying less tax, and fewer students enrolling, there is no reason to keep all the employees they have at Lakota. Paying an average salary of over $63K per year to fulfill their union contracts is just not feasible.

This is the reason for my anger at the school district and the blind advocates of more school levy increases–it’s their destructive short-sightedness and selfish imposition on the world around them. Even knowing this information as I write this, the superintendent is planning to propose another tax increase on the community for the fourth time, when the solution is right in front of her face. She will have to cut—much more deeply than they have even considered up to this point. They are going to have dramatically reduced student enrollment and will not be able to staff at the levels they currently are. And the reason we’ve fought so hard to keep taxes down for businesses and residents is because a successful community is not just built around a school system–it has to have jobs and services to sustain its population and remain attractive to homeowners even after their children have graduated.

As the little bird flew away and I watched the sun rise I realized how preposterous a levy increase would be now in 2012. A school simply doesn’t need $240 million to $155 million to operate per year when you’re losing 1000 students each year for the next 5 to 6 years. Even if Liberty Twp resumes construction of new homes it will not surpass the stoppage of building in West Chester that will be occupied by residents who no longer have children in the district, and young people cannot afford to buy these homes even if they wanted to. So Lakota will be dealing with declining enrollment every year for perhaps the next 20 years. They have seen their peak employment days and must now concentrate on being a great school with far less employees than they have now and in fewer buildings to maintain.

History will prove that is was now that our community decided whether or not to succeed or fail based on where we put our priorities. Because the math does not add up for a growing school district far into the future. The opposite is true, and the levy advocates at Lakota are in denial of these facts, which makes them dangerous. But they aren’t very dangerous if nobody listens to them, or their self-centered perception of the world. It is ironic that places of learning lack the ability to even grasp the mathematics of this situation to apply in the real world. But as the little bird said, Lakota is well aware of these problems. Lakota is simply in denial of the timeframe they have to react properly.

It will be interesting to see how Lakota attempts to glaze over these facts. I wonder if the newspapers will report these stories of decline, or will they just report what the superintendent utters in public relations controlled memos? Time will tell……………………….

Rich Hoffman