The City Council’s Hands Off Approach Is Misguided

At the November 18 meeting of the City Council, City Attorney Charlie Waldrep (hired in November 2012 for a then-reported flat fee of $660,000 per year) cited case law from 1966, Day v. Andrews, in his advice to the Council to not stay and listen to a report commissioned by Councilman Gene Smith (acting in his capacity as a private citizen and using his own $30,000 as funding for the report) regarding how eliminating school buses may impact the city of Hoover.

From the November 18, al.com report:

Waldrep said it was inappropriate for the council to discuss the matter during an official council meeting because the council is not supposed to interfere with or influence the activities of the Hoover Board of Education and this is a decision for the school board to make.

He said if three or fewer council members wanted to stay and hear the report and discuss it as individuals, that would be OK. But a quorum of council members would be an official meeting, and he believed it would be inappropriate for the council to discuss it as a body.

At that point, all but two Council members left. John Lyda, elected in November 2012, and Gene Smith (who commissioned the report as a private citizen) stayed.

The case Waldrep cited had nothing to do with the issue at hand. Nothing.

The 1966 case  involved a Council-appointed Board of Education (BOE) from Daleville that fired its superintendent and was about to hire a new one. Apparently the Council wasn’t pleased with the firing of the superintendent. The Mayor had a policeman deliver a letter to a board member demanding his resignation. A lawsuit was filed to keep the Mayor from removing the board member.

The Court ruled that the Mayor nor the Council could remove an appointed Board member unless it was for a reason the law allowed.

This case says NOTHING about a City Council and a Board of Education having conversations and sharing information about what is best for the school system in their city.

This case says NOTHING about a City Council meeting with citizens to discuss school district difficulties.

Yet Council members are hiding behind Waldrep’s misguided advice to avoid their duty to ensure our city and our school system stay strong.

The Superintendent’s Conception of the Next Planning Committee

After years of passing budgets where spending outpaced revenues, Hoover Superintendent Andy Craig announced plans to put together a committee to determine what Hoover folks value to direct future spending.

Because value always outweighs need, right?

Here is your Hoover Superintendent explaining the process.

Note: ZONING is part of the discussion. Stay tuned.

Who Pays Property Taxes in Hoover?

The simple answer: everyone who LIVES in Hoover. People who own homes and people who rent apartments.

Who doesn’t pay property tax? People who do not live in Hoover, which includes all of the teachers and other employees who are allowed to bring their children to Hoover to be educated in Hoover schools without the burden of paying property tax to support their education.

At the January 9 Board of Education (BOE) meeting, during the public participation section, a parent of children in Hoover City Schools stepped forward to express that while she was for saving the buses, she is not in any way for free buses. She believed that those who did not pay property tax in Hoover should not have access to free buses.

She did not agree with “the cuts” she read about (presumably in this article, though the budget group was clear that no cuts were being recommended, only that all spending should be reviewed) and she did not want the schools to be “dumbed down” to provide free buses.

She argued that, because she already pays a lot of money in property taxes (though less than pretty much anywhere else in the country, mentioned here as well), she did not want to pay more in property tax to pay for buses for other people’s children. She was okay with a fee because a fee would go away when her children no longer needed to access the buses.

Her ability to pay a fee is certainly helpful, though we believe fees would create hardship for the families of the nearly 4,000 children in Hoover City Schools eligible for free or reduced lunches. In addition, it is likely that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would ensure that reduced fees would be available for families whose children are eligible for free or reduced lunches, thus leaving it to those with more resources with the burden of a larger payment. We will address fees for buses in more detail in a future post.

So remember: All families who live in Hoover pay property tax, including people living in apartments.

And in fact, apartment owners are assessed property tax at twice the rate of homeowners.

Here is the bullet-point version:

  • Homeowners are assessed property tax based on 10% of the value.
  • Apartment owners are assessed property tax based on 20% of their value.
  • Apartment owners pass along the cost of property to all renters (which means the renters pay property tax indirectly through their landlords).
  • All homeowners and apartment renters pay property tax whether they have children in school or not.

The only people attending Hoover schools that do not pay property tax are Hoover City Schools employees’ children who do not live in the city limits of Hoover. Their children attend Hoover schools at an approximate cost to Hoover taxpayers of $4,000 per year per child. State and federal money follows the child to Hoover regardless of where the family lives, but the family pays no local property tax, which is why Hoover has the “extras” everyone appreciates and doesn’t want to lose.

The number of children attending Hoover schools without their families’ paying local property tax has been estimated to be between 250 and 500 children. Hoover school officials have never provided an official count to the public. [A public information request was submitted on January 10 asking for that information.]

Remember: All families who live in homes or rent apartments in Hoover pay local property tax.

Why Are They Still Trying to Control How We Access Our Board of Education?

At the January 9 Regular Hoover Board of Education (BOE) meeting, there was, once again, an attempt to control how the public addressed the Board of Education during the Public Participation portion of the meeting. It was a bit more physical than recent attempts.

Why does the 5-member appointed Board of Education continue to attempt to control the public it serves rather than engage in the dialogue the public seeks?

(In case you need to jog your memory…..here, here, here, and here is documentation of the Hoover BOE’s attempt to silence the public since they decided, in a 4-1 vote, to eliminate buses last July.)

We Do NOT Have 100 Fewer Teachers Than We Did 5 Years Ago

When Superintendent Andy Craig issued this memo on July 15, 2013, in his attempt to defend eliminating buses, the Urban Legend stating “Hoover has 110 fewer teachers than we did five years ago” was born.

The Urban Legend was repeated once again at the January 9 Hoover Board of Education (BOE) meeting by BOE member Earl Cooper.

That statement is inaccurate.

The actual statement from the July 15 memo is shown below:

ZOOM District Announcement on July 15 from Website

The key phrase is “on a per student basis”. Want that explained a little further?

Here are the numbers broken down showing exactly how many teachers and other employees have been employed within Hoover City Schools since FY04 (October 1, 2003, to September 30, 2004). A whole lot of numbers are on this chart. Click on it to make it larger.

Personnel FY04 through FY14

In FY08, at the peak of school funding, the student-teacher ratio was 12.93 to 1, meaning that Hoover employed one teacher for every 12.93 students. In FY08, Hoover employed 959 teachers, and 12,397 students were enrolled.

In FY13 (the year we were in when Craig wrote the memo), the student-teacher ratio was 14.38 to 1, meaning that Hoover employed one teacher for every 14.38 students. In FY13, Hoover employed 952.9 teachers, and 13,703 students were enrolled.

Craig reasoned that IF the student-teacher ratio was still 12.93 to 1 as it was in FY08, Hoover should have 1,060 teachers employed (13,703 students divided by 12.93). 1,060 minus 952.9 equals 107.

We never employed those teachers. You can’t have fewer of something you never had in the first place.

In real numbers, in FY13, we employed 6.1 fewer teachers than we did five years ago. 

In real numbers, in FY14, we employ 15.75 more teachers than we did in FY08.

And, while you’re digesting numbers, in real numbers, the FY14 budget claims we employ 1814.64 people, but the LEAPS report (the report school officials must file with the Alabama State Department of Education, here’s the certified and the non-certified number of employees as of November 2013) shows we employ 1859.42 people, which is 44.78 people higher than we were told in September 2013. Was the budget accurate?

Again, we never employed those 100 teachers we supposedly lost. Let’s be sure we are repeating facts when we speak of Hoover’s financial challenges. The future of our school community is too important to repeat misinformation.

Couldn’t help but be reminded of this phrase. Never knew it was attributed to football player Don Meredith.

Ifs and Buts

Let’s Solve This! Suggestions to Consider

The Let’s Solve This! Budget Group met on four separate occasions, spending 200 man-hours pouring over financial documents and engaging in discussion about the way school officials in Hoover spend public money. We originally planned to present suggestions to consider at the December 9 Hoover Board of Education (BOE) meeting. However, when the BOE reversed its decision to eliminate buses, we chose to wait until after the holidays to share this information.

Each of these suggestions is backed up with financial information and sound reasoning. We will provide this information and reasoning over the following weeks, allowing you to better understand and offer your thoughts and input about these expenditures and policies within Hoover City Schools.

It is clear that the BOE cannot continue to pass multi-million-dollar-deficit budgets. The money will simply eventually run out.

Here is an overview of the information we will share in the coming weeks. It is important to understand that no one is suggesting anything concrete, but that the full set of numbers and considerations must be on the table.

As always, we welcome dialogue through the Facebook page. In addition, we will hold a series of public meetings in the coming weeks and months to allow the larger community an opportunity to gain a better understanding of school finance and how monetary decisions affect the long-term health of our school system.

We can solve this. Together.