An Idea Whose Time Has Come: ShareOhio

Ohioans owe Auditor of State Dave Yost and his staff a round of applause for a new online innovation.  The Auditor of State (AOS) staff is going to implement an innovative web-based system to facilitate the sharing of equipment, personnel and facilities among local governments.  Using “ShareOhio” to facilitate the sharing of assets could start saving private citizens on their tax bills.  In 2012, the auditor’s Ohio Performance Team studied the utilization rates for capital equipment (think air compressors and backhoes) in Lake County.  They found that while some equipment was utilized heavily in each taxing jurisdiction within the county, other items were only used as little as once per month.  Local governments could save big money by sharing under-used equipment rather than each owning and maintaining an expensive machine themselves.  Other states such as Oregon and Rhode Island have successfully used these techniques.

However, problems existed:  some usage records were poorly maintained, and actually implementing a fluid sharing system could be tricky.  To that end, AOS drafted sample shared services contracts along with their study and built many useful capabilities into the website, www.shareohio.gov.  Now equipment can be tracked and inventoried and usage reports calculated online with a few clicks.

We encourage taxpayers to get onboard and make sure their local governments use this resource to the fullest extent.  As we have shown in our Joining Forces report, shared services have the potential for massive savings across the state and should be the first place local officials look instead of tax increases.

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First School Consolidation in Quarter of a Century Moves Forward

After flirting with the idea for decades and having recently arranged to share services, two Ohio school districts—Bettsville and Old Fort—have finally decided to tie the knot and consolidate.

Both districts are located in rural Seneca County and educate far fewer students than the state average of 2,640.  While Old Fort enrolled only 483 students in fiscal year 2014, Bettsville is the smallest district in Ohio, serving 156 students in grades K-12.  Further, while for Old Fort this represents a 14 percent decline over the past decade—not much worse than the state average of 8 percent—Bettsville has lost a crippling 34 percent of its student enrollment over the same period.  Such large declines obviously make running an entire school district for so few students an inefficient practice.

Along with major enrollment declines, Bettsville was struggling with severe budgetary problems.  In fiscal year 2013, their $600,000 deficit equaled approximately one third of their total revenues.  The district was placed under fiscal emergency on February 6, 2014, and a state audit estimated a $775,000 deficit for fiscal year 2014.  This forced Bettsville to take out a large loan from the state to remain solvent.

At this point talks of a merger with neighboring district Old Fort intensified, and the recently enacted section 3311.241 of the education MBR (House Bill 487) provided a saving grace.  Under the newly signed law, their debt to the School Solvency Assistance Fund would be forgiven if they were to voluntarily consolidate.  After talks with the community, the Bettsville Board of Education made the decision to do so for the coming 2014-2015 school year.

Although community members may be sad to see Bettsville Local Schools go, the consolidation is projected to save close to $400,000 per year and free up money for better course offerings and extracurricular activities.  Old Fort benefits because they will no longer have to renovate their old elementary school, as the old Bettsville elementary will now house grades K-6.

According to the Ohio School Boards Association, this is the first voluntary school consolidation Ohio has seen since 1989.  With several other districts facing enrollment decline and budget squeezes, expect HB 487 to spur more districts to follow suit in the near future.  In this instance, it seems they really are doing it for the children.

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Buckeye Institute Talks Current Tax Reforms and Need for More

Our Greg R. Lawson was on the past episode of the State of Ohio with host Karen Kasler and guest Dale Butland from Innovation Ohio discussing recent Ohio tax reforms.   The full video is below.

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Unemployment Rate at its Lowest in Seven Years, But Labor Force Sees Large Declines

The May 2014 Ohio By the Numbers report continues to show private sector job gains as well as a continuing drop in the unemployment rate.  Ohio’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is the lowest since April of 2007, before the beginning of the Great Recession. Ohio added 3,000 private sector jobs while dropping 100 government jobs in May.

Although the unemployment rate continues a significant downward trend, this change is largely the result of a large decline in Ohio’s labor force. In May, Ohio’s labor force declined by 14,293 people.  As The Buckeye Institute’s Labor Force report indicates, Ohio’s labor force has declined by over 10,000 for three straight months and lost nearly 31,000 people since January.

In line with the shrinking labor force, Ohio’s labor force participation rate also continues to slip. The participation rate was 63.8 percent in May 2013, but is 63.0 percent this May.  This reduction was caused by a 44,000 May-to-May loss of people participating in the labor force, despite the working age population growing by 45,000 people over the same time period.

It should be pointed out that a low labor force participation rate is a national phenomenon.  In fact, Ohio’s May labor force participation rate is slightly above a 36 year low national rate of 62.8 percent.

For a full Labor Force update, click here.

Overall highlights from the report:

  • Ohio gained 3,000 private sector and lost 100 government jobs in May;
  • Ohio ranked 26th nationally in private sector job growth since January 2010, growing at a 7.6 percent rate;
  • Ohio currently ranks 47th nationally for private sector job growth since January of 1990, growing at 10.1 percent (top-ranked Nevada grew 98.7 percent over the same time span).

Within individual industry sectors, Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Leisure and Hospitality continue to employ more people today than in either 1990 or 2000.  Meanwhile, Mining and Logging, Construction, Manufacturing, and Information sectors have fewer jobs today than in 1990 or 2000.

Between 1990 and January 2012, Worker Freedom states’ private sector jobs grew at a 38 percent rate vs. only 14 percent for Forced Union states (11.8 million vs. 8 million).  Since Indiana became a Worker Freedom state in February 2012, Worker Freedom states’ private sector jobs grew at a rate of 5.4 percent vs. 4.2 percent for Forced Union states.

For the full report, please click here.

 

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Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt Talks About Jonah Goldberg, Iraq and Free Markets

The Buckeye Institute’s President, Robert Alt, was on the 11th Hour with Jim McIntyre this past Friday.  They discuss the Buckeye Institute, our upcoming event with Jonah Goldberg on June 24 with the Ashbrook Center and the National Review Institute, as well as Robert’s time as an embedded war correspondent in Iraq.

Listen to the full interview below.

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Buckeye Institute Talks “Green Energy” Freeze on State of Ohio

Our Greg R. Lawson was on the past episode of the State of Ohio with host Karen Kasler and guest Dale Butland from Innovation Ohio discussing multiple issues.   Discussions on tax policy air this Friday, but last week, Lawson and Butland discussed Senate Bill 310 and the freeze on Ohio’s renewable energy portfolio.  Exchange begins around the 21 minute mark.

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New Study: Cleveland and Columbus Teacher Absences Top Most Urban Areas

If eighty percent of success is showing up, public school teachers in Cleveland and Columbus are not making the grade.  Embedded in a report released by the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is a startling statistic: Cleveland and Columbus have two of the highest average number of teacher absences in the nation.

With an average of 15.6 missed days a year, teachers in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District more than doubled the average of 6.1 days found in Indianapolis.  The Columbus City School District did not fare much better, with an average of 14.8 days per year.  There was a total average of 11 days missed among the districts supplying information for the report, 40 of the 50 largest districts in the nation.

To put these numbers in perspective, the absence rate for all full time wage and salary workers is 2.9 percent. Furthermore, an Ohio student can be classified as a chronic truant after missing 15 school days.  A classification of chronic truancy can result in a suspended driver’s license for the student and a criminal charge for his or her parent or guardian.

The high average number of teacher absences underscores problems Cleveland and Columbus have with “chronically absent” teachers.  A “chronically absent” teacher is defined by the report as a teacher with 18 or more absences.  Six districts studied by the report had a “chronically absent” teacher rate of 25 percent of more.  In Cleveland and Columbus, the second and third worst districts on this metric, 33.81 percent and 32.03 percent of teachers, respectively, missed 18 or more days of school.  Only Buffalo, New York, at a whopping 36.82 percent, performed worse.  By contrast, Cincinnati’s “chronically absent” rate was only 14.12 percent, less than half of its Ohio peers.

High rates of absence can affect both student achievement and school funds.  As the report observes,

“When teachers are absent 10 days, the decrease in student achievement is equivalent to the difference between having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years more experience.”

Furthermore,

“The 40 districts included in this analysis spent approximately $424 million combined on substitutes in 2012-2013, not factoring in the time and resources spent recruiting, training, and securing substitutes.”

These findings are consistent with an earlier report issued by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which estimated the cost of teacher absence to be “a minimum of $4 billion annually.”  The Center for American Progress report also found this issue to be much more prevalent in public schools, where teachers were absent “more than 10 times per year at a rate more than 15 percent higher than in charter schools.”

The NCTQ report is careful not to draw overly broad conclusions, but two findings should trouble defenders of the public education status quo in Ohio.  First, the rate of poverty did not have a statistically significant effect on teacher absence.  Second, the current district incentive programs to ensure teacher attendance do not appear to be particularly effective and need to be re-examined.

There is no reason to attack the public school teachers in Cleveland and Columbus for their excessive absenteeism, but there is reason to raise fundamental questions about how public education is viewed in Ohio.  The endless demands for taxpayer dollars for school funding are often presented as vital investments in the future of the state.  In fact, over the past two years, both Cleveland and Columbus have asked voters to add even more money to already high-spending districts through the approval of gargantuan property tax levies.  Taxpayers must ask whether their investment will be used appropriately and wisely.  Will the additional funds help to achieve the desired results?  Or is there a deeper more systemic problem that requires reform?  Is it time to evaluate whether Cleveland and Columbus teachers can actually succeed in educating the cities’ children without showing up.

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