Commentary: West Clermont Levy Failure A Failure of Leadership?

(Editor’s Note: This is a commentary on West Clermont Schools by community member Stuart Kennedy. The piece is unedited except for two small spelling changes and has been published in its entirety. If you have an article you wish to publish, send an email to scschools@yahoo.com.)

 

The West Clermont School Levy failed to pass by a 60/40 vote.  This was no surprise since the prior two 7.9 mill levies also failed by a 60/40 vote.  The school board met the day after the election to discuss their options to handle the over $2,000,000 deficit this school year and the projected $6,000,000 deficit next year.

Many options were discussed but one obvious solution seemed taboo and was never given serious consideration by the board even though it was suggested during the public comment portion of the meeting.  Cut salaries and benefits by an equal percentage for all staff – administration and teachers.  Salaries and benefits account for more than 70% of West Clermont’s budget (over $47,000,000 per year).  How do you have a serious discussion about cutting costs without even considering the largest single cost component in the budget?  Sure West Clermont has shown their labor costs are comparable or less than other than districts.  Great talking point but that does not fix the deficit.  What other districts spend does not fix our budget.

The teacher contract for next year will be negotiated this spring. The timing is perfect to put a solution in place.  Of course administration would need to participate in a reduction and should take the cut prior to the contract discussions as an act of leadership.  A 13% cut of salaries and benefits will fix the deficit.  Fiscal emergency avoided and no additional teachers would be laid off.  Who does not know someone in today’s economy that has not had to take a pay cut to remain employed?  Perhaps we should round-up to 15% and try to bring back teachers for the music, art and gym.   I suggest that if administration and staff took at least a 10% cut, the community likely would support a smaller levy to make up the difference.

Will we lose some of the teachers and staff if their pay and benefits are cut?  Yes.  But, there a many teachers who have been laid off by local school districts that would likely be very happy to have employment back at 85% of their prior income.  It sure beats 0% of their prior income.  We would be fully staffed by qualified teachers when school begins in August.

If the school board does not do their job and put a solution in place, the state will come in and make whatever cuts are necessary.  These cuts could include further staff reductions of 50 teachers or more.  Which is better – keep our teacher count flat but pay them slightly less or cut another 50 teachers?

Please contact the school board if you support this idea.  Otherwise, they may take the easy route and do nothing and let the state be the bad guy when dealing with the deficit.  If the state comes in, it is evidence the board failed or was unwilling to perform their duty to balance the budget.

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4 comments on “Commentary: West Clermont Levy Failure A Failure of Leadership?

  1. Hopefully the community is reading what is said here. It is time for a wake up call and let the school board know that a solution is mandatory. I will be contacting the school board!

  2. I read this same article posted online by the Clermont County Journal and the Clermont County Tea Party blog. It is interesting, but short sited.
    I agree with you that if teacher pay would be cut by 10-15% the school district would be able to fill their teaching positions. But the question that needs to be asked is, then what?
    Some teachers will stick around because 1. They can’t find a better paying job. 2. They are unwilling to take the risk of taking a new job. 3. They have a calling to work in West Clermont.
    However many teachers will leave because experienced teachers with good reputations will find jobs in districts near by that offer higher pay and better benefits. Your statement about many teachers being laid off is naive. Some teacher have been laid off, but many of those teachers have found teaching jobs in other districts. Just look at previous board meeting minutes for proof of people turning down being rehired after being laid off by WC. Also there is still a strong demand for teachers with specific certifications in math, science, middle school, special education and some other high school subjects.
    But like I said, I agree WC will be able to fill their teaching positions. But the teachers will be much less experienced with a high transiency rate. Inexperienced teachers will graduate from college and cut their teeth on WC students and then move on to other school districts. There is a drastic difference in effectiveness between a teacher with 0 years of experience and a teacher with 3 years of experience. WC will become a training ground for teachers, and will take the districts investment to other school districts after a few years.
    Another question that must be asked is, what happens in 2 years? Are you going to ask the teachers to take another pay cut when the district is once again in a financial bind. Your proposal balances next year’s budget. What happens when 2-3% (1.5 million dollars?)inflation causes the budget to increase the following year? What happens if the state cuts education funding to WC again? Your proposal at most is a one year Bandaid.
    Another question that must be asked is, would this proposal crate a stronger WC community? Would it make people want to move to WC? Many families would not want to move to a school district where their children are perpetually taught by first year teachers. That would leave the district with 1. people who do not have children 2. people who have children but are drawn to the low property values of WC. The income of the citizens of WC will continue to stagnate (or decline) and social issues will further creep into the district causing all sorts of unattended consequences.

    • James,

      You are correct it was posted elsewhere, but the Journal is not as well read anymore.

      The author has a point that perhaps the salaries and benefits deserve a look. Not only teaching staff, but the administrators should have the first round for the benefits they are given by the board. The pension pickups are not necessary, as the community already pays the other 14%. That alone would save well over $500K per year I’m told. The step increases are between 4 and 5% per year, except for those with the most experience, when the steps pause. The columns and steps may very well go by the wayside in 2014, but that model hasn’t been broached yet beyond simple discussions. WC’s benefits are the highest in the county, so it’s not like that couldn’t be addressed either. It doesn’t have to be 10-15%, but that’s where the math balances the deficit immediately and I would assume the reason for addressing it in that fasion.

      You are correct that many staff members will try to go elsewhere if they can (econ 101), as many parents have done the same with their kids already. In fact, the large majority of hires recently have been teachers of less than 5 years experience so your forecast is a bit late. WC is the 3rd highest paying district in the county (avg salary per teacher), just a few dollars below Milford, but also was the only district that averaged single digit experience levels (avg of 7 years). A case could be made that WC actually overpays for their experience and the educational outcomes. As long as there are contracts with groups and not individuals, the disparity in ability and outcomes will be there, just as with students in the classroom. There are staff that deserve more and some that deserve less, but the contract is what it is and was agreed upon until July 2013. It’s up to those bargaining units to figure it out, and make a decision to what’s in the best interest of the group going forward. The community has done the same, and so far it hasn’t worked out well and perhaps it’s time for a different strategy. Yes?

      So what to do about it? Paying teachers more won’t draw kids to the district or help the budget, and paying less won’t draw teachers except for those than cannot find work or have little experience. The current administration doesn’t think it has a spending problem, yet the public thinks it does. The current administration blames school funding, but given the progressive model of taxation and funding, those schools with the least have the most to gain and vice versa. In this model, WC loses and will continue to lose until it is “more poor or diverse” in the eyes of the state. Basically, those wanting the funding changed, want someone ELSE to pay for their kids or expect the state to somehow come up with extra billions of dollars to fund one portion of a budget that is barely balanced. In the end, we end up paying for our kids and someone else’s whether or not they are in our town or the next town. Whether the state, feds or local taxes “pays for it”, we all pay in the long run and our credit cards are maxed out.

      The state is run by political wanderers who have no incentive other than to get to the next budget. The feds are the same, just less interested in what happens in our state and have not produced a budget in 4 years. The local admins loaded up additional perks before the 2011 levy and the prior contract only focused on wage freeze (not to steps or columns mind you) when many local districts were preparing for deeper cuts with their contracts. Are you asking these groups to fix the problem? They are the problem!

      There is much more to come on ways to come to a reasonable solution, but instead of knocking the author’s suggestion, I ask that you provide details to what you think is reasonable. Should the benefits be more like Milford’s at 85/15% split or HSA/High Deductable plans? Would a 2% YOY increase with bonuses for achievement and education be acceptible if it prevented layoffs? Would these cuts work if the community was willing to increase revenue to match? I have no idea, but none of this is openly discussed. Partly because the bargaining units would have to agree to make it public, but then again, transparency is not a focus of this group. A long reaching agreement between community, staff and parents/kids would be nice, but the listening sessions are not the approach. The people that need to be reached are those who are not willing participants in the process, and those individuals will be needed for any of this to occur because they vote too. Those overtures will require a large helping of humble pie, and I’m not sure that is ever going to happen. There is middle ground, but the uncertainty of all finances over the next few years may very well make it a moot point.

      Please feel free to post more ideas or comments. Every stone should be unturned. Thanks.

    • ” It is interesting, but short sited.”

      Yes it is, but not for the reasons you have provided. It would seem from what I have read, seen and have been told there are two many Chiefs and not enough Indians. No one really knows who does what for whom and district does not have a organizational for chart. Any organization of this size must have a true chart in order to properly understand the duties and responsibilities of the employees. Al gave a lame excuse for not having one, as expected he will not produce one. Either he is incapable or knows if one is produced it will be a surprise to many people how much layering there is at WCSD.

      This district is over loaded and top down, and it needs to be a bottom up for the children to get full advantage of what the district has to offer. It is very clear the current administration needs to go. Until this happens there will be no levy passed. The district has lost the trust of the tax payers. Till a true professional from out of the district takes over and produces a flow chart and looks at true costs it is a bit soon to be asking teachers for pay cuts. Perhaps it is time to look at making the district non-union such as Madeira. Then once we know true costs and expenses we can pay teachers based on value not just for years served.

      What is short sited is the notion that new teachers do not bring something to the table. Many of these new teachers bring skills the older teachers either do not understand or don not wish to use in the teaching of our children. With a change to the steps and evaluation process older teachers that are producing can be rewarded and will stay in the district. Other older and younger non preforming teachers can either improve or move on as they see fit. Unless the proactive administration wishes them to move on without their choice. There is no reason a gym teacher with 20 years should be paid the same as a math and science teacher with 20 years if they are providing quality education. Frankly children need skills when looking for a job and I would rather invest in quality math and science teachers and less in gym teachers. Skills are what is needed for jobs.

      Teachers would be evaluated by a combination of peers and administrators and BOE input every 1 to 3 years. Good teachers would be paid top dollar other would be paid accordingly. WCSD can no longer afford the nepotism and back slapping good old boys network that is pervasive in Clermont county. We owe major changes to the children and to the people paying the bills. It is time for bold changes in the WCSD and it has to start with a fresh BOE. It is clear most of the current people do not have the children or the tax payers best interest in how the district is now being run.

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