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Board questioned on annual pay raises
The South-Western City Schools Board of Education was questioned on its vote to eliminate extracurricular activities and high school busing, while district employees receive annual pay increases.
Certified accountant and district resident Cindy Legue requested documents from the district and found that employees will get $2.1 million in pay raises this year.
“The district has gotten a lot of publicity about employees accepting base pay freezes this year. However, the freezes on pay raises only involve base pay. They don’t affect the so-called step increases,” Legue said at the Oct. 12 board meeting.
Employees receive step increases each year. District Treasurer Hugh Garside said the state adopted a measure that would require all school districts in Ohio to offer step increases. However, there is no set amount.
Superintendent Bill Wise said, “When looking at step increases, it is important to note that not all employees are included.”
Legue said it is disappointing that board members and administrators continue to cut opportunities for students, while employees still receive pay raises.
“Administrators should set the example through sacrifice, but just the opposite has happened in South-Western,” Legue remarked.
The resident also asked why it took two failed levy attempts before salary freezes were implemented. The district began making budget cuts in 2006.
“That’s three years,” said Legue. “Why didn’t this administration freeze pay raises back in 2006?”
Legue and Grove City resident Bob Ruth also said health benefits for employees should have been renegotiated before making cuts affecting the students. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the two residents found that the district offers free vision and dental insurance premiums for all employees as well as free health insurance premiums for those with single employee coverage – nearly 64 percent of employees. The co-pay for doctor visits, including specialists, is $10 and the coverage includes 100 percent of the cost for in-patient hospital stays, outpatient surgery and X-rays.
“This administration has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars and cost students opportunities,” said Legue.
Board member Randy Reisling said the insurance committee is reviewing health care coverage for employees. The committee includes representatives from several unions including the teachers and administrators union.
“We have heard the call that something needed to be done,” said Reisling.
Wise explained that the district has changed insurance plans six times over the past three years. He also said they have raised the deductible by $2.5 million over the past four years.
The superintendent said, despite what some may think, health care coverage for employees has been affected by the budget cuts.
South-Western spends 20.20 percent of its operating expenditures on fringe benefits, the fifth highest in Franklin County. The state average is 20.86 percent.
More public input
At the meeting, board members listened to public participation for over an hour. Most were on hand to speak in favor of the tax levy that will be on the ballot Nov. 3.
Sam Clark, a 2005 graduate of Grove City High School, asked community members to think back to high school and imagine it without sports and extracurricular activities.
“Think about your high school experience and how it shaped who you have become,” said Clark.
Tom Winslow, a PTA member at West Franklin, said he could not believe people were questioning teacher salaries.
“Really? This is the first time I’ve heard teachers are overpaid,” Winslow remarked.
He compared voting no to signing up for a high-interest credit card.
“You save some now, but you’re going to pay in the long run,” said Winslow.
Still, others oppose the property tax increase and believe the district needs to make due with what they have.
Terry Jones, leader of an opposition group, said it is not fair to ask community members to pay for the salaries of district employees.
According to the district, the average administrator makes over $84,000 per year. Jones said the average resident in the district does not even make half that. He said with the current economy, residents are taxed enough. They cannot afford another increase on property taxes.
The permanent 7.4-mill operating levy would generate $18 million for the district. It would cost $227 per year, or $18 per month, for each $100,000 in property valuation.
This is the fourth time the district has had a levy on the ballot in a year.
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