Bringing the district back together
Residents in the South-Western City Schools District believe, now that the levy has passed, it is time to bring the community together and move forward.
At the Nov. 16 meeting, held at Central Crossing High School, numerous residents addressed the board of education. Some encouraged others to move on and focus on the state funding problem; others said it is time for citizens to scrutinize district spending.
District resident and accountant, Cindy Legue, said residents voted for the levy to get extracurricular activities back.
“They did not vote for raises for the employees,” said Legue.
She said the board should implement a two-year salary freeze, including step increases.
“If the board and administration cannot negotiate tough with the unions, we need to find someone who can,” said Legue. “You (the board) need to manage the district like it’s your own personal budget.”
Based on a recent five-year forecast, presented by Treasurer Hugh Garside, 81 percent of total district expenditures go towards salaries and benefits. Garside said this is common in school districts.
Garside explained that in 2010, the district would spend about $114 million on salaries, but that is a $2.4 million decrease since 2006. In the past three years, the district has eliminated over 300 positions.
The forecast predicts employee salaries increasing over the next five years due to step increases, which is mandated by the state. Some employees receive the step increases each year, however there is no set amount. The district has factored in a 2 percent pay increase for employees after next year.
Resident Bob Ruth suggested the board increase instructional positions, eliminate the pay-to-participate fee and freeze salaries.
“The voters don’t want to increase already generous benefits and salaries,” said Ruth.
He said teachers and administrators always say their primary focus is on the students.
“It is time for administrators and teachers to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” Ruth exclaimed.
According to Garside, the district is slated to save about $2.5 million over the next four years as the district makes changes to employee health insurance policies. Salaries and benefits in South-Western fall in line with what other districts in Franklin County offer.
Resident Amy Dawson said the divided community should heal its wounds and work together for state funding reform.
Over a decade ago, the Supreme Court ruled the way the state of Ohio funded education unconstitutional. Dawson wants to know why the state is still allowed to operate under an unconstitutional system.
“What if all the yes voters and no voters came together to reform state funding?” she asked.
Dawson said residents should stop blaming others and start contacting elected officials to address education reform.
Parent Mike Scott said since the levy passed, he has seen a “rebirth.”
“It has been a long, emotional and exhausting road, but the kids have joy again,” he noted.
He said passage of the levy would give the students something to strive for, now that the board has implemented pay-to-participate.
After the levy failed in August, the board decided to cut extracurricular activities and save $3.5 million. They promised to bring back extracurricular activities, with a pay system, if voters approved this latest levy.
Deputy Superintendent Phil Warner said all the athletic teams have their coaches back and the schedules are in place, though they may have to make adjustments for the non-conference games.
Warner also reported that the recreation centers are open again and building request forms are being processed. Busing routes have been reassembled and should be operational on Nov. 30.