DDN Articles Support Notion That Kettering’s 4.9 Mill School Tax Will Fail

Two articles in today’s DDN give support to the notion that the 4.9 mill Kettering School levy probably will be rejected by Kettering voters in this coming November 2 election.

The first is a letter on the editorial page written by a Kettering resident, Barb Patrick. The letter is entitled, “Teacher Salaries Continue To Rise.”

Ms Patrick asks:

“Why is there never any mention of teacher salaries and benefits, which continue to rise on an annual basis? …  When Kettering Superintendent Schoenlein talks of salary freezes, he never mentions the automatic annual step increases enjoyed by teachers — not exactly a “freeze.”

In the recent Blue Ribbon Report, Dr. Schoenlein, in his letter to residents, manages to use the term “pay freeze” four times:

  1. Our Kettering teachers’ association voted to accept a pay freeze as a show of teamwork and understanding as we continue to work through difficult economic times here in our community, across the state and across the country,
  2. In the midst of this great academic news, everyone in the Kettering Schools is being asked to do more with less, and our Kettering teachers have taken this theme a step further, agreeing to accept a pay freeze for the 2011-2012 school year after receiving the lowest raises in 25 years in both 2008-2009 and 2209-2010 school years. (1.5% and 1.5%)
  3. Our Kettering teachers are highly trained professional educators who continue to produce great test scores in spite of budget cuts, staff reductions and rising class sizes. For them to take a pay freeze is monumental and speaks to their dedication to this school district and this community. No one could ask more of them.
  4. The school system has now been recognized as one of the best in the state and the teachers and administrators have agreed to take a pay freeze. I hope the citizens of this great community will appreciate the hard work and the conscientious efforts of the school system to provide a top quality education at a fair and reasonable cost.

Schoenlein really overdoes it — The teachers’ action was “monumental” — “No one could ask more of them.”

The problem is, the correct term is “pay scale freeze.”  The scale was frozen but the pay is not frozen.  As Ms Patrick pointed out in her letter, the pay scale, through frozen, calls for regular “step increases.”

The pay scale gives 70% of the teachers a pretty nice raise, of between 3% to 8%.  The pay scale shows how teachers gain pay increases for longevity as well as for additional training.  The teachers agreed that for the school year 2011-12, this scale would have no additional across the board increases.  The 2009-10 year and the 2010-11 both had 1.5% across the board increases.  It’s fair to say that the pay scale was frozen for 2011-12, but, it’s just plain inaccurate to substitute the term “pay freeze” for the correct term — “pay scale freeze.”

Dangerously, it seems to me, the effort to gain revenue for Kettering correctly is being seen by citizens as a campaign to sell — based on exaggerated claims — not a campaign to educate.

The second article in the DDN is a front page article entitled “No raise likely for Social Security recipients,” and explains that for the second year in a row, there will be no Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security.  Zero inflation, zero COLA.  I imagine the community, particularly in a time of economic recession, would support this COLA standard for teachers.  The community, I don’t think, is ready to describe the teachers’ approval of a pay scale freeze as, “monumental.”

There are many social security residents in Kettering, who are taking a real “pay freeze,” and this headline is a reminder that  passing new taxes in a time of recession would be a challenge under the best of circumstances.

If I were a board member, I would urge the superintendent to initiate quite a different strategy for the remainder of this levy campaign and to develop a presentation for the public that explains and justifies the teachers’ contract.  I would urge him to explain the logic of “step” increases, how the path of a teacher’s career has been established by contract by long tradition, how the contract shows an agreement and a path for a dedicated teacher to realize security and long term rewards. Kettering should be proud that it has policies that have always attracted and kept the best teachers, and the argument to the public should be that this system deserves support. But the argument should also encourage a general discussion about system structure and how the present system might be transformed to something much better.  At least, this is the type of forward looking discussion that a democratic school district should be having — particularly during a time of a publicly determined tax issue when the public is most likely to take a close look at their system of public education.

The controversy about the truthfulness of the claim of a teachers’ “pay freeze,” that Ms Patrick cites in her letter, undermines the confidence of the voters in the school district and helps motivate organized opposition to new taxes.  Controversy and organized opposition — combined with a tough economy that has caused a real “pay freeze” for the elderly — make me inclined to believe the Kettering levy likely will fail.

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One Response to DDN Articles Support Notion That Kettering’s 4.9 Mill School Tax Will Fail

  1. Eric says:

    Mike, the district is stuck with a negotiated agreement that specifies how to address budget shortfalls. The reduced levy amount forces negotiation of lower annual increases–about half that of the last decade.

    That’s a significant acknowledgement of community realities.

    Going forward, the district needs to be even more cost conscious and effective. The community should ask “how will you be improving the stewardship of public funds?” But right now, the district is threatening destructive cuts because that’s all they know to make. Smarter would be better, but a vote against the levy won’t suddenly make the board and administration smarter.

    Compared with Governor Strickland’s reforms (which prescribed all-day K and lower class sizes to improve Kettering schools), the district already looks pretty smart.

    So, don’t punish kids in Kettering. Deal with the underachievers in Columbus.

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