Kettering’s Misinformation About Teachers’ “Pay Freeze” Empowers Opposition To 4.9 Mill Tax Increase

Kettering Schools has a 4.9 mill tax levy on the November 2 ballot. Last night, I attended a community meeting concerning the levy — held at J.E. Prass Elementary School — the last of nine meetings conducted by Superintendent Jim Schoenlein and Treasurer Steve Clark.

I videotaped the presentations, but they did not differ in substance from what I recorded from the first community meeting, held September 21, that I posted here.

During the discussion period, I emphasized that in my judgment the levy campaign’s false claim that teachers and administrators agreed to a “pay freeze” was causing a big erosion of public trust in Kettering School leadership, and that mistrust would lead to opposition to the levy. I repeated points I made in this post, and I reminded Dr. Schoenlein that he had used the term “pay freeze” four times in his article in the Blue Ribbon Report and that no where — on the district’s web-site or in any levy literature — had I found the term explained. (Since the meeting, I found this partial explanation, at a site hosted by the levy committee. But the explanation fails to tell the magnitude of the step increases — how many teachers or administrators generally receive “step” increases,  the dollar amount of a step increases, or the total cost of these increases. At this site I was surprised to see posted my you-tube of Dr. Schoenlein from the first community meeting.)

I pointed out that social security recipients have a real “pay freeze.” But, Kettering teachers and administrators have automatic “step” pay increases. Last year’s data indicated 65% of teachers got a longevity step increase and, that percentage is probably fairly consistent.  Teachers also may gain training step increases for acquiring additional graduate hours, but the number of teachers who qualify each year is not available.

I asked Mr. Clark how much the “step” increases for teachers cost for one year and his estimate was about $1 million. It is amazing that the district can claim that teachers will have a pay freeze and at the same time acknowledge that, regardless of such a freeze, pay increases for teachers will amount to $1 million.

I also asked Dr. Schoenlein to explain his comment in the Blue Ribbon Report that teachers had agreed to “pay more of their own health insurance.” As I explained — “Kettering Superintendent’s Claim About Teachers Paying More For Health Insurance Is Misleading” — and, in the meeting, Dr. Schoenlein explained a definition of “paying more” that a reader of the Blue Ribbon Report would not expect: receiving less money is equivalent to “paying more.”

After the meeting, I spoke briefly with Jim Brown, who, along with me, last year challenged the three incumbents running for reelection and who was elected, replacing Frank Maus. I hadn’t seen Jim since last year and I told him that I had to be frank with him, that I was disappointed that, as the newly elected board member, he hadn’t taken a stand against advertising a “pay freeze” — which, to me, seems a deliberate strategy to mislead the public. I later regretted speaking to him in such a manner. At this late date, what was the point? If I am to have any chance to be a positive influence on Kettering public education, as I spoke of last year, I need to generate positive rapport with school and community leaders who may be like minded.

I was really sort of flabbergasted last year, in the 6.9 mill renewal campaign, that the Kettering Board was so deliberate in their strategy of misinformation that I made a formal complaint to the Ohio Election Commission. The board’s willingness to mislead voters in order to pass a levy was what pushed me into seeking election to the board, and as I explain in this you-tube of my comments at the public forum in last year’s election, the effort to misrepresent caused me to lose trust in the leadership of Kettering Schools.

During the meeting, Ashley Webb, who was elected to the Kettering City Council last year in a very competitive race, indicated that he felt that there needs to be changes in policy in the school district to more align the compensation and benefits of the public employees to those of employees in the private sector. And, he seemed to agree with my point that a levy campaign of misinformation is inappropriate and unwise. But, he said, regardless, he hoped that citizens would support the levy. He said he was impressed with the action of cutting costs that resulted in reducing the levy by 2 mills, from 6.9 mills to 4.9 mills, after the May defeat.

One man asked if the benefit package received by administrators was different from that received by teachers. In response, both Dr. Schoenlein and Mr. Clark indicated that the benefit package of teachers and administrators in Kettering is about the same. The superintendent and the treasurer, evidently, both forgot. But I reminded them of the fact that in terms of retirement benefits there is a big difference. The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) collects a huge amount of money — 24% of the gross salary of teachers and administrators. In Kettering, of this 24%, teachers pay 10%, but administrators pay nothing. An administrator making $100,000, in effect, has a $10,000 bonus.

Dr. Schoenlein’s response was that other districts also pay all of the administrators’ STRS amount.

It is hard to gauge, but I would guess if it was up to those in attendance last night, the 4.9 mill levy would probably pass by a small margin. But, I’m thinking, as I explain here, that when the general public votes on November 2, the levy will probably fail. Organized opposition is always bad news for school levies and, in my view, the Kettering board has needlessly given ammunition to the opposition.

In August, after I interviewed Dr. Schoenlein and wrote, Kettering Schools’ Reduced Tax Request — From 6.9 Mills To 4.9 Mills — Shows “Change Of Philosophy,” my thinking was in line with that expressed by Ashley Webb at this meeting, but, I’m sorry to say, this “pay freeze” claim has pushed me in the opposite direction.

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6 Responses to Kettering’s Misinformation About Teachers’ “Pay Freeze” Empowers Opposition To 4.9 Mill Tax Increase

  1. Eric says:

    The new five-year forecast slows growth in spending considerably. The next hurdle is contract negotiations. It makes sense for this levy to pass along with a message that the community will be watching for contract negotiations that conserve money.
    With the mess in Columbus, this is a good time to hunker down and protect an excellent school system.

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Eric — After the May defeat of the 6.9 mill levy, the board approved a new scaled down five-year budget that showed, over five years, a $19 million reduction. A school district is under no legal obligation to stick to its budget and budgets can simply be rewritten at the discretion of a board of education.

    My point in this post is the Kettering Board has eroded public trust by its strategy of misinformation that it uses to sell tax levies to the public, and it makes sense that this erosion of trust will have consequences.

    Should the Kettering public vote “Yes” for this tax levy and put its trust in the Kettering Board to maintain an austere budget? The question for many voters boils down to whether they believe their local school board is trustworthy or not. If the public deems that this board is not trustworthy then, for many voters, it will make sense to vote “No,” and by so doing constrict the board’s power of discretion. Arguably, a “No” vote would cause the board to better represent the general public in what you call “the next hurdle” — the next contract negotiations — because a constriction in general tax revenue to the school district would limit the board’s discretion to do otherwise.

    Many voters will vote “Yes” for the tax levy, regardless, because, in a sense, they are in on the scheme. They or family members work for the district or their children or grandchildren attend and participate in sports, etc — they stand to directly and financially benefit from increased tax revenue going to the school district.

    What seems to be happening is a division in the Kettering community between what might be called the educational establishment — every voter who directly benefits from increased revenue to the school district — and the rest of the community that indirectly benefits. The task for the segment of the community that is part of this educational establishment is to positively engage the rest of the community. But in Kettering, the educational establishment is increasingly seen as a “special interest” that works in collusion, through highly organized and well funded campaigns of misinformation, to impose its will on everyone else.

    It is OK that there is an educational establishment that directly benefits from increases in school taxes, but it is the obligation of educational establishment to honor and support the community’s system of democracy. Ultimately, the excellence of a system of public education depends on the vitality of the democracy in the community. A “No” vote for this Kettering levy may be the appropriate choice — to bring more balance in the community and to assert local control.

    It seems a safe bet, with the Ohio’s $8 billion shortfall, that state funding to Kettering Schools will diminish, probably, over time, dramatically so, and in the near future, onerous demands likely will be put on local taxpayers to close the budget gap for its local schools. Regardless of the outcome of this levy, the district needs to find a way to maintain “excellence” with less dollars. A “Yes” vote may delay the time of reckoning several years, but, arguably, the district at the present time has a greater capacity to deal with reduced funding than it ever will, and, for the long term stability of the system, forcing the issue at the present time may be the best choice.

  3. Eric says:

    My point in this post is the Kettering Board has eroded public trust … erosion of trust will have consequences. … The question for many voters boils down to whether they believe their local school board is trustworthy or not. If the public deems that this board is not trustworthy then …

    …they can goad the board into making reckless cuts. Why dare the district to dismantle programs?

    Should the Kettering public vote “Yes” for this tax levy and put its trust in the Kettering Board to maintain an austere budget?

    Choose one:
    1. Fail the levy and dismantle good programs.
    2. Pass a reduced levy which forces cost saving in future contract negotiations.

    The next state budget will be ugly. Pass the levy and ask the business community to help the district prepare for the coming austerity.

  4. Mike Bock says:

    Eric, I don’t understand your advice — “ask the business community to help the district prepare for the coming austerity” — what, exactly, could the Kettering business community do to be helpful?

    Your rationale to vote “Yes” for the levy seems reasonable, but, it is unlikely to persuade someone who has lost trust in the district’s leadership.

    Remember, the majority of the board that voted in May, 2009 to give the teachers a two year contract with a fantastic health savings plan plus a 1.5% increase in each year of the contract is still the majority that is in charge. This bountiful contract happened immediately after the 6.9 mill renewal levy was approved earlier that same month — based on a campaign of misinformation that inaccurately made the uninformed taxpayer believe that the 6.9 mill levy would result in “not a penny more” in his or her tax payments.

    This 3% increase made no sense in light of the economic recession and in light of the fact that there was zero inflation — resulting in 0% COLA for social security recipients. Board member, Frank Maus, voted against the contract calling it, “a kick in the teeth” to Kettering voters. Of course, Frank was defeated in his reelection campaign last year when, evidently, the Kettering educational establishment ganged up on him.

    The assumption underlying your second choice is that the Kettering Board will not perform yet another “kick in the teeth” to Kettering voters, that, somehow, approving 4.9 mills of additional taxes will “force cost savings in future contract negotiations.” Yes, the board has approved an austere five year budget. But, at the first community meeting, when I asked board members George Bayless and Julie Gilmore to publicly aver to uphold that budget, both refused to do so, and instead danced around the question.

    If the levy fails and as a result 30 teachers, or so, are laid off, according to contract it will be the teachers with the least seniority who will be let go. The teachers’ union, of course, is controlled by veteran teachers and evidently the union feels it is more important to maintain salary and benefit increases than to roll-back increases and, by so doing, avoid lay offs for its younger members.

    In this time of economic hardship the prevailing mind-set — one that maintains if the public refuses to raise property taxes, the only option is to “dismantle good programs” — indicates how far removed we are from meaningful local control of our system of public education. It seems clear that a system under local control, in this time of economic emergency, would have a different mind-set and would find some workable alternative to “dismantling good programs.” It’s hard not to conclude that the system is under local educational establishment control, in collusion with the elected board, not local control.

    If the Kettering public has lost confidence that the local board is acting to maintain local control, but instead, is acting to protect and maintain a special interest group, then, the consequence of this loss of trust may be a “No” vote.

  5. Eric says:

    what, exactly, could the Kettering business community do to be helpful?

    Over a decade ago, Beavercreek put some liabilities into the assets column and destroyed trust as the dust settled. Rebuilding trust required hiring a CFO (which Kettering already has in Steve Clark) and forming a “Financial Oversight Committee” of trusted folks from the community.

    a system under local control, in this time of economic emergency, would have a different mind-set and would find some workable alternative to “dismantling good programs.”

    A Financial Oversight Committee would be a good first step in regaining local control. Failing the levy might be a deathwish for a first-ring suburb.

    I’ve had reasonable conversations with Schoenlein, Clark, and Trent. I have no doubt a Financial Oversight Committee would find Schoenlein and Clark easy to work with, and the board would be happy to get the Committee’s help.

  6. Ryan says:

    OK, so the levy has passed, but with its passing we now face a two fold issue. One, our property taxes in Kettering are rising again. Add this to the recent increases in taxes Kettering residents have faced such as the income tax increase or even the most recent school levy assessment in 2007.

    Second, the passage of this levy has given the citizen’s approval of past and present decisions and expenditures the school board has made and continues to make. Agreeing that allowing Mr. Schoenlien to double dip as superintendent is a good idea. Agreeing that teacher contract negotiations should continue as prescribed.

    These are realistic facts that I have witnessed first hand: People are going broke and can no longer afford their hose payments. This is not due to poor money management but the continual and annual increase in property taxes. I personally have seen a 76% increase since 2002. Kettering’s taxes are too high; being a part time realtor I have customers avoiding Kettering due to its current tax rate. Last, Kettering residents are moving out. This is due to a culmination of the high tax rate, Section 8/HUD flooding Kettering neighborhoods, and the perception that Kettering is no longer safe or as safe as it once was.

    The passage of yet another levy makes me question what happens when the city, schools, county, or state ask for another increase in 2012 or sooner? No party mentioned above has upheld a past promise that have made when it comes to finances, but based on last nights results nobody cares.

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