In Kettering, during this time of economic recession, the fact that the public is being pushed to approve a new 6.9 mill school tax issue raises the question: Who is in charge of Kettering Schools?
Kettering Schoolsâ€™ anticipated budget shortfall is testimony to the power, over time, of compound interest. The five year forecast, that justifies the need for a 6.9 mill levy, shows increase in personnel expenses compounded 4.82% each year, for three years. The fact that 86% of the budget goes to personnel means this inflating of salaries carries a huge expense.
One year ago, when Board President, Jim Trent, voted against approving a new teacherâ€™s contract that showed a 1.5% increase each year for two years, he was quoted by the DDN as saying, â€œAfter receiving feedback from many of our citizens, observing the latest economic news, and giving this topic an unbelievable amount of thought, I have reached the conclusion that because of the current economic turmoil, the time is not right to approve an increase in pay for anyone.â€
The economic climate has not improved, but, now, Mr. Trent is supporting a 6.9 mill increase in tax with, basically, the purpose of giving teachers and administrators new pay increases. He is quoted in The Blue Ribbon Report saying that, without sufficient funds, cuts to program will need to be made that, â€œwill seriously impact the quality of the education we can provide to our students.â€
The message of the levy campaign is an implicit threat that 6.9 mills in additional tax increase is needed — or, the educational program in Kettering will suffer. And, as I see it, Mr. Trent is describing a budget strategy in which increases in teacher and administrator salaries have first priority, and, in the case where there is insufficient funds both to give salary increases and to maintain program, then, it sounds to me, Trent feels salary increases must have the priority. How else can his advocacy of the 6.9 mill levy be explained?
Why present a plan calling for 4.82% increases, each year, in personnel pay — causing a deficit needing 6.9 mills of additional tax to fill? Why not present the public a more modest tax increase request — based upon freezing changes in the teacher and administrator contracts for a few years? It seems to me, a system with leadership responsive to local control would have made such a choice. A teacher contract frozen for three years would save, I figure, over $11 million in the five year plan. The current contract provides about two-thirds of the Kettering teachers, each year, with a 6% “step” pay increase, and these “step” increases would continue if the contract was “frozen.”
The 4.82% increase, each year, called for in the last three years of the five year plan, evidently, is the anticipated amount required to negotiate a new teachersâ€™ contract, and, it looks like Mr. Trent and the rest of the board feel a big need to acquiesce to the teachersâ€™ union. It is interesting that Superintendent Schoenlein thought it more important to seek peace with the teacher’s union, rather than to follow his own judgment about how to increase Kettering test scores. He didn’t want KEA to be “disgruntled.” (See Kettering School Superintendent Acquiesces To Teacherâ€™s Union Concerning 2011 Start Of School Date.)
In this time of economic recession, it is a tough sell to ask the public to voluntarily tax themselves so that teachers and administrators can have substantial pay increases. And so, advertisements for the 6.9 mill levy avoid the central issue of how 86% of this new revenue will be spent, and spokespersons, like Mr. Trent, warn, “without sufficient funds, cuts to program will need to be made.”
It would be refreshing if the board would publicly defend what, evidently, they believe: “Yes our teachers are the highest paid and we think it is in the public interest to keep increasing teacher salaries even higher.” I think there is a good argument in favor of such a point of view, and this pov could gain the support of a lot of Kettering voters. It’s an implicit issue in this campaign, why not make it explicit?
The request to Kettering voters to voluntarily raise property taxes to support Kettering Schools should be a good opportunity to have meaningful discussion about public education in Kettering. It should be an opportunity to begin talking about the long term future of public education in Kettering. What might happen is that, because this effort to sell this 6.9 mill tax increase seems so out of whack with the present economic reality, this 6.9 mill levy request might cause Kettering residents to wonder if their local system of public education in under local control, or whether it is under special interest control.
Written By Mike Bock
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