Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Levy and Teacher Negotiations

First off, I will be voting in favor of the 9.5 Permanent Operating Levy on March 4, and encourage the voters of our community to support this levy as well.

However, I want to comment on the position being taken by the Levy Campaign Committee concerning the relationship between the levy vote and the ongoing contract negotiations with the Hilliard Education Association (ie the teachers' union). The Committee says: "Though it is natural to assume that they are linked, the fact is they are mutually exclusive of each other and should remain that way to protect the students, parents, and community at large."

I truly don't understand that statement. These two things are inseparably linked, as I reported last November. Hopefully the people of the community have come to realize and accept that 90% of all operating expenses go to pay the cost of salaries and benefits for the teachers, administrators and staff. The additional money raised by this levy will, in the same way, be used almost entirely to fund increased salaries and benefits, some of which will be due to raises and increased benefits costs for the existing group of employees, and some due to growth in the total number of employees (e.g. as Bradley comes online). Likewise, if the levy does not pass, most of the cutbacks will be in the form of employee layoffs.

The Committee website goes on to say: "The treasurer identified the dollars needed for the operating levy long before negotiations began," and "The district's financial forecast and predetermined use for the levy dollars includes funds for salaries and benefits for all staff. This is a fixed amount, regardless of how it is allocated between salaries and benefits. If Issue 26 is passed, there is not more money available."

This makes it sound like the only purpose of the negotiation between the HEA and the School Board is to determine how an already-established budget increase gets apportioned to salary versus benefits. I very much doubt that the HEA sees it that way.

District Treasurer Brian Wilson has published a Five Year Forecast for the District, and that forecast was the basis for creating scenarios that were presented to the School Board in November. In the end, 9.5 mills was selected because the School Board thought that's all that had a chance of getting passed. The District Finance Committee reported to the Board that it thought a larger levy amount was needed, but agreed that 9.5 is probably all they could hope for.

The Treasurer's Forecast is not a cast-in-concrete budget, and things will undoubtedly work out differently than he forecasted. The HEA negotiations are one of those things. When the negotiations are complete, Mr. Wilson will need to adjust his forecast to take the terms of the final HEA contract into account. By then, the levy will have passed or failed, and he'll have a pretty good idea of what revenue will look like for the next couple of years.

We're forgetting to talk about another important variable – how long before another levy needs to be placed on the ballot?

If the levy fails in March, the answer is simple: the Board will have to keep putting levies on the ballot every chance they have until one gets passed. Think of it as the way the community negotiates with the School Board – remember the many attempts at getting a bond levy passed for Washington Elementary and Bradley High? Too bad the Board hasn't figured out a more effective way of interacting with the community.

But what if the levy passes? The more the HEA gets in its new contract, the quicker the cash raised by the levy will be exhausted and the sooner the Board will need to come back to the community with another levy request. Conversely, the more concessions the Board gets from the HEA (ie medical insurance contributions), the longer the Board can wait before asking us for more money.

This is how the HEA negotiations tie to the levy!


  1. Paul, I understand that 90% of costs are linked to salaries. The school system is a service organization and it stands to reason that it's greatest cost is salaries. Therefore, levies and salaries are linked. True.

    However, I think the committee is asking the same thing I am asking: to consider that the levy is not required because of greedy teachers. It is required because of growth. We need more schools, therefore more teachers, because of the growing enrollment.

    The feeling of many in our community is that a failed levy means the teachers won't get an enormous pay raise (because the funds won't be available to give them a raise), while a vote for the levy will mean the teachers get an enourmous raise (because the community will have provided the funding to allow it). NOT TRUE!!!!!

    I understand, believe me anyone who reads your site understands, that 90% of all costs in the school system is ties to salaries. Got it!

    However, what is NOT clear is that a large portion of this levy is required because of INCREASED STAFF NEEDED TO OPERATE BRADLEY.

    It's not fair to the levy to link the negotiations of the HEA/BOE to the need for this levy. We can all debate if the BOE had been more responsible financially, we wouldn't need a levy as large or as quickly. These are all true statements. However, a vote for the levy does not mean teachers get a favorable contract nor does a defeat of the levy mean they will get a more reasonable contract. In that way, negotiations are completely unlinked to the levy.

    I just ask that you be careful in how wording is used. To your own argument, many of our community members are uneducated in the funding methods used, as well as HEA contract with the BOE.

    To continue to link the negotiations directly to the levy is misguided. The community needs to understand that this is not a FOR or AGAINST vote for the union. Nor is it a FOR or AGAINST vote for the BOE. It is a vote for the addition of a new high school and REASONABLE raises for staff.

    I beg the community not to see this is a choice between teachers and administration. It's not that simple! From the highest level, salaries are 90% of our costs, therefore controlling those costs reduces our tax liability. TRUE. But GROWTH has dictated a large amount of the salary increase in terms of new teaching positions, etc.

    Remember, for every 20 kids, we add about $200,000 in expenses. That's something we never talk about on here!!!

  2. KJ:

    All good comments - thanks for making them.

    One point of clarification - a levy would be needed whether or not Bradley is opening. The magnitude might change, but our salary/benefit costs are going up enough to require additional funding regardless.

    I think maybe the key point of my piece was one I made near the end: "Levy votes are the way the community negotiates with the School Board."

    In other words, if the School Board has earned the trust of the community, and the community agrees with the decisions of the School Board, the levy passes.

    But when the community votes down a levy, it is telling the School Board that the trust and agreement are not there.

    I suspect that the School Board is going to get a second chance to get it right with this levy. That might even be a good thing. It might finally convince our leadership that their relationship with the community is broken and needs some serious work.

    Our school levies should pass by large margins, indicating that the people of the community are in agreement with the way the schools are being run. After all, we are at a point where the overwhelming majority of people in the school district moved here because of the schools. You would think that the natural bias is in favor of passing levies.

    Instead our levies tend to just squeek by (3% margin on the last bond levy), and then only after a couple of whiffs.

    We can do better.

  3. I agree that levies should pass more favorably should "all be right". But the fact is they do not. Mainly because of the reasons you point out, but also because of the strain the state has put on the homeowner.

    And this levy is especially "tainted" because of the negotiations between the BOE/HEA.

    To use the numbers provided by the school district and those that you publish on your site.....

    The average teaching salary is approximately $62K. With benefits its more like $90K. The average class size in Hilliard is around 20 (yes, I'm using round numbers for convenience). This ratio includes special teachers, aides, etc. All teachers divided into the total student population.

    The per pupil cost in Hilliard is $10,000. This includes specialized teachers, teachers, supplies, buildings and admin costs.

    So, simply speaking $90,000 for teacher salaray divided by 20 students in each class equals about $4,500 of teaching salary per pupil. That's roughly 45% of the cost to educate a child in Hilliard. FOURTY-FIVE percent!

    I think when people read "90% of educational costs is in salries" they take that to mean that 90% of the cost to educate students is in TEACHER salaries. Obviously, that is not the whole truth.

    The classroom teacher in your child's classroom is not making up the 90% cost we hear about. He/She is making up 45%! There is another 55% of cost attributed to things OTHER than the teacher in your child's classroom.

    I just ask that we break this down a bot so that folks understand what you mean by 90% of cost is salaries. Yes, the total cost of the district operations is mainly salaries, but NOT 90% of the teacher's cost to teach your child.

    It's a very important distinction! I fear it is lost in many of your arguments. And paints a picture that 90 cents of every dollar goes into the teacher's pocket. WRONG.

    PLEASE vote YES for Issue 26!

  4. KJ:

    Again, great points. Important enough to merit its own article.


  5. I noticed in Wed. Hilliard NW News
    both parties have figured out that the little public spat is not playing well with the electorate. Suprise

    I am not sure that the board or the
    HEA GET the fact that things are tough out there. There seems to be a lack of understanding that no one is getting the raises they are.

    Now someone will brand me anti school or anti teacher. I have voted for every levy and think we have good schools and many of the teachers do a great job. Notice I said many but not all.

    It is interesting that cuts allways come in elimination of programs, busing, athletics, music etc, but
    NEVER has a freeze on wages,or even
    reductions in compensation seem to
    EVER happen.

    How about a combination of a slight reduction or Freeze in wages.

    If we supposedly will be in the red
    ????? how could we give adm raises out the last year ?

    I fear a no vote is coming. The new high school is part of the picture, but perhaps Mercedes type
    compensation, needs to go on hold for awhile

    For those who say we cannot afford
    not to pass the levy, I would say
    how do you think a good many homeowners who aren't getting raises in the private sector, facing layoffs, pay freezes or reductions going to pay for the
    tax increase. No one seems to have an answer for that. The vast majority are not selling their homes, so right now a so called loss in property value does not have an impact.

    Someone made the point about the people we have elected, and point about the administration and HEA supporting our current representatives is right on I think

  6. Regarding: It is interesting that cuts always come in elimination of programs, busing, athletics, music etc, but
    NEVER has a freeze on wages..

    That's because the taxpayers will never win this game. Public schools are, for all intents and purposes, a MONOPOLY, which means the consumer will never win. It's hilarious for people to try. The school has us by the short hairs and they know it, and they'll act as any monopoly does: completely in its own best interest.

  7. Steve:

    I agree that the monopolistic nature of our public school system is the root of many problems. I much prefer a 100% voucher system, but we're unlikely to see such a thing unless the current system completely collapses.

    But we can make things a lot better if folks would sustain their interest in school funding beyond levy votes. It's taken a couple of decades for things to get this screwed up, and it will take a fair amount of work - by the whole community - to fix it.

    Thanks for the comments.


  8. Perhaps I am not understanding the total picture. Please correct me if I am wrong. Money in the budget has allready been allocated for the following

    It would appear that with the upcoming contract we will grant
    regular raises each year of 3 %
    plus step raises of 3 to 4 + for a
    range for many, but not all employees of 7% plus. There would be some contribution to medical care

    Administrative increases will also be in the 3% plus per year range

    So an administrator makes
    60,000 $1800 raise min.
    61800 $1850
    63,350 $1900 +
    A raise of over 5400.00
    + contribution to Pension
    100 adm at 5400 min

    Teacher makes
    60,000 first year 3% 1800 raise
    61,800 3% + 4% 7% min $ 4,340
    66.100 3% 1980
    so after that 3 years
    68,000 8,000 over 3 years

    1,000 teachers as a round, we have more
    1000 teachers at say 7,000 dollars for the 3 years
    7 million dollars

    total 7.0 million + 500,000
    So there is 7.5 million

    If we only halfed that we could
    save 3.5 million easy.
    The deficit for next year
    is 4 million in cuts.
    By not cutting personnel, raising fees, no busing or tech cuts. by just cutting back on raises
    we can save 4 m

    Any thoughts ?