Photograph taken by: Pulsejournal.com (The Pulse Journal) Cox Ohio Publishing
So many people have written me, or asked me what my, or the NoLakotaLevy people suggest Lakota do about their budget situation. I prepared the below response to a person that wrote me at NoLakotLevy.com and contacted me through the email there. This is my plan, and can’t speak for everyone in the NoLakotaLevy group fully. Now when reading this, keep in mind, I believe that union membership should be illegal in government positions, and teachers are government positions. They are payed with tax payer funds, and therefore should not be able to participate in a union.
Union membership is fine for private business if the product they make can be supported with the revenue they produce. I know people in the film business that are part of a very powerful union in the Screen Actors Guild. Writers for film are a part of the Writers Guild. But those activities are supported with ticket sales at the box office, and more and more often, films are made outside of Hollywood in places like British Columbia, and Austrialia to avoid many of the high cost of union work. So even in paradise, the union model is in trouble.
In sports, there is a players union, and those unions have pushed up the price of a professional athlete to a cost that many of us bulk at. Yet we can decide to support those athletes or not with the price of a ticket, or the purchase of a jersey.
But government work is completley funded with tax payer money, and therefore no voting can take place. The tax payer becomes the consumer without an option. So when a teachers union is a part of a school system, it stands in the way of choice. So my strategy below would be the advice I’d give any professional organization strangled by such a process. My focus is on saving all the jobs at Lakota, particularly the 130 teachers and staff that are on the chopping block established by the retiring Superintendent, and preserving the great tradition at Lakota of being an excellent school.
But this plan is aggressive, and would require a boldness that does not exist within the school system, otherwise, they would not be in the situation they are currently in. It is unfortunate that the job falls on the community to help the school system understand how to solve their problems. But I present this plan to all those who would care to read it, and may contain within themselves the valor to do what is right for not only the teachers, but the rest of the community.
When it is reported that there is a financial crises within our local school system, it is important to study the situation.
When you sit down and look at the overall problem like a businessman would, without emotion, without politics, just the facts, you see quickly that the school system has around 78% of their resources tied up in wages and benefits. So if you need to get that budget under control, you don’t tackle the very small costs that make up the remaining 22%, which is where busing falls. Busing is really one of the minor costs and is something that should be addressed after you’ve tackled the issues making up the 78%. There is only one reason to tackle busing first and that is to inconvenience parents so they vote for a levy out of their own needs. You start with wages and benefits so you can have the most impact quickly.
- The first thing to deal with is the way the contract is organized with the employees. You have to give the union credit that they created an environment for their members where they have been able to obtain wages that are above the standard for public sector positions. The average wage for a teacher at Lakota in 2002/2003 was around $48,000. Now, in 2010, it’s $62,000. So they’ve more than outpaced inflation and cost of living. It should be noted that the aggressive position of the union such as what happened in April of this year, a federal mediator had to be called to bring the parties together between the board and the union. That type of behavior has created a budget that is not sustainable over the long term as more and more tenured teachers and administrators move into the upper pay ranges. So the wages need to be brought down to a level that is more reflective of the community that is funding the budget. If they took a 30% reduction, they could raise $27 million dollars immediately. And the wages would still be considered good when compared to the private sector.
- The other thing you look at is whether or not you need so many administrators, councilors, media professionals, and those types of positions, where many are making over $65,000 per year. You would not cut low tenured teachers that are not making as much money, the ones making $35,000 to $45,000, and are full of ambition. Those are the teachers you want to keep. They are typically cheaper, and tend to statistically get the best results per employee.
- As the new contract is established, the pay rates need to be established that the low end entry level pay scale is $35,000, and the top pay for an educator is $65,000. If a teacher wants to pursue higher degrees such as a masters, or doctorate, of course they could reach that top scale faster, but could not exceed it unless they moved into administration.
- For administration positions, the cap should be set at $110,000. That figure is reached by looking at what Mike Taylor is currently making which is $147,000 and reducing that figure by 30%, which is how much above average education positions are currently established at. That would put the current superintendant at $103,000 and still provide some room for increases in supplemental years.
- Taking these measures would do two things. First the teachers and superintendants that are in education for just the money and security would leave and take positions at other schools. This would allow us to hire ambitious personnel that is truly in education for the right reasons, and that is putting kids first. And in turn we would pay them well, but fairly. And they’d have the benefit of working for a good school system in a nice community where the parents care for the kids they are sending to the school. Such a teaching environment is a benefit believe it or not and would allow us to attract the best teachers that are truly in teaching for the children. The second thing this does is it shows that Lakota has the leadership to set up a sustainable model that the State of Ohio can copy for all the other schools in the state and finally solve its unconstitutional property tax funding model that has been broken for half a century. Until a school system takes these steps and is the first to do so, the status quo will bankrupt our funding system. If the choice of the union would be to strike then replacement staff could immediately be hired to replace those participating in the strike, and our wage level could be fixed quickly. But shutting down the school system or declining the level of education is not an option.
This plan would allow us to bring our budget under control, sort out the truly good from the truly selfish, and would improve our performance in virtually all aspects. To not do this plan or one very similar to it is not acceptable, and will only substantiate the decline of service that is immanent. The term union members and leaders use to identify people not of their membership that work for the school system, is “scab.” Such terms do not belong on the tongues of those involved in education and they need to remove their philosophy from our funding obligations. We will need individuals willing to put the community first because such individuals will be needed to work in the school system in the near future, and the community will need to support them, when the union leadership attempts to bring pain to our district.
The goal of these measures is to find out the true heart of the employees. And at the same time, to reduce the cost to the overall budget. It is the least painful way to accomplish this task giving those who are unhappy with the situation a chance to leave without causing damage to the community. And would allow us to retain the most loyal and dedicated staff for our school system.