On October 20th at the Miami University branch in the VOA Park of West Chester, Mike Taylor, superintendent of Lakota Schools along with several other representatives of tax initiatives for the November 2nd ballot made their case for why people should vote for their issue.
The Lakota Levy was defeated. However, because we know that Lakota will attempt to place the issue back on the ballot, I recorded the comments Taylor made and answered his comments with the No Lakota Levy response.
The questions asked came from a panel of journalist made up of Lindsey Hilty of the Pulse Journal, and Debbra Silberman of 9 News.
Notes from October 20, 2010 Meeting:
Opening comments: Mike Taylor stated that this levy is a lean request. Lakota has 9 years of excellence; they turn out great students, maintain 22 buildings and in order to avoid making harmful cuts the community needs to pass this levy which will generate 21 million per year. This levy approach is new for Lakota in that this is a 10 year operating levy. It is not forever but will have to be voted on to be renewed. 70% of the residents do not have children in the school system. 30% of the residents do have children in the school. And he added that the Lakota operates in a fiscal responsible manner.
- There was a question about what the state standards are, and he reported they are reading, writing, and science, with a minimum of art, music, and physical education. Lakota goes beyond the state guidelines. If the levy fails, there will be a reduction in art, music, and physical education. There will also be an increase in class size and extra curricular activities.
- Lakota could avoid its problems with a simple freeze of step increases. The average Lakota teacher salary is over $60,000 for working 184 days a year. They have 15 paid sick days, and are required to work 37 hours per week. They get a 14% contribution to their retirement plan and have a great medical plan. The average cost per hour worked by a teacher at Lakota is $47 per hour. The step increases will cost an additional $2.7 million each year which makes up a considerable part of their budget deficit projections.
2. Increase in spending outpaced inflation. Why didn’t the school system deal with that trend? Answer was that because of the lack of state funding, and the fact that they opened three new buildings, this caused the spending to escalate. He danced around the issue and did not directly answer.
- Lakota has made 3 different five year financial forecasts in the last 11 months. The deficit projects started at over $28 million, and then were at $10 million, and most recently have been at $4.5 million, considerably less than the catastrophic amount originally announced. If the school system had taken measures back in 2005, 2006 and again when the teachers threatened to strike in 2008, they could have avoided the situation they are currently in and could save jobs instead of protecting the top wage earners.
3. During the summer of 2005 the district was aware of the flat funding coming from the state, why weren’t there measures to save money before now? Answer was that Lakota opened 3 new buildings, and in 2008 the district went into reduction mode. They added 400 new students in 2005 and 500 in 2006. Again, he did not directly answer the question. And he did not answer as to why it took 3 years to react.
- There was a levy that took three times to pass in late 2005 and those funds started kicking in around 2006. It appears the school district got caught not addressing the issue because they had a renewed revenue stream.
4. There was a question as to why this levy was listed for 10 years when in fact the forecast shows that we’ll be out of money in 2014. Taylor says Lakota has a history of reduction and that they will basically figure it out. He didn’t know why such statements would be made. And at the end of 10 years, we can decide if we want to renew it.
- The fact is, when the May levy failed; the school system just took off the second part of that attempt. They knew all along that with the $21 million per year generated with the school levy they’d be broke again in 2014. This due to the step increase formula that would push wages into the average of $65 to $70 K per year range.
5. Why can’t we have elimination of the step increases, because the savings could prevent the cuts to busing? Taylor blamed all of Ohio on the wage structure and collective bargaining. The union has worked with administration on two issues to help. 1st is the compensation structure. Second are the health care benefits. He also cited that the importance of teachers dictate that Lakota have the ability to purchase the best teachers. Then he blamed state law that dictates the funding system.
- These are union talking points. Taylor was a member of the union for many years, and can’t turn his back on it now. Saying that the union is working with the administration is too little too late. With the wages in the range they are now, the revenue stream coming into Lakota cannot sustain the current contract, and nobody is suggesting a renegotiation. The union shows no inclination of giving up ground it made in the 2008 threatened strike.
6. Next question is that if the state takes over, do levies go away? His answer, is no. The state puts together plans to generate revenue, and can only generate funds with property tax.
- The fact of the matter on this is that once the state steps in, and determines what the financial situation is, they can renegotiate the teacher’s contract or at least elements of it. It’s the only way to get out of that obligation that the poorly negotiated contract Lakota is bound to can be reversed.
7. Have administrators had raises? His answer was, no administrators have had a raise in 2 years. Also health care benefits have been cut.
- When it was noticed that they spent themselves into a financial problem, the administrators did go on a pay freeze. But their current financial obligations are part of what I causing the trouble when many of those positions are over $70K per year. To balance their budget, they need to reduce their burden to the school system by at least 30%.
8. How does the move to a 6 period day save money? Cutting the extra period will cut 140 electives out of the day across the district and will result in a savings by shortening the day in this way.
- The humorous issue here is that they are either stating that to provide a proper education we only need 6 periods, or that the teachers are going to get paid for a free hour per day because they won’t be working. How is this efficient? Completely irresponsible and short-sighted. This statement shows why Lakota is in trouble. They think a shorter day means less money. But they will still pay their entire staff, except for the position eliminated their full pay.
9. What effect does an excellent rating have on communities? Lakota has 9 years of excellence and distinction. 18,500 students get an individualized education. Lakota has award winning art programs, music and athletics. That’s why people move to Lakota. A struggling school system shows a struggling community.
- Lakota is not a great school by happenstance. The children attending have parents that are involved in their lives, and that is a direct correlation to the quality of the student bodies. The school system is great because the community is great. Not the other way around. Making statements like the one Mike Taylor made is pretentious. Again, they are trying to sell their services to the community so of course they are going to attempt to inflate the value. But that has to be understood by the community. Teachers could come and go and the students would still succeed because the families sending their kids to school are involved. The value of a teacher is important. But does cost alone determine value? No. The teachers just in education for the money could leave for schools that are also drowning in the same type of wage structure. There are lots of teachers that would like to work at Lakota even if for less money, because the community is wonderful, the environment is successful, and the parents are easy to deal with. Lakota will continue to have those benefits to offer potential employees to the school system.
10. How do you arrive at the calculation of student to teacher ratio? How is it made? How is Lakota’s student teacher ratio in relation to the State needs? Answer was an obscure one; he said Lakota makes use of specialized teachers which helps reduce class sizes.
- Class size is something to the teachers benefit. In colleges, many classes have more than 30 people per class, so as a college prep issue, larger class sizes will prepare students for education at the next level, which won’t be able to provide such specialized treatment.
11. Are the teachers being let go associated with electives? Enrollment trends dictated reductions so far. He did not answer part of the question related to the failure of the levy.
- We know that the teachers being cut will not come out of the top wage earners. And if the classes offered are not essential to education needs, then levy or no levy, Lakota should cut the electives that are not necessary to keep costs down.
12. Where do people get the money to pay for the levy? He said that Lakota is caught in a perfect storm, with the state cap, and then reduced funding by 3% over the last 2 years. The state system is broken. Spending at Lakota is less per pupil. Strong schools can help make a strong community.
- Without the levy they will not be able to increase their budget for the 2012 per the planned $13 million increase, and have to operate on the same dollars as in 2011. What they are going through is the same thing the community is going through.
Closing statement; fate of our community is at stake. State ratings are not what are important. The value to the community is Lakota can help each child no matter what their level. It will protect real estate values of the community. A struggling community is reflective of a struggling school system.
- We voted for this levy in May, and in that election 65% voted it down. All the election ballots had not even been counted yet before the superintendent announced that the issue would be back on the ballot in November. Now the purpose of that election was not to have another election 6 months later, and to keep holding elections until it passes. That kind of behavior is disrespectful to the voters.
- When you look at the numbers, at what they are spending their money on, you will find that they are spending just over 75% on wages and benefits. So they should have some control over their budget problems. They are working with a budget of $160,547,327.00 and that is more than generous. So when they say they are going to dismantle the school system, or that parents can’t expect the same kind of service from the school, they are being deceitful, which is a very serious situation, because they are making a decision to hurt the district.
- As I was looking at why they are in so much trouble what becomes obvious is that they have over 434 teachers and administrators making over $65,000 per year, with quite a few making between $80,000 and $100,000.
- Now, I’m all for people making a good wage. But when that money is funded off tax payer support, and it is obvious that the administration at Lakota did not behave responsibly when they negotiated contracts with the union in the past, because they have spent themselves into a corner, and now the budget is unsustainable. The wages they are making are at least 30% more than the private sector jobs of comparable positions of those in the community that are paying the taxes.
|Employee wages and benefits||$120,758,911.00|
|Supplies and Materials||$4,206,669.00|
|Transfers and Advances||$1,996,206.00|
- When Lakota says that if they don’t get the money they will:
- Cut an additional 103+ teachers and staff
- Two thirds of the athletics budget including elimination of Jr. High athletics.
- Eliminating additional academic programs and extracurricular programs.
- Reducing bus service for High School students and those students within a two mile radius
- Drastic cuts in gifted education and other student services.
- What this says is that the administrators would rather dismantle the school district than attempt to re-negotiate with the union in order to bring wages into more sustainable amounts. With a quick calculation, if the Lakota school system took a 30% pay cut, they wouldn’t have to diminish anything. They could generate $27 million right away. That means someone like the superintendant who makes $147,505 and reduces it to $103,253, or a teacher that is making $78,426 and put them at $54,898. And everyone could keep their jobs; get paid fairly, and more importantly, the kids come out on top with full community support. But there isn’t any desire for something like that, and that tells you where their real thoughts are.
Lakota like many school systems over time have allowed the teaching profession to migrate into a wage rate comparable to doctors and lawyers. They justify this by citing that the cost of obtaining the education, for a master’s degree, or a doctorate is similar, so in turn they should be paid the same.
And that leaves us with the true tragedy of modern public education, where an institution that is generally trusted by the residents of a community, have lost their credibility. On the surface, people know there is waste. They see the new buildings, the see the elaborate sports facilities, and they shake their head. But come levy voting time, they tend to reluctantly vote in favor of them because they either have a child going to school or they know one that does. And because people stay very busy making livings for themselves, they want desperately to trust that the school system has the interest of the community as a first priority.
It doesn’t take much however to pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on. And anyone with just a bit of business sense can see the problem. Wages for teachers and administrators are just too high. In the state of Ohio, based on the website Indeed.com the average attorney makes $57,000, and a doctor, $73,000. A Plant Manager typically makes $72,000. The average for a teacher in the state of Ohio is $54,000. And the average for a teacher at Lakota is $59,000. There are currently 1,137 teachers working in Lakota, and based on a report from the Pulse Journal which came out in March 18th of 2010 in their Insight 2010 Edition, Lakota has 434 teachers that make over $65,000 per year.
Now when you look at the pie chart of their operating costs, and you see that easily over 75% of their cost of doing business is wrapped up in wages and benefits for the employees of the School, not to busing, not to construction, not to power supply and other usages, yet you hear that if the levy doesn’t pass, they are going to cut busing, they are going to force a pay to play policy in sports, and they are going to lay-off 130 plus teachers and administrators which will increase class sizes, it leaves you scratching your head. That is until you realize that they are attempting to scam you.
Those types of coercion are union strategies that have successfully hindered many sectors of our economy, and it is particularly ruthless to use children to manipulate parents. Yet the people involved will swear they are putting the children first. Yet when it comes time to pass a levy, they point to other districts that are equally in trouble and say they are operating at a savings, as Lakota proclaims. But they never deal with what causes the excessive costs. It’s the weight of their wages and benefits packages, exclusively. And rather than explore other options, they resort to the formula, the same formula being used at Little Miami, at Edgewood, or Mason, and that is to protect the top by sacrificing the bottom and put the parents between a rock and a hard place to secure funding.
Once you figure out that you’ve been lied to and manipulated, you tend to get angry about it. It’s one thing when it happens at the state level, which is far away from us. It’s another when it happens in the Federal government, where we look at it, talk about it, and shake our heads, but do little about it, because that situation is even further away. But when it’s a school system, an institution that you invested your hopes and dreams for your children into, it’s a bit harder to swallow. Yet it’s right in front of our face.
Government jobs on average pay 45% higher than private sector jobs, and this is why we all know that government is failing. Their costs do not reflect reality.
Lakota is trying to raise 21.75 million in this levy, and if they don’t get the money, they are threatening to completely dismantle the school system, with a massive layoff, losing our excellent rating, which will adversely destroy property values. All those threats are very serious, for a group of people making 45% more than the tax payers funding their activity, and that is a real problem, because they haven’t even looked at any other options.
The NoLevy group was talking in one of our meetings, and we approached the problem the same way we would in one of our businesses, and we came up with an option that I think is particularly attractive and that is that they take a universal pay cut of 30%. That would allow everyone to still keep their jobs, allow the school system to operate as it has. The only reason they wouldn’t do it is complete selfishness. If it was really about the kids, they would have done something like that already. A thirty percent cut in wages would simply put someone like Mike Taylor, who is the superintendent making $147,505 a year and bring him down to $103,253.50 per year. A wage many would love to have even with his responsibility level. A thirty percent reduction would put that teacher making $78,600 and lower them to only $55,020, hardly a measly amount of pay.
Now of course nobody at the top will talk about doing anything like this. So as far as the NoLakota people and the Pro Lakota people talking, there isn’t anything to discuss. We’ve seen all the charts and stats they’ve thrown up, and we know its all smoke screen to this more serious problem that nobody wants to deal with. So we’re going to deny them the funding and make them deal with it. If they want to earn over 100K a year, they will be working hard for it. And I’m sure Mike Taylor, who isn’t a bad guy by any means, I’m sure he’d look to Mason and say it’s not fair for me to reduce my wages because Kevin Bright over there is making $218,315 for being a superintendent. Well, Mason is in trouble too, for all the same reasons. Somebody needs to be the leader.
But there are options and they are certainly fair options. The people see through this. Some of the younger residents that have kids in the system don’t want to apply the same principles they may use in their jobs because it’s personally painful to them. Most young professionals rely on the school system to handle their children during the day, so they are willing to put up with some of the obvious waste. But during the last levy 65% voted against the levy, and of that 65% many are business leaders and mangers themselves, and senior citizens that have been around and seen a lot, and know they are being taken advantage of, and it makes them angry.
And Lakota did hold out the branch, and wanted to give a presentation to our group, because they were hoping to take the edge off this election early. The trouble with that is they did probably the worst thing they could have done before holding out that branch. In May when we voted for this the first time, we flat out rejected it. And on election night, Mike Taylor announced that the levy would be back on the ballot. What he really said was that he did not respect the opinion of the voters, and that for this next election, they would work harder, raise more money, print more signs, and get more kids to go home and strong arm their parents instead of doing the right thing, and bringing all the wages into a reasonable amount and being the first in the state of Ohio to do it, showing the expected leadership of such a powerful school system. That’s what the voters wanted after the last election. They ignored us and preceded on to put the levy on the ballot again, and again, and again, until people just give up and pass it, and their livelihoods can be secured in comfort for the foreseeable future.
So make no mistake. They are not putting the kids or the community first, only their own self interest.