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Published: Wednesday, 11/24/2010

Teacher salaries defy trends of hard times

A Rossford City Schools kindergarten teacher made about $90,000 last year. The highest-paid teacher in Springfield Local Schools, making more than $93,000, was also the president of the local teachers' union.

Several teachers in Sylvania and at least one in the Oregon public schools also were paid in the $90,000-plus range last year, according to pay databases requested by The Blade and provided by the districts.

Facing deficits and no new local tax revenue, some suburban schools administrators say it's logical to look to pay and benefits for savings because the line items generally make up 80 to 85 percent of their operating budgets.

But teachers and their union leadership will have something to say about it as the two sides prepare for the contract negotiation season in 2011.

Strictly judging by the numbers, most of the deficits could be covered with stout pay concessions in the range of 10 percent from unions and other employee groups.

Tweaking benefits and health insurance also would reduce the deficits.

For some private industries, such measures have become commonplace in these difficult economic times.

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Union leadership says teachers deserve their pay because they are educated professionals with difficult and important jobs. They say targeting only teacher pay to close budget deficits could erode the quality of future teaching ranks.

“I guess everything is on the table, but you would have to ask yourself if you would want to take such a drastic cut,” said Andy Jewell, a pay researcher and spokesman for the Ohio Education Association, which represents some suburban Toledo teacher unions.

“I realize that the issue of salaries has become sensitive because of the recession, and there are folks out there who are also very vocal. But this is what we're attempting to achieve, a level of professional pay for the profession,” Mr. Jewell said, adding that teachers are among the most “valuable professional people” in any community.

Voters speak

Faced with fiscal turmoil in their own lives, voters turned away Nov. 2 levy requests for Oregon, Rossford, and Sylvania school districts. Springfield's levy also failed, but by only 53 votes, and there are still 296 provisional ballots to be counted.

In the group, Rossford is an exception because its levy was for new school construction, and the district doesn't have a projected budget deficit for next school year.

Other major suburban Toledo districts, including Maumee and Perrysburg, did not place levies on the ballot.

The Blade analysis of pay databases found teacher and employee pay figures out of whack with average pay in the region and for other industries, particularly when judged on a per-day or per-hour basis.

For example, a junior high math teacher in Rossford City Schools made more than $98,000 last school year.

A Springfield guidance counselor with a base salary of about $85,000 bumped up his pay to $97,000 last year with extra duties, including working as the boys' basketball coach.

The Blade analyzed Toledo Public Schools' teacher and employee pay in 2009 for a story in March and recently examined pay for University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University employees.

The Blade has now obtained 2009 salary data from 11 suburban school districts.

In addition to Oregon, Rossford, Perrysburg, Springfield, and Sylvania, data was collected from Anthony Wayne, Bedford, Lake Local, Maumee, Northwood, Ottawa Hills Local, and Washington Local schools. Also included are employees from Lucas County Educational Service Center and the Wood County Educational Service Center.

The searchable pay databases, including those for other suburban school districts, are available online at toledoblade.com/publicsalaries.

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Search this database for school

employees in the districts of Anthony Wayne, Bedford Township, Mich., Lake Local, Maumee,

Northwood, Oregon, Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, Rossford, Springfield, Sylvania, and Washington Local. Also included are employees from the Lucas County Educational Service Center and the Wood County Educational Service Center.

 

                  

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database app.

Gross pay figures are for 2009.

Source: Suburban schools in Toledo area

                                                                            

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Addressing deficits

School administrators interviewed by The Blade said they weren't likely to try to cover entire deficits with pay and benefit concessions and said other savings would come from streamlining operations, such as adjusting start times for schools so bus routes are more efficient or changing the schedules for cleaning and maintaining buildings, for example.

But with some districts already paring down those expenses and services, the day of fiscal reckoning has arrived.

Several of the districts, including Springfield and Sylvania, have signed up to try their luck again with the voters next year. But even if new levies are approved in February or May, the new tax money won't be available until after collections start in 2012.

In the short term, financial fixes are coming down to adjusting pay, benefits, and unions contracts.

Even when a district decides to save money by closing a school building, most of the savings come from resulting teacher layoffs or scaled-back hours of personnel — not from the saved utilities or supplies.

In general, suburban teachers were paid in the same fashion as in Toledo Public Schools, garnering extra pay for working days beyond the 185-day school year and supplemental pay for coaching teams, running chess clubs, advising student newspapers, and for any other duty deemed extra work in union contracts.

Adding it up

Even without supplemental pay, some suburban teachers still made a base pay of more than $80,000 a year because they have multiple degrees and decades of experience — exemplifying the union imperative of paying higher wages for longevity and educational levels.

The top base pay in Rossford, for example, is more than $91,000.

Guidance counselors and school psychologists were routinely among the highest paid, outside of central office administrators, largely because they work extra hours and days.

Suburban teachers, in general, cannot cash in unused sick time from year to year, as do their counterparts in other big city districts.

But some of the suburban teachers, upon retirement, can cash in bushels of unused sick time collected over a career as severance pay. The caps vary from district-to-district, depending on policies.

The highest-paid teacher in the four districts for 2009 was Rossford Junior High math teacher Edwin Howard, who made $98,133, according to a database provided by his school district. He has a doctorate and decades of teaching experience.

The Bedford School District teacher was also a driver's education instructor. The Bedford School District teacher was also a driver's education instructor.
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The 50-year-old's base salary for the current school year is listed at more than $91,000, and he collects extra pay for serving as junior high athletic director ($5,744) and as track and field coach ($2,874), the Rossford payroll department said.

Rossford kindergarten teacher Alice Buehrle, who taught at Glenwood Elementary, made $89,836 last year, according to the database. She retired in May with 30-plus years of experience and a master's degree plus extra credits.

Other teachers and noncentral office employees in the four districts pulled in top pay.

Norman Brettel, president of the Springfield teachers union, was the highest paid teacher in his district, according to the database. He made more than $93,000 last year.

Guidance counselors, in general, can collect extra pay because they work beyond the regular number of days in a school year and outside of regular school hours as they assist students with personal issues.

Both Mr. Brettel and Mr. Howard could not be reached for comment.

Challenging work

Ms. Buehrle, who helped institute the all-day kindergarten program at her school, said she never considered that she made too much money.

She said she worked extremely hard over her more than 35-year career, spending her summers educating herself with extra schooling and training she sought to become better at her job.

“Teachers are people who get college degrees, get certified, and continue to go to school,” she said. “I worked my way up the pay scale; it wasn't given to me.”

She said she doesn't know any of the types of teachers who supposedly have summers off or leave after the bell each day without continuing to work at home.

“It's never over, and it's not a 9 to 5 job. When I get home I'm still planning. I didn't use the same lesson plans every year, and you better know the new technology and continue to learn,” she said. “You should be so tired at the end of the day you should lay on the floor and have to put your purse on top of your stomach to rest. And then you know you've been teaching.”

Changing times

With the levy request down in flames, the second failure in as many tries, Oregon City Schools faces a $3 million deficit next school year.

“Times have changed, there's no growth in our revenue. There are still people who don't appreciate that,” said Jane Fruth, treasurer for the school system.

If every Oregon school employee — union and nonunion — donated a penny of each paycheck dollar, it would add up to about $250,000.

Another $500,000 could be saved if employees agreed to freeze their automatic annual increases given for years of experience, called step increases. They've already agreed to do that for the current school year and also freeze their salaries.

And then there are benefit packages, which if tweaked could reap hundreds of thousand of dollars a year, depending on the changes, she said. From a pure budgetary standpoint, the entire shortfall could be covered next school year with a 10 percent pay decrease for all employees.

But school administrators are not likely to ask for that and instead plan to rearrange some building cleaning schedules and compress bus routes, in addition to seeking pay and benefit concessions, Ms. Fruth said.

The district's administration has come under fire from employees because it has a $6 million fund balance and prefers not to dip into it.

“We're starting down that slope of spending our savings, and we need to make cuts early, so we don't have to make more drastic cuts down the line,” she said.

She said the district already hit up teachers this current school year for pay and benefit concessions, including a pay freeze and $1.3 million in benefits savings, which included some employees paying higher health insurance co-pays.

“Getting a true step freeze was a big deal. It shows that the unions wanted to work with us,” she said of the most recent set of concessions. “Our teachers did take concessions on insurance, and that's an area where a lot of districts need to look.”

Sylvania Superintendent Bradley Rieger said that because the levy failed, his district faces a $6 million deficit next school year.

For every 1 percent pay cut for all employees, the district saves about $500,000, and freezing annual step increases for a year saves about $1 million, he said.

A 10 percent pay cut, coupled with a one-year step freeze, would clear the deficit.

The teachers' contract is up at the end of this year, he said, declining to say whether he and his team will ask for pay and benefit concessions. The administration is still compiling its list of potential cuts, he said.

Mr. Rieger said that maintaining teacher pay is important because quality teachers with experience can make “personal connections” with students to offer a “meaningful learning experience.”

He said the “positive impact that education has on students is life-changing.”

Bob Moellenberg, treasurer for Springfield Local Schools, said that since before the 2009-2010 school year, the district has cut $3.2 million in salaries and services, including eliminating administration positions and laying off or reassigning 20 teachers, and increasing class sizes, among other changes.

Since the levy failure, the district now faces a $2.9 million budget hole next year.

“We need to work together with the unions to move forward. It's obviously in everyone's best interest to successfully operate the school district with limited resources,” he said. “Reductions in pay is something that would have to be negotiated; it's not something we can do on our own.”

Contact Christopher D.Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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