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Published: Tuesday, 3/15/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Sylvania schools OKs cuts

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

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The Sylvania Board of Education Monday night approved a $5.5 million budget-cutting plan that will eliminate scores of school district jobs, though not as many as would have been cut had employees not accepted pay concessions last month.

"Our employees stepped up in a time when a storm was looming. They didn't know how bad it will be, but they did it anyway," Superintendent of Schools Brad Rieger said to preface his recommendation to the board that it approve the austerity plan, under which class sizes will increase at all levels, certain curricular offerings will be eliminated, and lunch costs and "pay to play" fees will rise.

Board president Vicki Donovan-Lyle also praised district employees' participation in the pay concessions, under which "step" raises and longevity bonuses due to paid next school year will be relinquished.

The $1.4 million in givebacks from the teachers, support staff, and administrators will allow 36 positions under the threat of elimination to be kept.

Employees' acceptance of a retirement incentive offer also will help the district reduce the amount of unemployment compensation it will have to pay out for layoffs associated with the 75.3 full-time equivalent positions that still will be cut.

But the spending-cut plan hinges on district voters' May 3 approval of a 4.9-mill school board levy request. Without that levy's $7.1 million in annual revenue, the school board will have to cut at least $3 million more from the 2011-12 budget, with even deeper cuts thereafter.

Reading from a prepared statement, Dave Spiess, the school board's vice president, pleaded for a favorable vote while acknowledging that the spending cuts will satisfy nobody.

"Some will perceive this as the best compromise. Others will say it was too much or not enough," Mr. Spiess said. "Some will say we should have eliminated busing, humanities, and extra-curricular activities and thus not lay off any core teaching positions. Sylvania Schools has a 100-year history of extracurricular activities and based on our current situation, I will not be one to vote to eliminate them."

The "looming storm," meanwhile, is the uncertain future of state education funding. Laura Sauber, the Sylvania schools' treasurer, said she has assumed in her budget forecast that the district will lose $2 million in state aid because of Ohio's budget woes.

After the cuts and concessions, the district's spending forecast for 2011-12 is about $74.5 million, she said. The vote last night did not constitute formal adoption of a budget but rather a formal adoption of the budget-reduction plan's job reductions.

Two administrators, 33 teachers, and 17 support staff so far have accepted the district's retirement offer of $24,000, paid out over four years; support staff still can take the incentive while the deadline for others has passed. But not all of those retirements match positions that will be eliminated in the spending-cut plan. District officials won't know for weeks how many layoffs actually will be required to fit the plan.

Last year, the school board cut 45 positions from the district's payroll, but retirements and resignations meant that only two employees were laid off after attrition.

Perry Lefevre, president of the Sylvania Education Association, said teachers' union members might not know until June 1 whether they'll have jobs next year.

"We still have to go through this period of building reorganization," he said. "We that it will be faster … but it's a very complex process."

Among the complications is an issue raised by Neal Ellis, a science teacher at Northview High School, who said that while he has qualified for tenure, the union's contract only provides for tenure when a teacher renews his or her own employment contract, and his is good through next year.

Mr. Ellis said that situation puts his job at risk even though he's got seniority over other teachers who will get tenure before he does, because their contracts expire this year. He asked the board to void the final year of his contract so he could renew now.

The levy, if passed, will cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 just over $150 in annual tax. Mr. Spiess said that amounts to less than two-tenths of a penny per dollar of home value.

"That seems to be a great value to me," the school board's vice president said. "For anyone who questions whether to support our schools, I suggest they look in the eyes of our youth, discuss with them what the schools mean to them."

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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