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Published: Thursday, 10/14/2010

TPS asks teachers for 3% cut in salary

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Fran Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said no.

But she also wanted to check with her members, and so she sent a letter asking for a response to a survey question by last Friday.

"Some board of education members would like to immediately resume negotiations with TFT regarding additional wage concessions. Their logic is that a larger reduction in pay would help pass the tax levy," she wrote. "I rejected returning to the bargaining table. … However, I could be wrong."

Ms. Lawrence told The Blade Wednesday the surveys were being collected and counted, and that a final tally likely would be made over the weekend. She said her plan is to negotiate pay and benefits with school officials on a typical schedule starting in April.

Just a few months removed from its last budget crisis, the school board finds itself in a precarious position - seeking new revenue from a difficult electorate in an anti-tax mood.

Ms. Lawrence's letter to members references editorials in The Blade and comments from school board members that indicate significant union concessions are needed and will be sought for next school year.

A line is being drawn as labor and management slowly reveal their positions on pay and contracts.

Some school board members and central office officials have said privately that a 5 percent, across-the-board cut from all TPS employees would be a starting point and that more of a cut is probably necessary.

Ms. Lawrence would not comment on that.

Payroll makes up about three-quarters of the school district's operating budget, and TPS officials have projected another $44 million deficit next school year.

Unions might resist pay cuts even more, considering the raises announced this week for about 2,000 AFSCME employees at the University of Toledo. They'll receive two raises over 18 months totaling more than 5 percent combined.

School board President Bob Vasquez said universities have better options for raising revenue, such as increasing tuition and fees.

"They also might not have the kind of legislation facing them," he said.

"Nobody is telling them to provide bus service for all students within two miles."

A TPS levy in May failed by a landslide. And the district laid off about 400 employees as it cut some sports and bus routes, among other services.

Enrollment dropped 5 percent this year with some parents reacting to the cuts by leaving for other school districts and for charter and private schools.

School officials are trying to rebuild trust in TPS fiscal management as they campaign for the new levy.

The district hasn't had any new levy money in a decade. The 7.8-mill levy would be the largest new money levy ever for the district and would raise about $22 million a year.

If passed, the district could start collecting the extra tax money starting in January and bank an extra six months' worth of the increase before the next fiscal year begins in July.

But persistent annual budget deficits, an alleged embezzlement of more than $660,000, and deep cuts last year to balance the budget have tried residents' patience and eroded confidence.

School union leaders and at least one board member also treated budget deficit projections released last year with suspicion, saying the numbers moved around too much in the midst of wage negotiations.

They've called for better projections about how much the school system is expected to take in next year and how much it might be in the red or black from year to year.

To balance last year's budget, labor and management negotiated a 1 percent pay cut and adjustments to health insurance co-pays in a one-year deal.

School board member and former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford called the concession paltry and voted against the budget.

Losing trust, some groups and critics, including Ms. Lawrence, have called for outside audits of the TPS books.

But district officials say outside audits are already part of the regular process.

Still, as they campaign for passage of the levy, restoring confidence in TPS' fiscal management is a key strategy.

That includes an announcement this morning that UT's internal auditor and chief financial officer will review TPS' latest five-year budget projections free-of-charge.

The projections are due this month and are required by state law. They provide the basis for union negotiations and future financial planning.

Mr. Vasquez plans to announce the review at a 10:30 a.m. news conference this morning.

It's one move from a somewhat secretive panel of area business, union, and education leaders that has been meeting the past several months to talk about the financial maladies afflicting the school system.

The committee includes Mayor Mike Bell, UT President Lloyd Jacobs, school board President Bob Vasquez, TPS Treasurer Dan Romano, several school union leaders, and a cadre of business leaders.

Dr. Jacobs said another "set of eyes" is always a good idea and that the UT officials would "call as we see it" when examining the documents.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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