Westlake Board of Education Splinters Amid Tough Budget Decisions
Administrators discuss tuition for all-day kindergarten and concessions from teachers' unions and a possible levy.
After seven hours of deliberation, discussion and argument, Monday’s Board of Education meeting was, at best, a non-starter as school officials couldn’t agree on much of anything.
In front of a capacity crowd of more than 300 parents, teachers and residents in Westlake High School’s cafeteria, board members splintered on two of Superintendent Dan Keenan’s proposals to help absorb $3.6 million in proposed state cuts for the upcoming school year.
The first proposal dealt with entering into negotiations with Westlake’s two teacher unions—OAPSE and the WTA— to either lay off or reduce pay for 68 Westlake City Schools employees. The move is projected to save about $2.7 million.
“The unions came to me and said ‘How can we help?’ which isn’t something that happens every day,” Keenan said. "They’ve set workable parameters to negotiate on. I highly suggest we move forward on this but I need a consensus on a how to proceed.”
Board President Tom Mays, Board Vice President Carol Winter and board member Andrea Rocco agreed with Keenan’s proposal; however, board members Tim Sullivan and Nate Cross said the plan would only prolong the ongoing budget dilemma by creating a drawn-out and contentious negotiation with the unions.
The second proposal was to introduce all-day kindergarten on a tuition basis and charge $2,300 per student. The measure would help pay for new teachers and keep class sizes at manageable levels, Keenan said.
Again, Cross and Sullivan sided against the superintendent, saying they needmore time to discuss the financials. Keenan and Treasurer Mark Pepera will move forward with the tuition plan on an internal basis as the board decides whether to approve it.
Alternatively, the superintendent is eyeing introducing a levy to boost revenue. He is headed to Columbus Tuesday to meet with legislators to try to persuade them to limit the district’s state cuts to 20 percent for next year. As it stands, the district faces a 76 percent reduction in state funding for 2011-12.
If Keenan and Pepera can achieve either of these goals, cuts to personnel and operations would be considerably less, Keenan said.
Jim Betts, an Ohio lobbyist who came to speak on Governor John Kasich’s budget proposal, did have some optimistic news that could shift the state's economic landscape to positively benefit education funding.
“As we see now today, revenues in Ohio have been surpassing the projections so they’re probably will be a carryover of somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 (million) to $800 million,” Betts said.
“Those monies can be used in the next two years so the (Ohio) Senate will have an opportunity to look at that trend and perhaps also increase projections for the two years and therefore have a half-billion dollars or more to deal with in their decision-making.”
To help increase revenue, Mays proposed advertising, sponsorships and naming rights for local businesses which could pay to have their names on a new school building, gymnasium or football field. He predicts his plan could generate revenue into the six figures and has the board’s backing to pursue it.
The board’s next meeting is a work session that’s scheduled for May 9.