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Tension Among School Board Members Grows as Budget Woes Loom

Debate over where to cut school budget causes bitterness, disagreement among members but teacher contract negotiations will move forward.

School board members Nate Cross and Tim Sullivan openly aired their frustrations to the public over what they believe is a complete mishandling by school administrators to bridge budget gaps that will be created by impending state funding losses at Monday night’s Board of Education work session.

As it stands, Westlake City Schools are expected to lose $4.9 million in state funding over the next two years, which means cuts to personnel and operating expenditures would be necessary to help balance the district’s $42-million annual budget. 

Superintendent Dan Keenan and treasurer Mark Pepera proposed to reduce operating expenditures for next school year by $950,000. To achieve these cuts, field trips, high school and staff transportation, and summer maintenance, among other line items, would either be reduced or eliminated. 

In discussion on how to go about decreasing personnel costs, which account for over 80 percent of the district’s budget, board members became ardently divided. 

Disagreement arose as Keenan and Pepera’s plan called for a freeze of step increases to teachers’ salaries over the next school year, which would net a savings of $1.12 million. 

To freeze these raises, Keenan needed majority approval of the board, but Cross and Sullivan spoke up, saying wages should not only be frozen, but reduced as well. 

Instead of leaving it for discussion in executive session, they spoke about it, and their distaste of the manner in which the board operates, during the public meeting. 

Cross suggested the school board go further and negotiate with the unions to freeze wages, reduce salaries across the board by five percent and increase the amount teachers contribute to their pensions and benefits. 

“Let’s not kid ourselves; this is not about the kids,” Cross said. “It’s no secret the effort to offer a freeze with concessions is consistent with the marching orders of unions across the state who have been scurrying to reopen and renegotiate their contracts with the passage of Senate Bill 5—a new law they’re trying to circumvent here in Ohio.

“…We all know these meetings are scripted. We come here, we deliver our lines, there’s never an opportunity for discussion. That’s what will happen inside executive session. We know it. I know it, at least, because I’ve witnessed it for the last year and a half.” 

Sullivan recommended cutting employees wages that exceed $90,000 by 10 percent, and cut everyone else’s salary by 3 percent, which would result in a $2.1 million savings for the district. 

Following Sullivan’s remarks, which included questioning board president Tom Mays’s leadership ability, he was blasted by Mays for trying to set the details of a negotiation in public versus doing it behind closed doors. 

“Showing leadership isn’t talking about what you want to do with regard to negotiations,” he said. “. . . Every day for the last 25 years I’ve negotiate things, and the worst thing you could possibly do, and I understand you’re an attorney and handle collection matters, but you don’t negotiate in public. You don’t set your floor and you don’t set your ceiling and you certainly don’t indicate what you’re looking for.” 

Before adjournment to executive session, Mays and board members Carol Winter and Andrea Rocco gave Keenan the majority approval to seek concessions with the district’s two teacher unions, the WTA and OAPSE. 

More details will unfold regarding the negotiation of those concessions at the board’s regular meeting on May 23. 

Mays, Winter and Rocco also voted yes to implementing a tuition-based kindergarten program whereby incoming students will be charged $2,300 a piece to attend. Once again, Cross and Sullivan were staunchly against it, saying tuition could be avoided by deeper cuts to expenditures. 

Keenan also alluded to putting a new school levy on the ballot some time in 2012, but he and Pepera said they want to see what kind of shape the state and local budget is in before determining or announcing the appropriate millage. 

Chris M. May 11, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Your report is a bit confusing in that it doesn't indicate whether the state funding cuts are before or after the changes made by the Ohio senate (capping reduction in state funds at 20%). I'd support a freeze but not cutting pay and benefits unless it was absolutely unavoidable and a levy couldn't be passed. And yes, the behavior of Cross and Sullivan seem childish and unbecoming a Westlake School Board member. I am beginning to wonder if a couple board members are taking "marching orders" from Fox News.
Westlake Resident-Joe Smith May 11, 2011 at 12:27 PM
Salary freezes are not uncommon with teaching contracts. Quite often this is NEGOTIATED as a 0% increase in any part or all parts of the term of a contract. In the past, Westlake teachers have agreed to 0% increase in one or more years of their negotiated contracts along with insurance premium payment increases. Sullivan's demands of cuts are essentially nullifying the current agreed contract with an additional reduction penalty. Also, let it be known that the Westlake teachers do not make 90K plus in salary. I hope he is referring to administrators so not to confuse the public over true teacher salaries. I welcome the Media to research what the current "norm" is today for other similar school directs in regards to freezes and reductions in budget. I think we will see that Cross and Sullivan are being outrageously unreasonable.
John Deike May 11, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Hello Chris, the $4.9 million is the district's updated two-year loss that's in accordance with Ohio House Bill 153 (The Biennial Budget Bill and Amendments), which includes the 20 percent cap in basic state aid. HB 153 has now moved onto the Ohio Senate for further review. The budget will be finalized June 30 and go in effect July 1. As it stood, under John Kasich's original budget proposal released on March 15, Westlake was positioned to lose $6.7 million over the next two years. Keenan and treasurer Mark Pepera like the move from $6.7 to $4.9 million, and they'll be working with Ohio Senator Tom Patton in hopes to further decrease overall losses. Thanks for reading! Best, John Deike
Gail Golembiewski May 11, 2011 at 04:37 PM
I for one am embarassed for Cross and Sullivan, they are acting like a bunch of teenagers that got grounded or something taken away from them, Dr. Keenan and the other 3 board members are acting responsibly and doing what is best for the district, I for one was against tuition based kindergarten but after having actually spoken to Dr. Keenan regarding my concerns I found him extremely approachable and I don't envy the position he is in. And the tough decisions that he is making, his job would be easier if it wasn't for the opposition of Cross and Sullivan. I think 2 board members need to be replaced and maybe a parent or 2 should sit on the board......make it an even playing field.
Jim Monahan May 11, 2011 at 07:01 PM
The full-day kindergarten was approved by a majority of the board, while Cross and Sullivan demonstrated, in front of hundreds of Westlake residents, why they should NOT be returned to the Westlake School Board for another term when their current terms expire!
Natalie May 12, 2011 at 01:19 AM
Any board member can do a good job if they can spend whatever they want however they want. They are not creative! Being on a board is like running a business. Anyone can run a business into the ground by avoiding tough decisions. You can't just throw a PTA mom on the board and say "yes" to everything all of the time. They have never even looked at "transportation". Cut back TRANSPORTATION! Gas prices are inconsistent and there are too many buses with a handful of kids. Look at the Kindergarten routes! Look at the drop off and pick up lines at Parkside and Lee Burneson. Cut bus service and bring back the teachers you fired! Bus service is expensive and offered far too easily. Look at the pre-schoolers who get bused? It is a luxury that Westlake cannot afford! Look at the pre-school in general. Yes it is nice but not necessary. They are taking up too much room ( five to 12 kids to a classroom!) and some are offered a ride from our district. The peer leaders do not get charged the going rate for pre-school. The special need children are bused/ or brought to and from school by van, and this should not be the case. I understand when a physically handicapped child may need assistance, but kids with a speech issue do not need a bus or van. This would save some teachers in the K-12 classrooms. Sorry, but parents of pre-schoolers should have to do what most of us do: PAY FOR IT - SEND THEM THREE DAYS A WEEK FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS AND GET THEM TO AND FROM THE SCHOOL.
Sam May 12, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Wow. Are you seriously judging special needs families and saying they don't need special services so their chdren can attend school? Spoken like a person who has no idea what it is like to have a special needs child. I agree that busing the preschoolers is a luxury but to assume that a special needs child could even attend a typical preschool shows you have no idea.
Westlake Resident-Joe Smith May 12, 2011 at 02:54 AM
Westlake parents need to make more responsible decisions related to transportation. Why are they driving their children to school and sitting in long lines idling wasting gas when they have bus service? It is these parents that are being wasteful. The buses still need to run the routes to pick up those students that are the neighbors of the students that catch a ride with Mom or Dad. Or transport the student when their parent can't transport on a specific day Therefore, you have a wasted resource by running buses half full. My advice, put the kids on the bus. Regarding pre-school, this is a specialized service for the special needs population that is great for peers as well. You need to consider the needs/handicap of the students before judging the class size. Some might argue that 12 in a class is too many based on the needs of the children in the specific class. Therefore, there is a need for a class of 5. Become better educated on special education before making judgement. When you do, you will understand better and probably agree that it is a great program offered in the Westlake City Schools. As for tuition for the peers, it is a reasonable rate for half day four days per week not three and peers do provide their own transportation.
Natalie May 12, 2011 at 03:42 AM
No - I am not judging them. Some DO NEED SERVICES AND TRANSPORTATION! some don't. Look at it look at it look at it! Consider the spending that is not necessary. I feel deeply for those with special needs. But it doesn't mean that all those (i.e - my point - a speech impediment - ) with a special need, should received door to door PRESCHOOL DROP OFF AND PICK UP SERVICE. The district needs to look at transportation! Make some hard decisions. I saw 8 Kindergartners on a big yellow school bus yesterday. EIGHT! How much did we pay the driver? Insurance? Gas?
Jim Monahan May 12, 2011 at 01:31 PM
This is no longer 1969. Pre-schoolers NEED the protection of an adult (bus driver) to protect them from sexual predators in 2011. Transportation takes up less than 20% of the budget, and the Superintendent has done a good job in the past, balancing the annual budget. Things only fell apart and brought on so much infighting between groups of Westlake residents after Governor Wall Street walked up to the Westlake Schools Treasury and announced a stick-up of state funds that rightly belonged to the Westlake schools. >"Sorry, but parents of pre-schoolers should have to do what most of us do: PAY FOR IT - SEND THEM THREE DAYS A WEEK FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS AND GET THEM TO AND FROM THE SCHOOL." This is NOT practical. Again, this is NOT 1969. It used to be that kindergartners began learning the alphabet and numbers and how to write them on paper. In 2011, Kindergartners are expected to be WAAAY beyond in knowledge compared to 1969. Also, three days a week in not sufficient time for pre-schoolers to develop the level of social skills which are expected by kindergarten. Finally, unless one parent is a stay-at-home parent, the expectation that families with both parents working is NOT practical "...FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS AND GET THEM TO AND FROM THE SCHOOL." Not all Westlakians are able to schedule their jobs around a few hours to drop off and pick up their kids from school.
Jim Monahan May 12, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Checking only one site is not good enough. After checking all three sites below, I found that there are THREE sex offenders within ONE MILE of our home. http://www.drc.ohio.gov/offendersearch/search.aspx http://www.esorn.ag.state.oh.us/Secured/p21_2.aspx http://ohio.esorn.net/index.php?AgencyID=53917
Jim Monahan May 12, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Also, with regard to buses which are "half empty," I can only relate to you what my oldest daughter told me... by the time the bus completes all of its assigned pickups, the bus is PACKED. You may see a bus along Center Ridge, or Dover Center, or Columbia and it is "half empty" AT THAT POINT IN TIME. However, unless you start at the bus depot and follow that bus through all of its pickups and then follow it to the intended school, you can have NO IDEA what the maximum capacity of that bus ACTUALLY was for that trip. You may want to contact the School Board Transportation Department for ridership numbers and percentages of capacity.
Gail Golembiewski May 12, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Natalie, my son is in preschool because he has a phonological processing disorder, and he does not ride the school bus, I drive him back and forth everyday, some of the children have severe disabilities such as blindness, deafness and being in a wheel chair....these services are needed so that these children will not fall behind their peers. And some parents can't transport their children for whatever reason why should westlake stop offering pre school to these children that need intervention?
Gail Golembiewski May 12, 2011 at 02:05 PM
And these children need these interventions when my son was 3 he couldn't talk, had social and emotional issues, he has blossomed over these past 2 years he has been in the program and is getting ready to go into kindergarten, in kindergarten children are expected to be able to write, start reading, some math so these preschoolers need to have the tools to help them be on a level playing field. I pray you never have to have a child that has special needs, but until you walk a mile in a special needs parents shoes you should not speak.
Gail Golembiewski May 12, 2011 at 02:12 PM
The classes that have 5 students are those students that have Autism and other spectrum disorders and need a smaller class to be able to deal with their disease, these children require more intensive treatment, there are children that have Down's Syndrome, That are blind, Deaf and paralyzed, how can you look at these kids and expect them to attend a regualr pre school when those teachers are not trained to meet those needs, case in point my daughter went to a regular preschool and she had social and emotional issues that the teachers were unable to comprehend and did not know how to teach her, she went into the pre school program and she is now a happy, healthy and well adjusted soon to be 2nd grader....I suggest you go visit one of these classes and see the care and compassion these teachers have for these children.
Gail Golembiewski May 12, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Oh and by the way what does your post have to do with the tensions between the school board over the budget? Just curious
Natalie May 12, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I wrote this to get people to actually open their eyes to other OPTIONS to reduce costs. I think EVERYONE SHOULD TAKE A HIT! THIS INCLUDES SPORTS PROGRAMS, MUSIC PROGRAMS, WINGS AND TRANSPORTATION. All of these things should be scrutinized. I think that the preschool program is extremely necessary and valuable. Do you realize how many preschools in the area offer three day and two day programs? My kids did three days. They were totally Kindergarten ready. I also held them back just in case they were not socially ready. People lean on No Child Left Behind quickly and send their kids just because their birth date indicates that they can. Some go on an IEP which costs the district money. The theory behind "No Child Left Behind" is a good one. But an expensive one when someone takes advantage. For the record: I am for IEP's I believe Rocco, Mays, Winter Keenan took an easy path by firing teachers and putting a price tag on all day Kindergarten.9(an unfair easy target) It would be difficult to be without transportation and by the way, I saw the 8 kids get off of the bus at school. It motivated me to write on this blog. I am not looking to win an argument, I am looking for the Board to get creative. Westlake parents just don't want to give up anything. Can't wait until we have beautiful new schools, less teachers and can't pay for gas to fill up the buses or pay the electric bills. It's time to get serious about the money and this means affecting and offending all of us.
Natalie May 12, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Gail - I said let's look at the unnecessary costs of preschool. I think any intervention program is necessary but I don't think that transportation for SOME of the kids is necessary. Let's transport them in fuel efficient vehicles. I think they should consider a 3 day program and a 2 day program in order to save room and share the classrooms. Then they won't have to order Mobile Units. Just an idea to consider and it may not work. Let's get people thinking of OPTIONS! Get creative. If we end up getting more money from the state, then maybe we won't need any of these changes.
Natalie May 12, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Oh well - you missed my point. Not surprising. I wrote on this because I kept reading your posts about how the K tuition is affecting YOU. Then you commented about Cross and Sullivan and have knocked them several times. I wrote because I believe they are trying harder than you and most of my fellow parents realize. I want your kids to flourish as well as other kids. I have never walked a mile in your shoes, nor have you walked in mine. I am a compassionate person who has issues with some of the decisions made by the district. I am entitled to an opinion and am concerned about the issues. I have been in the classroom. I feel for the families of kids who have Down's Autism, Blind, Deaf etc., So many challenges. I cannot fully understand but I pray for them daily and count my blessings. I can only tell you that the comments I made are not fully explained and there is not enough room to explain. I admire the pre-school teachers. There are options. That is my main point. Good luck.
Ohio Mom May 12, 2011 at 05:42 PM
It is sad to see Westlake residents fighting over the shrinking state aid proposed by Gov. Kasich and now passed by the Ohio House. However, no one seems to have a problem with the Ohio House's DOUBLING of taxpayer money to for-profit charter schools and vouchers. White Hat Management, the for-profit management company which last year contributed $4 Million to Republicans, will benefit from our tax dollars. In the meantime, we fight over the shrinking pie and White Hat Management will get what it paid for: our tax dollars.
Westlake Resident-Joe Smith May 12, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Ohio Mom has made a valid point. Patch should do a story to educate more on the adverse affects of Kasich's goal of more privatization. After all, Cross and Sullivan are simply riding on the coat tails of Kasich. Thanks for bringing up White Hat Management. Assuming this is the same WHM you mentioned... read more... http://education.ohio.com/2011/04/akrons-white-hat-gets-poor-grades-for-students/ Governor Kasich also stated "Teach for America is coming to Ohio" in his State of the State of Ohio address. http://www.teachforamerica.org This is BAD on so many levels.
Jim Monahan May 12, 2011 at 07:27 PM
Amen, Joe!
Tom Horwitz May 12, 2011 at 11:47 PM
How many speech-impaired children are getting special transportation services? How much is spent specifically on providing special transportation services for speech-impaired children? Do any of these speech-impaired children have other challenges (i.e., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, etc.)? I might be wrong, but I think you raised an issue that does not actually exist. If I'm wrong, I'll eat my words.
Scott May 13, 2011 at 01:56 AM
“Let’s not kid ourselves; this is not about the kids,” Cross said. I find this statement ironic. Extremem pay reductions will dilute the pool of quality educators by making that position less attractive. I fail to see how having less qualified teachers will help educate our children.
Chris M. May 13, 2011 at 02:02 AM
By now the entire nation knows about White Hat. Check out Gail Collins' op-ed in the NY Times yesterday: Reading, ’Riting and Revenues http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/opinion/12collins.html?_r=1&hp Unfortunately, Kasich's extremism isn't really that funny if you happen to live in Ohio and have kids in public schools.
ocscar acosta May 17, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Westlake teachers salaries are in the top 10% in Ohio. Ohio teachers salaries are the 6th highest in the US. I am not aware of mass hiring in other districts but am aware of other districts facing the same crisis that Westlake is facing. Where will the teachers go - the private sector doesn't seem very likely. Westlake needs a salary reduction to balance the budget, the teachers need to keep their jobs or become unemployed. If the district evaluates performance properly - the teachers need to meet their performance goals or need to find another job. I don't understand why the teachers feel so empowered - maybe its the three members of the school board that are negotiating on behalf of and representing the interests of the teachers union. Did the teachers union vote them into office. I thought they were supposed to be representing Westlake residents.
Westlake Resident-Joe Smith May 18, 2011 at 06:26 AM
Westlake City Schools rated EXCELLENT in the State of Ohio. Wages Earned! View the State report card at http://www.ode.state.oh.us/reportcardfiles/2009-2010/BUILD/040758.pdf Based on the current rating that has been consistent for over a decade, I would have to say the current evaluation process is doing quite well to ensure there are excellent teachers educating our students. Feel free to dig deeper into the data. http://ilrc.ode.state.oh.us/Districts/District_Questions.asp?sel=045062,Westlake City,Cuyahoga County Oscar, not sure what your point is regarding Westlake teachers salaries. Based on the data, it appears they are earning their wage. What is your point about evaluation? Why try to fix something that is not broken? I am guessing you are implying a "merit pay" system be put into place as suggested by SB5. Hmmm? SB5 does mention this but the legislatures forgot an important part of this grand idea. They "forgot" to define "merit pay" or offer a tool or formula for this concept that would be fair for all teachers. They say they want to leave that to the local level to decide. Imagine the problems involved with every District having a unique merit pay system. Want to get rich? Develop this golden egg of evaluation to sell to all the Districts. I am sure Kasich has somebody in the private sector working on that right now ready to sell to the tax payers.
Jeff Tock May 18, 2011 at 07:23 PM
I, for one, am a big supporter of for-profit schools. Public schools are mismanaged and a black hole for tax dollars (Westlake, for example, has underfunded their building maintenance for years and now needs a new building?). For-profit schools give an alternative to parents that are not happy with their present public school district and provide a much needed consequence to mismanagement. This witch hunt on for-profit schools is silly- the school only gets money if a student goes there. If public schooling is as great as you are making it out to be then you shouldn't be worried about tax dollars going there since the choice will be clear. The days of free passes for school boards and management are over. The idea of throwing more money at a problem is over. I like Sullivan & Cross for their desire to instill some accountability onto the board & management. I am not impressed with Rocco, as I only see her as a cheerleader for teachers and unqualified as a manager. And lastly, I'm not impressed with Pepera and his crayon pro forma income stmts.
Westlake Resident-Joe Smith May 18, 2011 at 10:13 PM
The Voters of Westlake agreed to have new buildings built. If the Westlake City Schools had kept up with the demand of maintenance and upgrades it would have been throwing good money after bad. The taxpayers would then claim this as irresponsible. Mr. Tock's claim of underfunding is not true. During this time period, school districts everywhere were plunging into the RED while Westlake was staying in the BLACK by making wise financial decisions. In addition to monies being held on facility upgrades and repairs, employees accepted 0% increases in pay and increased payment into insurance. Many purchases on tangibles were refused. Overall, it would have been more costly to repair and upgrade, rather than build new. This blog does not warrant listing all ways the WCS were responsible. Mr. Tock, could you please share the success rate of these profit schools as how they relate to the Ohio State Standards? How many of them fail? Some specific examples would be great equal in comparison to the Westlake City Schools.

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