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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 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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