After six years on the state's continuous improvement list, South-Western City Schools jumped to the "excellent" category in the latest state report card, school officials said Aug. 23.

After six years on the state's continuous improvement list, South-Western City Schools jumped to the "excellent" category in the latest state report card, school officials said Aug. 23.

The district's 2008-09 rating was "continuous improvement," making the latest rating the equivalent of jumping from a C grade to an A.

Also Monday, the school board approved a new one-year contract with district administrators. The contract freezes base pay and will allow step pay increases.

This year's state report card is the district's highest-ever rating and represents improvement in 14 of the 26 areas in which the state measures performance.

Officials cautioned, however, that the Ohio Department of Education doesn't officially release results for the 2009-10 school year until Aug. 27. The district released what it called preliminary results early because The Columbus Dispatch had filed public records requests with South-Western and other Columbus-area districts to obtain those results.

Some results could change, officials said, although superintendent Bill Wise said no last-minute changes have occurred for South-Western in at least five years.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we will maintain this (rating)," Lois Rapp, assistant superintendent for curriculum, said during a news briefing prior to the Aug. 23 regular board meeting.

The state rates school districts with six designations: excellent with distinction, excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch and academic emergency.

South-Western, the sixth-largest district in the state with about 20,000 students, showed improvement over last year in several categories that are part of the report card. The "performance index score" was 91.6 (90 in 2008-09), attendance was 94.2 percent (93.9 percent in 2008-09) and

The district met "annual yearly progress" standards which measure things such as improvement in math and reading proficiency for nine of 10 sub-groups, missing only special education. Under the state's criteria, that allows the district to move up in its ranking.

In 2008-09, the district failed to meet AYP in several groups: black, non-Hispanic students, reading and math for students with disabilities and reading for students with limited English proficiency.

In the "standards met" category, South-Western met 13 of 26 categories in state testing for grades 3-8 and grades 10 and 11. The district's graduation rate of 86.4 percent (87 in 2008-09) also failed to meet the state standard of at least 90 percent.

While pleased with the results of the latest state report card, Wise said a lot of work remains to be done.

"Regardless of our results, our job is to take the children" even further, Wise said at the news briefing. "We'll never be satisfied with the results and will push ourselves to be better."

One area of concern is that South-Western is behind other districts in how prepared children are when they enter kindergarten, officials said. A number of factors are responsible, including having limited pre-kindergarten programs due to lack of funds and having a growing number of students who don't speak English.

More than 10 years ago, the district had only about 80 students taking English as a second language, Wise said. That number has now grown to about 3,000 students.

Rapp gave board members an overview of the state report card during the Aug. 23 board meeting, but officials did not talk about the current report card except to say that it is coming out on Aug. 27. No board members asked about preliminary results.

At the meeting, the board unanimously approved a one-year contract with the district's administrators, which includes no base-pay raises and requires more employees to pick up part of the cost of their health care.

The new pact expires June 30, 2011, and is retroactive to July 1 of this year. The old contract expired June 30.

Under terms of the contract, approved earlier this month by the South-Western Administrators' Association, its 85 members will contribute 7.5 percent on single health-care plans and on all dental plans beginning in January. Previously, they did not contribute to either. That amount goes to 10 percent in January 2012. Family coverage remains at 35 percent.

Retirement plan contributions by the district for each member will be capped at the current 10 percent with any increases to be picked up by the employee.

The union also agreed to study a performance-based pay structure for this school year for administrators. About 55 administrators are eligible for step increases this year, Wise said.

Board president Randy Reisling praised the new agreement.

"Our administrators do a great job for us," he said. "They understand the (financial) constraints we have been under over these past years."

District personnel director Bob Rains, president of the union, said in a statement that "SWAA members understand the financial ramifications of our struggling economy and want to help the district remain fiscally responsible."

Wise said during the news briefing that contract talks continue with the district's two other unions which represent teachers and classified employees. Both unions are in federal mediation talks with the district. The Ohio Association of Public Employees union next meets on Sept. 7, while the South-Western Education Association meets on Sept. 28, Wise said.

In other business at the Aug. 23 meeting, the board hired Carl R. Metzger to a one-year contract as assistant superintendent for personnel. He replaces Gary Smetzer.

Metzger has served for four years as superintendent of the 1,000-student Marion Local Schools in Mercer County and will take over the South-Western job effective Sept. 15.

"It's great to be here and I look forward to the opportunity," Metzger said.

Metzger will earn $106,176 this year based on a 228-day work schedule.