Dave Maul, a member of the New Albany-Plain Local Schools financial review and reporting committee (FRRC), has resigned, citing an inability to help the district with its financial situation.

Dave Maul, a member of the New Albany-Plain Local Schools financial review and reporting committee (FRRC), has resigned, citing an inability to help the district with its financial situation.

"The FRRC could be a good and valuable tool for the district, but only if the members' skills are used wisely and effectively," Maul wrote in his resignation letter. "This hasn't been the case to date."

Maul submitted his resignation to the school board June 20, two days before the FRRC was expected to review a contract proposed by the teachers union. Maul said he was told by superintendent April Domine that the contract would be approved by the board at the special meeting June 22. The FRRC was scheduled to review the contract and give its recommendation the morning of June 22.

"They've already committed to sign the contract tomorrow," he said June 21.

Jeff Warner, the district's communications director, said the FRRC meeting already had been changed to June 22 when the district negotiations with PLEA ended. He said the FRRC members were invited to the June 13 school board workshop to hear details of the contract before their next regularly scheduled meeting. The meetings to review and either provide recommendations or a final vote fell on the same day by chance, because of scheduling issues.

Domine didn't directly confirm to ThisWeek that she had told Maul the board would approve the contract June 22, but said she had explained the negotiation process to Maul.

Through the collective-bargaining process, Domine said, both sides have to agree on terms that "fundamentally meet their goals." She said both the union members and the board must vote on those terms, as agreed to in negotiations. She said the negotiations stipulated that the contract would begin June 30.

"Typically, you would expect those terms to continue on in the vote," she said.

The teachers requested the board consider negotiating the contract early, even though the contract wasn't set to expire until June 2012.

"This was a noncontractual year," said Mike Covey, president of the Plain Local Education Association (PLEA). "PLEA decided to approach the board a full year earlier because of the need to develop a proactive plan to extend the current budget as much as possible given the poor economy, the projected downturn in local property taxes, as well as the board-projected shortfall of $8 million.

"I am expecting that the classified employees, as well as administration from the top down, will follow PLEA's leadership in responsible financial concessions for the next three years."

The school board created the FRRC last year to assist in reviewing district finances and share perspectives from both the private and public sectors. The committee has five community members: Phil Derrow, Dave Demers, Chris Luffler, Maul and Parag Patel. They are joined by district treasurer Brian Ramsay, Domine, school board members Laura Kohler and Cheri Lehmann, director of business operations Ken Stark and three union representatives from the district's two labor organizations.

During its first year of work, the committee encouraged the administration to save $500,000 for the school year. Administrators saved more than $600,000.

The FRRC also helped reduce the debt in the projected five-year forecast with its suggestions and asked the administration to do an external review of the district's finances, comparing the district to other central Ohio districts and to the 20 most similar districts in the state, as identified by the Ohio Department of Education.

Maul said the FRRC could do much more.

"I think on a scale of 1 to 10, we were operating on about a 2," Maul said. "We accomplished relatively little."

Maul said he and Luffler, who both have strong financial backgrounds with large companies, repeatedly requested the administration allow them to go over the budget with them line by line. But that didn't happen.

"They didn't let us get involved," Maul said. "It almost feels like they ask us to give advice but are really not asking us to give advice."

Members of the FRRC often said that job is difficult because of union contracts, which set 80 percent of the district's $50-million budget. The proposed PLEA contract reduces the increase on teachers' base salaries from 3 percent to 1 percent for the next three years. It also decreases step increases by nearly half. Step increases are given to teachers based on seniority and education.

Teachers also agreed to change the percentage they pay for health-care coverage, agreeing to pay 15 percent of their health-care costs for single coverage. Currently, teachers pay 10 percent on single coverage. The contract also increases employee co-pays, deductibles for family coverage and out-of-pocket expenses.

The contract is expected to save the district $3.8 million over the next three years.

Maul said he's not pleased with the changes, especially because many provisions remain the same. He said there are no teacher evaluations, for example, meaning raises rely on step increases and automatic base salary increases.

"While I understand that state laws prohibit the FRRC from being part of the detailed contract negotiations, I really don't believe they prohibited the (board) from soliciting feedback from the FRRC as to whether or not (the board) should consider a renewal a year before the contract expired," he wrote in his resignation letter. "This could have readily been discussed back in March before negotiations were started."

Kohler brought up Senate Bill 5 at the June 13 school board workshop, which she said had already affected negotiations. The historic legislation, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, redefines collective bargaining for Ohio's public employees. It has not yet gone into effect and opponents of the legislation have mounted a campaign to place the issue before voters as a referendum on the November ballot. S.B. 5 prohibits public workers from striking, restricts the number of issues that may be discussed in collective bargaining, institutes performance-based pay raises instead of basing raises on longevity, drops the percentage of workers needed to decertify a union from more than 50 percent to 30 percent and caps employers' payment of their workers' health insurance at 85 percent.

Maul's letter also addressed the resignation of former superintendent Steve Castle.

"Soon after the committee was formed, the (board) decided to terminate Steve Castle's contract without soliciting any input from the FRRC," he wrote. "While I know that several (board) members' campaigns revolved around replacing Steve, forcing his 'retirement' prior to his contract termination date cost the district $400,000-plus. A better option would have been to monitor and control Steve during his last year and simply let his contract expire."

When Kohler, Lehmann and Natalie Matt ran for the school board, they said they would try to change the district's leadership.

"I believe we did what was in the best interest of the district," Lehmann said. "I don't regret my decision."

Lehmann said she was disappointed to hear Maul had resigned.

"He's been very helpful to help me with some of my decisions I've made and influenced (the board's) along the way," she said. "I want to thank him for his work."