Pickerington Local School District teachers on Monday urged local voters to support Issue 3 on Nov. 2 to preserve the district's quality of education, as well as their jobs.

Pickerington Local School District teachers on Monday urged local voters to support Issue 3 on Nov. 2 to preserve the district's quality of education, as well as their jobs.

Eight days prior to election day, the Pickerington Board of Education held two meetings Monday to discuss how to cut $9-million from the district's operating budget if an 8-mill replacement levy fails.

While a handful of people turned out for the 8:30 a.m. meeting, approximately 140 attended the evening session.

The vast majority were PLSD teachers, many of whom wearing buttons saying, "Do the Math: 700 Teachers - ??? Jobs = Failure."

Issue 3 seeks to "replace" an 8-mill levy originally passed in 1977, which due to state law requiring millage to decrease when property values rise, currently collects at 1.158 mills.

Passage would allow the district to begin collecting increased revenue on Jan. 1. According to district officials, it would generate a total of $8.98-million yearly, including $7.586-million in new revenue.

As a result, homeowners annually would pay an additional $209.53 per $100,000 of home valuation, or $17.46 per month.

Failure, however, would lead to the possible elimination or reduction of up to 43 teachers and another 42 support staff, as well as up to four administrative positions. Those cuts alone, district officials have said, would reduce operating expenses by more than $3.8-million.

Pickerington Education Association president Carla Fultz said this would inhibit the district's ability to provide a quality education to local students.

"As dedicated professionals, we are extremely concerned extremely concerned over the proposed budget reductions," Fultz said. "We understand if Issue 3 fails, massive cuts will be made, resulting in a devastating reduction in the quality of the educational services currently provided to our more than 10,600 students.

"This is not something we take lightly," Fultz said. "We have always taken the education of our children very seriously. The teachers and parents of this community understand that any cuts in teaching positions and programs will negatively impact Pickerington's status as an excellent school district" as rated by the Ohio Department of Education.

District officials and board members said even if the levy passes, they'll need to cut $2.5-million from the budget because of funding reductions by state government, which provides 54 percent of the district's operating budget, according to PLSD treasurer Dan Griscom.

In the past two years, Griscom said, the state has cut funding to the district by $4-million, and further cuts of up to $5.7-million are expected for next year.

"The bottom line is, we need to take out $9-million (if the levy fails)," PLSD Superintendent Karen Mantia said. "Nine-million dollars is a large amount of money. Since we are a human resources-type business, the reductions would have to be made in personnel."

Mantia said passage of the levy would allow the district to "bridge the gap" through the current state budget process, but failure would put the district into a "crash-and-burn" mode and likely require a larger future levy.

In addition to teacher and staff cuts if the levy fails, the district is eyeing plans to reduce the length of the school day by 40 to 45 minutes at the junior high and high school levels.

Art, music and physical education also likely would be cut from elementary and middle school programming, district officials said, and up to 11 buses would be eliminated from the current fleet of 71.

The latter move would change school start times to 7:10 a.m. at the district's high schools, 8:10 a.m. at the junior highs, 8:50 a.m. for middle-schoolers and 9:30 a.m. for elementary students.

Additionally, the district could seek to cut $2.231-million from athletics and extracurricular budgets by requiring students and their parents to "fully fund" those activities, board members said. Currently, they said, pay-to-participate fees cover about one-third of athletic and extracurricular costs.

Although the National Honor Society likely would be spared, board member Cathy Olshefski said pay-to-play fees would spike unless all coaches, supervisors and transportation for sports and other extracurriculars are provided by volunteers.

Specifically, she said high school band participation could cost $360 per student, high school choir could cost $410 per student and junior high basketball could cost $512 per student.

She also said high school golf could cost $1,000 per student, junior high cross country could cost $320 per student and high school soccer could cost $600.

Opposition to the levy continues to come primarily from an anonymous individual identified as Eye on the Pickerington Local School District, who maintains a Web site at ionplsd.com, and a grassroots community group called Pickerington Taxpayers Association.

Tammy Miller, a representative of the Pickerington Taxpayers Association said Monday the approximately $10-million the district spends annually on employee health care is too high. She said the district and its teachers should look for ways to cut those costs, as well as teacher salaries, which she believes also are too high.

District officials countered by saying teacher and administrative base salaries were frozen this year, and the board increased the amount administrators pay for health insurance premiums from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Fultz said the teachers' union historically has worked to keep health insurance cost increases low compared to others in the public and private sector, and she said the teachers will continue to put students first when negotiating salaries and benefits next spring.

"Our salaries and benefits are in no way out of line with the comparison of districts we have to compete with," Fultz said. "In fact, our teachers are lower in salary than those districts.

"When we (took a wage freeze), we did it in the spring with the best financial forecast and funding we had. All I ask is you support us and support the kids next week, and trust that we will do what we need to do next spring."

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