Citizens group formed to oppose school levy
A group of Upper Arlington citizens who say they are concerned about school district finances have mounted a campaign to oppose the 5.8-mill operating levy for Upper Arlington schools on the Nov. 6 ballot.
George Momirov, a member of Educate UA, said last week the group has been in existence for less than 30 days and has a core group of about a dozen members so far.
The group has scheduled an informational meeting for the public at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, in the MCL Cafeteria, 3154 Kingsdale Center in the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington.
The operating levy, if approved by voters, will cost homeowners an additional $178 in taxes per $100,000 in property value and generate approximately $9.2 million per year for the school district, according to district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.
Members of Educate UA say the average Upper Arlington homeowner will see an increase of about $581 per year if voters approve the levy request.
Educate UA members said they based their figures on information they said they obtained from the Franklin County Auditor's Office showing that the average price of a home in the city is about $327,000.
The group has written a position paper "to explore the numbers."
Momirov said information in the document comes from the Ohio Department of Education, the Upper Arlington school district, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Compare Ohio Schools.
Momirov said he has talked to many residents who have no idea that the average base pay of Upper Arlington teachers is more than $74,800 and that administrators make an average of $112,000.
"I talk to folks and I ask them what they think teachers are making and they think teachers are making $40,000 or $50,000 a year," Momirov said.
Joyce Blake said the group grew from a school levy presentation held at a meeting of the Upper Arlington 9-12 Project group in August.
"It was the first presentation that the school district had done on the levy request," Blake said. "Afterwards, we talked about what else we needed to know about school district finances."
Blake said a few people decided to go looking for facts about school district expenses, meeting with Geistfeld and researching data from the Ohio Department of Education.
She said they decided to form Educate UA and write a position paper for people who did not have time to "do the research."
"We are people from many different ages and backgrounds who are trying to ask the right questions and double check all the facts," Blake said.
"We are all about educating voters," she said.
"You would not want to buy a house or car without doing some research, so we want to make sure UA residents have all the information before they vote one way or the other."
Momirov said people need to look at what the school district is spending.
The group's position paper states that besides base salaries, school district teachers receive compensation packages that average to about $104,900 per teacher when combined with contributions to the state-mandated State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), which calls for 14 percent of base pay to go to a retirement program.
"On top of the STRS benefit, administrators receive a secondary 9-percent retirement annuity, which brings their average compensation to over $158,000," the position paper says.
"The 9-percent annuity is above and beyond what is required by the state of Ohio."
Educate UA says Upper Arlington district staff members pay 10.2 percent of their health care costs while taxpayers pay the rest, plus the district contributes $1,800 each year to each employee's health savings account.
Educate UA also says per-pupil costs in Upper Arlington are $15,172, while the average cost per pupil in 20 similar school districts is $10,878.
"Dublin and Olentangy schools operate at a $13,013 and $9,465 cost per student, respectively, while achieving an excellent with distinction rating just as (the Upper Arlington School District) received," the position paper says.
After comparing school districts through CompareOhioSchools.org, members stated in the position paper, "We find that our administrative costs are 15.6-percent higher than the average of similar districts."
The paper states that UA taxpayers pay for 19 district curriculum specialists, while the Dublin City School District has four curriculum specialists and Olentangy local schools has none.
"There is a strong correlation between quality schools and property values within a community; however, there is no correlation between money spent and property values," the paper says.
Educate UA members say in the position paper that residents should "... consider the alternatives and reject passage of this levy.
"Doing so will encourage the school administration and the school board to exercise additional managerial attention to reducing costs."