Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Budget actions should reflect community's will

By JOYCE BLAKE
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Upper Arlington taxpayers responded to Educate UA's message and turned down the UA school levy 55 percent to 45 percent. We appreciate the efforts of all involved -- the voters and volunteers -- that brought about this result.

We trust that our representatives on the school board and our public servants in the school administration will listen to the voter and begin to address the unsustainable wage and benefit packages inherent in the school budget.

With 85 cents of every tax dollar going to compensation and a $15,000 cost per student, there is room within the budget to cover deficits before coming to the taxpayer. Blaming the levy's defeat on the economy would be an egregious misreading of voter sentiment.

It was evident in Educate UA's door-to-door campaign and in comments received through our website that school compensation was the primary driver of Issue 51's defeat. With wages and benefits 40 percent above market, this should be of no surprise to school officials.

Threatening citizens with cuts to programs or increasing class size when monies are available through reprioritizing funds within the budget would demonstrate a grave disdain for the UA taxpayer who has supported the schools so generously through volunteerism, donations and tax dollars.

The district conceded compensation was out of line when it renegotiated the union contract in 2011. With principled leadership, the district can heed the voice of the taxpayer and return to the bargaining table. Increasing the share school employees pay of their health care and reducing the exhorbitant health care policy cost to a more typical policy ($15,000 for a family) would save the district $2.5 million annually.

An excellent opportunity awaits the school board with the hiring of the new superintendent. Negotiating an appropriate wage and benefit package commensurate with the position, as is done in other areas of our economy, would send a welcome message to the public. The compensation model for the new superintendent should be in line with the private sector.

Looking to other school districts with bloated budgets is not helpful when trying to address a systemic problem.

Voters were shocked by the $270,000 compensation package our current superintendent receives, nearly $70,000 of which represents taxpayer-funded contributions to his retirement. Due to contribution limits on tax-deferred retirement plans in the private sector, it is not possible for the average UA voter to save this much for retirement in a given year. Bringing compensation in line with the UA voter will require school administration to lead by example.

We want to thank our volunteers and supporters whose work, ideas and financial contributions were invaluable in spreading our message throughout Upper Arlington. We live in a remarkable community made up of hard-working, highly educated people who raise their children to value education and to be willing learners in the classroom.

With this as our backbone, our school district will thrive if it reflects the will of our community.

Joyce Blake is a retired Upper Arlington High School math teacher who served as treasurer of Educate UA.

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