District's online survey seeks budget advice
Upper Arlington school leaders hope residents go online this week to answer questions designed to guide the district's new efficiency project.
The survey, available at uaschools.org under the link "Upper Arlington Efficiency Project," is designed to collect resident feedback on where to look for inefficiencies in school programs and practices.
Superintendent Paul Imhoff said there will be some multiple-choice questions on the survey, but also opportunities for open-ended responses. Copies of the survey also will be available throughout the city of Upper Arlington, including at each district building.
"The survey will help guide our road map for the future," he said. "By finding these areas of efficiency, we will create a leaner, more-focused school district. And we want to cut that $4.5 million without impacting students' quality programming."
He said the efficiency project is designed to find a cumulative savings of $4.5 million by the end of the 2016-17 school year, with the primary goal of helping the district stay off the ballot for four years if voters approve Issue 52 on Nov. 5.
Issue 52 is the district's 4-mill continuing operating levy. If approved, it would cost about $140 a year for every $100,000 of home valuation and would generate about $6 million per year for Upper Arlington schools, Treasurer Andy Geistfeld said.
The district faces opposition to its efforts to pass Issue 52 from the same group -- Educate UA -- that campaigned under the slogan, "It's OK to say no" to a 5.8-mill levy that was rejected last November. Representatives from that group said the district does not need $6 million more a year.
The information on the Educate UA website states that "district wages and benefits have grown at an unsustainable pace since 2001."
Geistfeld said employee wages and benefits are largely determined by the negotiated employee contracts. He said the district cannot just "go to the table" and ask teachers to renegotiate their salaries or take a pay cut.
The district's certificated employees' contract is from Jan 1. 2012, to Dec. 31, 2014. A classified employee contract that began Jan. 1, 2011, will expire Dec. 31.
Geistfeld said the current agreement saved the district about $4.5 million over four years because employees agreed to no increases in their base salaries and will pay 25 percent more for their health insurance than they paid in 2012.
Imhoff said the district was able to ask voters for 4 mills instead of 5.8 mills because of the projected savings from the efficiency project, along with the elimination of 30 teaching and other staff positions and because of increased utility tax revenue.
Once the survey results are in, he said district officials will use that feedback, along with input from advisory groups, to create an action plan and a "quality profile" of Upper Arlington students.
"The action plan will guide a new strategic planning process with the goal to move the needle for students," Imhoff said. "We want to be considered one of the finest school districts, not only in the state but in the country. And we want that measurement to go beyond test scores."
Imhoff said it is time for the district to "pause and take stock."
"We want to hear everyone's ideas regarding ways to be more efficient while holding fast to our commitment to provide a world-class educational experience for students," he said.
Imhoff said he welcomes emails from residents, who may contact him at superintendent @uaschools.org.