Three of the eight South-Western City Schools Board of Education candidates think the school board should push for additional salary freezes with employee unions.

Three of the eight South-Western City Schools Board of Education candidates think the school board should push for additional salary freezes with employee unions.

Others feel a balance should be struck between community willingness to pay additional taxes and employee benefits, while one said the current school year's salary freeze should be sufficient.

District administrators and teachers voluntarily passed up a pay increase for the current school year.

Rob Starret said school board members "absolutely" should push for wage freezes and more.

"There is not a segment of our society that is not taking wage freezes, wage-cuts, furloughs or lay-offs," he said. "The wage freeze should include both base salary and step increases.

After cuts to extracurricular activities and busing, Starrett said he thinks "it would be an absolute disgrace to increase salaries and benefits in any manner."

Jo Ellen Myers said school board members should push for a 2-percent reduction in all district salaries, not just those of employees in unions.

"Most people can't ask for raises or demand not to be fired if the company we work for has a downturn in revenue," she said. "There is no trace of market forces in the contracts with the unions, and that is a major source of the problem with the school system."

Adam Slane said school board members should push for salary freezes in the short term.

"Our district is in bad shape financially," he said. "Pay increases, even the small step increases that we have seen recently, are irresponsible when the administration is saying we don't have money for things as vital to our students' futures as extracurricular activities.

"These increases become outrageous when you add the fact that district residents are facing lay-offs or taking big pay cuts to keep their jobs," he added.

Slane said salary freezes are not a long-term budget fix.

"We need to retain talented staff, and this would be impossible without competitive compensation," he said. "The board should push for temporary salary freezes, but a real focus needs to be placed on reining in costs and creating a sustainable budget."

Karen Dover said all employee compensation should strike a balance between employee needs and the ability of the community to afford those needs.

"All aspects of compensation, including salaries and benefits should be analyzed to ensure that they are in line with districts in similar socio-economic conditions to ours," she said. "We should also consider the surrounding market data for new teachers' starting salaries and long-term employees' pay scales."

Dover said employees all over the state, private and public sectors, have made wage concessions.

"Currently, we are living in difficult times," she said. "All of these things need to be considered before making an employee compensation decision. It is important to make sure that we are able to attract and maintain great teachers and administrators."

Sandi Davis said salary freezes have merit, but retirement and health insurance contributions should be considered, as well.

"The current fiscal crisis is not just a salary problem," she said. "It would be a disservice to just focus on salaries without reviewing the collective bargaining process and the contract contents in their entirety."

Like Dover, Davis said balance is important when discussing school district employee compensation.

"All of us -- community, families, and school employees -- are part of the solution," she said. "We do this in the best interests of the children."

Ed Palmer said all three employee unions have agreed to freeze the base pay of their salaries for the current school year.

"I believe the employees demonstrated their concern for the welfare of our school district with this action," he said. "To attract and retain high-quality employees, we need to maintain a salary structure that is competitive with those offered by our surrounding school districts."

Cathy Johnson and Greg McCarty, current school board members, have certain restrictions when speaking publicly on employee union contracts, said South-Western schools spokeswoman Sandy Nekoloff.

Johnson, however, said school board members will take into consideration recommendations from several sources, including a voluntary performance audit and newly founded community advisory group, before discussing negotiations strategies.

"The collective bargaining agreements with our employee groups are multifaceted with many of the areas being interrelated," she said. "To publicly isolate a particular portion of the contract is not in the best interest of the board of education and the community that we represent."

Johnson said she has heard "very clearly" the concerns of community members in light of the economic recession.

"As a board, we lowered the millage for Issue 47, making it more affordable to the community," she said. "This necessitates working closely with our employees in order to be able to make Issue 47 last for four years."

McCarty also said school board members intend to use recommendations from the performance audit to find possible savings.

"We plan to work hand-in-hand with our employee groups and the findings of the performance audit to implement these savings," he said. "Education is a people business and having quality staff is essential to the success of our students, as is finding a balance with what the community can support."