It will take more than freezing base salary and step increases to solve problems inherent in the pay systems of Ohio public education, said Van Keating, director of management services for the Ohio School Board Association.

It will take more than freezing base salary and step increases to solve problems inherent in the pay systems of Ohio public education, said Van Keating, director of management services for the Ohio School Board Association.

Largely because of the economy, some citizens are calling for the South-Western school district to negotiate a freeze in base salary and step increases with its unions this year.

The Reynoldsburg school board on Jan. 19 approved a freeze in base and step salaries for its employees until July 31, 2011.

Such a freeze is a short-term step that doesn't address larger problems of how school union contracts are negotiated, Keating said. The original intent of school employee salary schedules "has been severely perverted over time and has become cost-prohibitive," he wrote in the OSBA School Management News in October.

In that article on school salary indexes and in an interview with ThisWeek, Keating said two elements of teacher and school employee compensation -- base pay and step increases -- originally were designed to serve two different functions.

Base pay, he said, was designed solely to provide cost-of-living increases so teacher and school employee pay can keep pace with inflation, "to keep a dollar worth a dollar."

Step increases served a different purpose, particularly for teachers, he said. Awarded during certain years of a teacher's tenure, step increases increase pay based on a teacher's years of experience and any additional education he or she receives.

"The more experience (teachers have), the more they are worth to the district," Keating said. "That was really your raise, because you are worth more."

School worker unions have sought to change all that, Keating said. Unions "like to talk about the base salary increase. They have it in their minds that's where they have their raise. ... Clearly the thinking has gotten convoluted," he said.

In his article, he wrote, "Unions put unrelenting pressure on districts to increase based salaries based on a litany of reasons: ability to pay, comparable data, average teacher salaries, fairness, etc. Every argument was advanced except that of inflation, so teachers began to regularly receive base salary increases that exceeded it. Discussions about raises based on the (salary) index were dismissed as if the index was divinely decreed and to argue otherwise was heresy."

In their bid to increase base salaries, he wrote, unions sought changes in certification and licensure standards and increased tuition reimbursement.

"Schools reimbursing employees for tuition while simultaneously advancing them on the salary schedule has significantly added to the overall cost of indexes statewide," Keating wrote.

He also wrote, "It is important to consider that merely taking a break from the effects of a salary index does not mean it, or the problems, will go away the following year. Freezes are a short-term treatment, not a permanent one."

Several districts have salary schedules that were "no longer sustainable. ... Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy fix to realign salary schedules other than through the method that created the problems to begin with: collective bargaining," his article said.

Keating's article contained other criticisms of widespread salary practices, including those that discourage teachers from retiring.

He told ThisWeek that South-Western, Westerville and Hilliard school districts all will negotiate contracts in 2010.

"All of them really are in some ways within a whisker of each other with their problems," he said.

The Reynoldsburg pay freeze is part of a one-year contract extension for its teachers and classified employees.

The Ohio Education Association, the umbrella organization for most local Ohio teachers' unions, did not return a message seeking comment for this article.