Voters will not approve an operating levy until the school board addresses teacher salary increases. That was the message that was repeated most on Monday night when approximately 250 people gathered to share their thoughts on the upcoming school levy with the Worthington Board of Education.

Voters will not approve an operating levy until the school board addresses teacher salary increases.

That was the message that was repeated most on Monday night when approximately 250 people gathered to share their thoughts on the upcoming school levy with the Worthington Board of Education.

The board is looking for public input before deciding the size of the levy it will place on the November ballot. It also wants residents to look at a list of 40-plus possible areas of budget reductions and rank them.

"We want to know which ones you support, and which ones are sacred to you," superintendent Melissa Conrath said as she explained each of the cuts that could happen.

Some have already been put into place, others will be made if the levy fails, and others -- such as elementary and middle school restructuring -- will probably take place regardless of the outcome of the levy vote.

Residents did express opinions on those issues, and said they would not like to see cuts in elementary music, art, and physical education, busing, or gifted programs.

But teacher's salaries -- not one of the areas being considered by the board -- seemed to be the theme of the public forum.

"I think as long as these levies are about teacher pay raises, they will be defeated," said resident Steven Reiss.

He and others asked why the board could not bring the teachers' union back to the table to renegotiate the contract approved last year. The three-year contract included 2.85-percent annual increases to the salary schedule, which means that some teachers are receiving up to 7 percent annual raises.

Worthington's average teacher's salary is now second only to Bexley in central Ohio, one woman pointed out.

The Worthington salary schedule is seventh or eighth highest in the county, but the average salary is high because Worthington teachers have more training and experience that teachers in other districts, Conrath said.

At the time the current contract was negotiated, unemployment in Ohio was 5 percent and the economy was not suffering the way it is now, she said.

Asked if the teachers' union had been asked to renegotiate, Conrath said, "We have explored conversations."

Residents also wanted to discuss elementary reconfiguration, though it is also not on the list of possible reductions. Regardless of the outcome of the levy vote, the board plans to examine replacing the current neighborhood schools with schools serving kindergarten through grade two and those serving grades three through six.

Conrath said the concept needs to be explained to the community. It would probably not be put into place for three or four years, she said.

Some residents said they would be more likely to work for the passage of a fall levy if the board would back off of that proposal.

Colonial Hills resident George Campbell said he does not agree that teachers are overpaid, but does believe in the value of neighborhood schools.

Jennifer Simcic said she just purchased a Worthington Estates home so that her children could walk to neighborhood schools.

"If we wanted to drive to school, we would have moved to Hilliard," she said.

Parent Kathy Machle said she was highly concerned about proposed cuts to elementary music and art, since those offer opportunities for students with different needs.

Others said that the EPP program should not be eliminated or placed into the hands of classroom teachers.

The board must decide by Aug. 20 the size of the levy, and how long they expect it to last. Meetings to discuss those issues were scheduled for Tuesday night, July 28, and for Aug. 10.

Residents are encouraged to either e-mail their thoughts and concerns to members of the Worthington school board or to fill out surveys on the district's Web site, www.worthington.k12.oh.us.

Board member's e-mail addresses are available on the Web site.

"Tell your neighbors to fill this out," said resident Karen Demaree. "Let's try to help them come up with ideas."