Educate Worthington: Levy voters should get facts, seek sustainability
The Worthington City Schools can't continue to increase spending at the current rate, according to Educate Worthington (EW) representative John Herrington.
Speaking to about 120 residents who attended a public forum Oct. 2 at the Northwest Library, Herrington urged the community to become more aware of projections of increased spending, despite decreases in enrollment and in the number of teachers.
Educating residents about district finances is the goal of EW, Herrington said.
The group is not anti-levy but is pro-sustainability and pro-taxpayer, he said.
Worthington voters will be asked to approve two school issues on the November ballot.
Issue 53 is an operating levy to fund day-to-day school operations. An incremental levy, it would be phased in, beginning at 4.9 mills in 2013, increasing to 5.9 mills in 2014 and rising a final time to 6.9 mills in 2015. It is a permanent levy.
Issue 54 is a no-new-taxes bond issue that would fund $40 million in capital improvements over the next five years.
Voters last approved a levy in 2008. Also an incremental levy, it went into effect in 2009.
Members of the Worthington Board of Education have said that voters should expect to face another levy in 2015 or 2016.
Board member Marc Schare confirmed that fact during the EW forum.
"We have now reached the point where they want to increase our taxes every year," Herrington said.
He showed graphs of district spending, with a steady increase in spending on personnel costs despite a decrease in enrollment and the number of teachers.
From 2001 to 2011, the number of teachers decreased by 75, he said. At the same time, spending increased at a steady rate. He accused the district of using savings from personnel cuts to fund higher salaries and benefit packages.
The average teacher's annual salary is now $75,123. The cost of benefits generally is considered to add upward of 20 percent to salaries.
Herrington said the district needs to discontinue step increases, which allow some teachers to receive two raises -- an increase in base salary plus a step increase for seniority.
Most step increases occur during a teacher's first 15 years of service.
Worthington teachers agreed to accept a pay freeze last year and this year, but that does not end the dual-raise system, Herrington said.
Though most of the crowd seemed to be sympathetic to EW's message, a few teachers and levy supporters questioned Herrington. Some pointed out that EW only presents its information when a levy is on the ballot.
Resident Ben Minister asked Herrington to explain his goal.
Herrington asked Minister to look at how much spending will increase over the next 10 to 20 years if the current trend continues.
"The end game is sustainability," he said.
Kelly Kohls, president of the Springboro Community Schools, also spoke during the meeting. Her message of fiscal conservatism and how her district has thrived without increasing spending was met with angry words from Worthington board member Charlie Wilson.
Wilson accused Kohls of not being honest with the crowd. She did not mention money the district had received from an oil pipeline project, he said, or that her district does not have as many poor students as Worthington, or that Springboro's five-year forecast calls for a renewal levy in 2013.
At that point, the crowd told Wilson he was out of order and asked that he sit down.
Kohls said the Springboro board "changed hundreds of things" to bring spending under control after voters refused to continue to increase taxes.
"We brought parity to a system that is totally out of whack," Kohls said.
At the same time as spending was being cut, the quality of education actually improved, she said. Springboro continues to be rated "excellent with distinction" by the Ohio Department of Education and recently had a school named a Blue Ribbon school.
The cost-per-pupil in Springboro is about $7,800 a year, however, compared to about $13,000 a year in Worthington, she said.
Herrington said anyone could check out the information presented during the meeting, saying all of the data are either in the district's five-year forecast, on the ODE's or Buckeye Institute's websites or in the Worthington teachers contract.
"Don't believe a word I've said, but don't believe a word they say unless you get verification," he said.