Monday, August 25, 2008


I was out of town at a wedding reception for my brother-in-law in Kalamzoo this past weekend, so I missed out on the Homecoming game, dedication, etc. on Friday and also the Corn Fest on Saturday. Bummer !!

First, some housekeeping. Last week, I sent an email to several concerned parents in our district, and I included this question: "Is it appropriate to threaten a strike when the difference is only one half of one percent (0.5%)?" My question was based on statements made by high-ranking officers in the SEA (who are also members of their negotiating team). HOWEVER - these statements were not given in writing, and have subsequently been refused and denied by the other members of the SEA negotiating team, including their union rep. They have decided to hold firm on their initial demand, which is greater than a half percent difference. (and I thought we were almost home. . . )

Today (Monday) I read the press release issued by Superintendent Baz, as well as the article in the Swanton Enterprise. I think some things need a little clarification, in order for our residents to understand some of the terminology and phrases used in the press release. So! Here we go!

In the third paragraph of the press release (which begins, "Secondly . . . "), comments are made with regard to teacher salaries that might be just a bit confusing to anyone not already involved in public school finances. Let's take a look at them together, and as the SEA likes to use Fulton County as its comparison, we will do likewise.

There are different levels of "base" salaries - the lowest "base salary" (BA minimum) is for teachers with a 4 yr. degree and no experience. At Swanton, that salary is set at $29,198. The average BA minimum salary in Fulton County is $29,930, with Wauseon having the highest BA minimum salary of $31,525. Swanton is the lowest in Fulton Co. at this level, with the next highest (Fayette) at $29,316.

The next salary base level is the BA maximum. This is for those teachers with a 4 yr. degree and some years of experience. In this category, Swanton has $48,907. The average BA max in Fulton County is $49,278, with the Pike-Delta-York system having the highest at $52,185 (in this category, Swanton is only twenty bucks different than Wauseon). Evergreen is the lowest in this category, at $46,664.

Then we move into the categories for teachers who hold a Master's Degree in their field. In the MA minimum category, Swanton pays $32,702. The average in Fulton County for an MA min category is $33,203. Again, Wauseon has the highest number here with $34,362. Swanton is the lowest in this category, coming in just a bit under Delta who shows $32,857.

A category entitled, "MA 11 Yrs. Career Rate" is next. Swanton uses $50,367. The average in Fulton County is $50,443. (Wauseon shows $53,435) Evergreen is the lowest here, at $48,998.

In the next category of MA maximum, Swanton pays $56,791. The average in this category is $57,480. Pike-Delta-York is again at the top, with their rate of $59,797. (Wauseon is at $58,637, and Evergreen is the lowest at $56,284)

Comparing Swanton's base salary rates against the county average doesn't give a perfect picture; it only takes one or two schools on the high end to skew the "average". You can find all of this information online at the National Education Association website (see my earlier post for a link to their spreadsheet).

Let's continue our inspection of teacher salaries in Fulton County. In the state of Ohio (and others), there is a salary schedule program commonly referred to as "steps". You can read about it within the Ohio Revised Code here. Basically, the program seeks to reward teachers for their years of service. The minimum "step" in Ohio is 11 years of service, with a corresponding incentive salary increase independent of any other contractural salary increase.

In other words, if a school district did not give a general raise to their teachers, those teachers who qualified would still receive a raise based on their standing within the "steps" program. If a general salary increase was given to teachers within a district, the additional "steps" percentage would be in addition to that general increase.

In the Swanton school district, there are several "steps" beyond the state minimum. We have "steps" for each year up to 15 yrs, another step at 18 yrs, and another at 25 yrs, with corresponding salary increases at each level irrespective of any general salary increase. As one board member has described it, we have many teachers who automatically get a 4.5% raise every year just for remaining alive - because of their standing within the "steps" program. (and that 4.5% is not our highest "steps" percentage) These "steps" percentages are applied against the base salary for the category.

Again: this program is based on years of service and classroom learning only - there is no performance incentive included.

We currently have over half of our teachers participating in our "steps" program. Some of their "steps" percentages are well over 5% - independent of any general increase that may be given. So, if we would grant a general increase of 1%, certain teachers would actually realize an increase closer to 6% overall - some even higher. (although no one is into double digits - yet!) As you can see, this "steps" program is a significant addition to a teacher's bottom line here at Swanton. Our rich "steps" program at Swanton has resulted in our district having a teaching staff with the most overall years of experience in the county - it is extremely rare for a teacher to retire from the Swanton Local School District.

Now - let's talk about benefit programs. Currently, our teachers pay between 2% and 4% of the monthly premium cost of their health plan. (monthly costs to them are $12.20/single and $60.89/family) Every other school in Fulton County requires their teachers to pay more - most are over twice as much (the average is around 11% in Fulton County). In addition, other schools' contracts contain what is known as a "spouse carve-out" clause, which requires a teacher's spouse who has access to health benefits at their own place of employment to take it. Swanton does not have that clause. Obviously this policy allows our teachers to keep more of what they make.

To those of you who have asked about our state reportcard, I am sorry to inform you that Swanton has received the "Effective" designation once again (at 92.4%) - we are dead last in Fulton County, and we've been stuck here (at "Effective") for the past 3 years (before then, we were even lower). It is so frustrating to have this happen - especially when you realize that our teaching staff has the most years of experience under its belt in the county. Yet the other schools continue to receive better ratings than we. To take a look at other Ohio schools, you may click here to generate a report through the Ohio Department of Education.
(the other schools in Fulton Co. rate as follows: Archbold: Excellent w/Distinction; Delta: Excellent; Evergreen: Effective at 98.3% {which is a drop from their Excellent rating last year and still higher than us at 92.4%}; Fayette: Excellent; Pettisville: Excellent; Wauseon: Excellent)

I have heard some people say, "well - you get what you pay for" as though our teaching staff is somehow sub-par because we are not at the top of the pay scale in every category. How cruel to insinuate that our teachers care only about the money! While no one expects them to work for free, to suggest that they're only here to bring home a paycheck is wrong. They teach because they love it - they teach because they love that special feeling when the light of understanding and learning illuminates a child's face. It's a job satisfaction that is unique and rare, and it is shameful that some would reduce their efforts to a dollar sign. Just remember: all teachers had the opportunity to take a different path in college, and they chose to teach. Let us not disrespect them by insinuating that they only care about the almighty dollar.

Let me share my personal perspective on teacher salary as it relates to teacher quality. I lived in Toledo for a while, years ago, and I sent all 3 of my kids to Emmanual Baptist Christian School over on Laskey Road. My grandson attends Monclova Christian Academy, and has for the past 4 years. Although I have no personal experience with Catholic schools, I can tell you that teacher salaries at Christian schools in NW Ohio are WAAAY under public school levels. If you ask someone who has their children in a Christian school to explain their reasoning for paying that tuition, one of the things they will mention is the quality of education their child is receiving. Obviously their opinion is that - even with lower teacher salaries at the Christian school - the quality of education is superior.

On Wednesday this week, a negotiations meeting is scheduled between the two teams. Please pray that all parties will act in the best interest of our kids, and community.


Amy Seel said...

I'm taking you up on your offer to ask questions.

I am concerned about the situation with the honors classes at the middle school. My daughter is an
8th grader. She is taking Spanish this year at the high school in place of honors reading, which is fine. This year there is no honors English class, which is not fine. Her honors algebra class has 32 students in it. While I personally adore Mrs. Pancoast, I can't help but think she's got to be overwhelmed with this amount of students. My daughter has indicated that all they do is copy page after page of notes. As a parent, these are the types of programs that I want to see restored and retained.

Thanks for allowing me to express my opinion.

Pam Kazmierczak said...

I too am a community member. I'm also a parent of a Swanton Middle School student. I suppose that I should also point out that I am a teacher for the school system as well.
I appreciate your attempt to clarify some of the issues that are dividing the teachers from the board, however, I do wish to chime in. :)
Please make sure your readers understand that ALL school systems use the step process. This is not unique to Swanton, nor to Ohio. It is also not unique to teaching either. Even mcDonald's gives you an increase on minimum wage after 6 months of "being alive" on the job.
You should also be aware that after completeing a 4/5 year Bachelor's degree and a rigerous liscensure test to begin teaching, teachers are mandated by the State to continue to take college classes in order to keep their liscense. These courses are not cheap and any yearly "automatic raise for being alive" does not even cover the cost of the continued education that is required, not to mention the yearly cost of living.
Also, in your May blog you compared an average teacher salary to the average household income in Swanton. To me, you are comparing apples to oranges. Could you please post the comparison of the average teacher salary to those Swanton residents who hold Bachelor's or Master's degrees. From my viewpoint, it takes me 20 years to even get to a salary that most college students walk out the door and get their first year.
About our health care. Could you do a little more reasearch on the history of our plan and explain to the readers a little bit more aobut the 'Self funded"? I am not on the health care committee, but it is my understanding that becasue of the concessions that we made over the last five years, that we were able to bring the insurance debt into an insurence overage. We currently have one million in our "Fund". This would be the teacher's fund, not the shcool board's money. Like the other concessions we have made over the last five years- this was done to help the district get back on it's feet. But this insurance fund is something separate from the district money--could you please clarify that? Also, the plan that we have is one of the weakest plans that Paramount offers. Many things are not covered and many teachers opt not to use it. We, like many of you are paying large out of pocket expenses for prescriptions and proceedures. Birth of a child still costs our teachers thousands of out of pockets dollars. Also like to point out that many of us are the single income families as well, where our teaching job is the main or only income of the family.
As a sidebar, I was literally in tears as I read your comments. It hurt to know how little people respect what I do as a profession. It hurt to realize that I am not valued and that we do not consider the people that educate our future community very important. I don't consider myself 'elite", but I do think of myself as an educated, community minded role model for the youth of this town. It hurts that my education, my profession and my dedication are not repected. The insinuation that older teachers, like myself, are only still here becasue of the lucritive pay scale, and that you would like to see us retire also hurt greatly. Tears starting again....

Sharon Marvin said...

Let me start by saying that I second Pam's opinion and thank her for stating it! One thing that I wanted to clear up though is this....I'm a little confused as to where you or the board of education stand on your opinions of our teachers. I find it interesting that on your blog (posted at 3:30 Monday)you clearly state how dedicated our teachers are and how much they care about the students when at a board meeting four hours later (same day) the exact opposite was said by another board member. I know that you are not the one who stated that the only thing our teachers care about is money or the fact that they are not dedicated nor do they care about the education of the students, but keep in mind that the member who did make that statement also said that she believed it to be the opinion of all of you. As a parent, community member, and teacher I am deeply saddened by those comments. I know first hand how much time our teachers give to the school system and the community, for many of them it is their first priority. It feels like the board is giving the teachers in the community very little respect when we are the ones molding the children of the community. It does really hurt. I personally would like to see more of the board members who make the decisions in this district visit the classrooms, talk to the teachers, talk to the students, and really take an active interest in what can be done to make our school even better. Treating teachers the way they have been treated certainly isn't going to do the job. We have to work together to get the job done!

Jeff Michael said...

This is in response to the comment made by Pam Kazmierczak, this comment is made in an attempt to portray the facts. Anyone that knows me also knows that I deal in facts. I have many years of experience in the private industry where management by fact is very deeply instilled.
Pam makes mention that even McDonalds gives you an increase on minimum wage after 6 months of “being alive” on the job, this is true IF your performance warrants such raise. However, the big difference is that after this probationary period any raise thereafter is based upon personal performance and business performance.
Pam also mentions that we need to be aware that after completeing[sic] a 4/5 year Bachelor's degree and a rigerous liscensure[sic] test to begin teaching, teachers are mandated by the State to continue to take college classes in order to keep their liscense[sic]. These courses are not cheap and any yearly "automatic raise for being alive" does not even cover the cost of the continued education that is required, not to mention the yearly cost of living. I fail to see how this is any different than the private industry, to keep your job you must continue you education, except private industry does not offer any financial assistance and your are NOT guaranteed to receive any yearly cost of living increase(those days are gone). To keep and progress in your job you must pay for your own education and training. Yet the education industry provides some money for professional development.
Pam also mentions that it takes her 20 years to even get to a salary that most college students walk out the door and get their first year. According the teacher salary schedule, a teacher with 20 years experience and a Bachelors degree earns almost $51,000. Maybe the teachers are not aware of the economic collapse of the automotive industry that is very prevalent in our area, I know of people with Bachelors and Masters Degrees that are without a job or are working for $12-15 per hour. A reality check is needed here.
Pam also mentions that we currently have one million in our "Fund". This would be the teacher's fund, not the school[sic] board's money. What Pam is referencing is the amount of money in the Insurance Fund, the teacher contribute about 4.25% and the district contributes 95.75%, how is this even considered to be the teacher fund when the district contributes 91.5% more than the teachers? The point that is lost upon the teachers is that this is all taxpayers’ money.
Pam also mentioned that she is not on the health care committee and that we have one of the weakest plans that Paramount offers, the part that is not mentioned the Insurance Committee consists of mostly SEA members.
Pam also would like to point out that many of them are the single income families as well, where our teaching job is the main or only income of the family. Many of our residents do not have the luxury of having a single income family; they HAVE to have 2 and 3 jobs just to make ends meet.
It appears to me that many of the teachers need to experience the economy from a private industry perspective, where there are no guaranteed increases (increases are merit only and they do not occur every year), no assistance in required education and training, apparently the teachers are unknowing of starting pay in the real world, and also unknowing as to what the employees in the private industry pays for health care that pales to what our district provides.
Pam also mentions that it hurts that her education, her profession and her dedication are not repected[sic].
Their demands are what disrespects their education, profession, and dedication. If the demands of the SEA are met it will make our teachers the HIGHEST or one of the highest paid teachers in Fulton County, yet our State Report Card Scores are the LOWEST in Fulton County. If their demands are met they will be paid more that teachers from districts that have Excellent ratings. It has been mentioned that you get what you pay for, there seems to be a lack of remembrance that the Swanton Local School District was once one of the highest (if not the highest) spenders of area school districts, had the highest expenditure per pupil, and one of the highest paid group of teachers in the county, YET our State Report Card scores were the LOWEST in the county. As history has proven money does not fix the problem. If our teachers want to be the highest paid teachers in the county, then we need to have the highest rating in the county.
These are my personal comments and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Swanton Local Board of Education or each individual Board Member.
Jeff Michael

Pam Kazmierczak said...

In response to Jeff,

I do not want to get into a word war over what is obviosly a big difference of opinions. You understood most of my comments, just do not agree with them, and I understand yours, just do not agree with them. I do want to clarify one issue that was brought up from my original post in where I was not clear. When discussing the health insurance, I mentioned that I was not on the health Insurance Committee. I am well aware that most of the committee are SEA members, I only meant that because that I am not on that committee, I am a little fuzzy about the account and how the whole thing works. When I asked Cindy to clarify the issue, that was exactly what I meant. Your explanation of the insurance and my understanding of the insurance are two different things. I only ask that you find out the history of that account and how it got to be so solvent in the last five years after it was at such a huge deficit. There is more to the story than the percentages that you quote. You do some checking and I will also do the same.
I stand by my original comments, I appreciate you pointing out all of my typos, and I also ask that you check into Amy Seel's concern about the advanced math class at the middle school. It would be a shame if the problem was resolved by removing some of those kids in order to put them into a lower level class, the same class that they had last year. That is the rumor.

Mona Dyke said...

This is in reply to Sharon Marvin, who totally misrepresented what I said to the teachers prior to the special Board Meeting August 25.

Respect is a 2-way street. I continue to respect individual teachers in our district, but you cannot demand respect from someone you do not treat with respect and I feel the actions of the SEA have been anything but respectful and it is those actions (specifically the unanimous "no-confidence" vote)that prompted me to change what I had originally intended to say prior to the meeting. The SEA's actions did cause me to questions some assumptions I had about our mutual goals.

I have volunteered quite extensively at the elementaries and MS in the past 8 years and have co-chaired more than one levy campaign. I do very much agree with your ending statement about board members being actively involved.

The text of my oral statement is as follows:
Mona M. Dyke’s personal statement

The problems in this district are much bigger than these negotiations& go back further than this Board or Administration.

I thought the top priority for all of us was the kids in this district & the education we provide, but the latest announcement by the Teachers’ Union makes me question that.

I’m not sure what you thought taking a vote like that, then announcing it to the media, would accomplish, but I can tell you that I was prepared to argue for the best offer this board could make to you…but now, you have lost your best advocate on this board. No confidence in your Superintendent is no confidence in us and until I see something positive come out of your group and an indication you intend to work together, things won’t change.

After talking to quite a few teachers over the weekend, I thought our mutual goal was an agreement without a strike. I wanted to urge everyone to change the attitude that this is a fight and it’s “us vs. them”.
None of us gains anything by taking this to the public. In fact, we all lose. For years now, we have been losing the respect of our own community and that of northwest Ohio.

Teachers say that teachers leave for more pay, but I think a good teacher is more concerned about our district’s reputation.

Respect and honesty have to replace hard feelings if we are going to build back trust and settle this.

We need to take egos, pride and emotion off the table, and put aside hard feelings, so we can start fresh this week, if that is even possible for you.

I have communicated with the people at this table and I have more confidence in all of them than I have in you right now. I’ve got a news flash for you:

It isn’t all about you, or how much you make, it’s about the kids in this district & their education! Once the public finds out that a new teacher gets a raise automatically every year for fifteen years, in addition to contract offers, and how good your health insurance benefits are, you may be surprised by their reaction. Many of them have minimum wage jobs if they have a job, no benefits or pay dearly for them and certainly no guarantee of any raise regardless of performance.

We have a long road ahead of us, but I do have hope for our future. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, so I ask those of you who do to take a proactive role down this road and begin by insisting to your negotiating team that there be an agreement this week.

I will continue to stand up for truth, respect and what is right for our kids, our district and our community. I hope someone is with me, because I certainly can’t do this alone and at this point you need to win my confidence back.

Jenny Schmidt said...

I feel sorry for the private school teachers, who you so highly praise but have no problem paying so poorly. When you compare the student test results, remember that most of their parents work in jobs that pay well enough for them to afford the private school tuition and there-fore have a motivator to work very hard to see their child succeed. I only wish all students had that luxury.