Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pay Attention

As our district goes through this difficult time, I want you to notice something.

This Board is not fighting within its ranks. Normally when there is a situation where a vote from a board of education is split, there is also public wrangling - name calling - and other childish behavior from those board members. (all we have to do is look eastward to Toledo for an example of such behavior)

But pay attention: this Board is not fighting!

Although certain members of the general public have evidenced juvenile behavior, by hollering at some of us, spitting at some of us, throwing their drinks at some of us, and menacing some of us by word or deed, the members of this school board are not fighting each other.

Last week we had a split vote. But while there was an obvious disagreement as to what is the best course of action to take for our district at this time, there was no rancor between us.

There is a reason for that. First of all, we are all adults and choose to act as such. Obviously that doesn't mean that we always agree on every jot and tittle of every issue, or that no one ever loses their temper - only that our disagreements are most always handled properly and with respect for those who hold a different opinion from our own.

Secondly, we are united in our opinion of what that TA would have done - and we are united in our opinion that its consequences, while extremely good for teachers, were extremely bad for our school district.

In an earlier post, I told you that - while the language the SEA used to write that TA was intentionally deceptive - the failed TA included a demand for 3.7% general increase this year, and 4.1% increase next year, something this district simply cannot afford. This Board is united in that opinion.

A few parents have written (or shouted) that they do not want us to reduce the income tax levy. Had more of them been in attendance at our board meetings when this was discussed, they would have heard us explain that we need the revenue of an income tax levy - not more property taxes, which are a killer for those on fixed incomes. While the former levy passed, it did so by only a very few votes - the count was excruciatingly close.

This district needs an income tax levy, but we need one that will be passed by the voting residents of our district. We simply cannot afford to have the income tax levy fail, and our decision was to place it on the ballot in a year with the largest voter turnout, at a level that we felt would give a positive outcome. This decision had absolutely nothing to do with contract negotiations, as some have suggested. It had everything to do with trying to secure a steady stream of income for the district.

At any rate, I want you to notice how Swanton School Board members conduct themselves. Although all 5 of us strongly agree that the former TA was unbelievably awful for our district, when we ended up with a split vote, there were no harsh words between us. We treat each other with respect. And we will continue to do our collective best for this district.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mistaken Notions

The school board negotiating team held a mediation with the SEA team this morning at 9 o'clock. At this mediation, we offered a proposal that included a 3% general increase for each of the next two years. This is the percentage our treasurer had budgeted for, and this is what the SEA has been publicly stating that they wanted to have.

The SEA team refused to consider our proposal. The mediation ended.

I have not spoken directly with any of the SEA bargaining team members, but I can only assume that they read the Saturday edition of the Blade where Mike Wiederman was quoted as saying "It's going to cost us more to drag things out than to accept what was offered," he said. "If we have a meeting next week, it will be resolved."
And Mr. Wiederman was also quoted on the radio this morning as having said he was now able to "break the deadlock".

(side note: although Mr. Wiederman stated that a board member "challenged his right to vote on the contract", this statement was false - while some members of the community had done so, NO BOARD MEMBER had made that challenge, so I think he was misquoted)

Apparently, the SEA bargaining team holds a mistaken notion from Mr. Wiederman's comments. Although he has removed himself from his wife's insurance so that he may legally vote on the teachers' contract, that doesn't mean that he was planning to have the failed Tentative Agreement brought back for a second vote. It only means that the next time we have a TA before us, all 5 Board members will have a vote on the matter.

I should also tell you that Mr. Wiederman sent me a personal email just a couple of days ago, that categorically opposed what the media would have us to believe. In that email, he referred to the failed TA as "dead in the water", and not able to be brought back. He also stated that he was eager to now get the SEA back to the negotiation table so that a united board could vote together on a new, and fair agreement.

This Board was optimistic that a contract decision agreeable to both sides of the table would be obtained this morning - well within the strike deadline of Oct. 6th.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wiederman's quoted remarks have now set this effort back at least several days - and possibly permanently.

But - all is not lost. There is a Special Meeting scheduled for tonight at the high school auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Perhaps at this meeting, Mr. Wiederman will have a chance to clear up these misunderstandings so that our district may move forward and get this contract settled before any strike occurs, and before any taxpayer money is spent unnecessarily.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Econ 101

I have refrained from blogging for quite a while, as it seemed to be angering the SEA - making a difficult situation only worse. At our regular September board meeting, board president Dennis Heban asked for a media blackout while both sides went back to the table. I agreed publicly to comply. I think circumstances this week require me to break silence - we are in a crisis in this district, as you all know.

This past Wednesday, the Tentative Agreement was rejected by the board with a split vote. I cast one of those "no" votes. Let me share just a little bit of my reasoning.

Have you seen the news lately? Our nation is in financial distress. This did not happen overnight. It took decades of people in power choosing to vote on a personal agenda for re-election as a priority instead of voting to do the right thing when it needed to be done. Today we are reaping the consequences of their failure to act in the best interests of the United States, with banks failing almost daily and the stock market plummeting.

When our district teetered on the edge of bankruptcy several years ago, it wasn't because of any one thing or one year of a bizarre and uncontrolled spending spree. No - it was because former members of the board had made short-sighted decisions, choosing to placate the "now" at the expense of the future. Bad choices made year after year continued to compound on top of each other until our school district was in "fiscal caution" - close to being taken over by the state of Ohio. Drastic measures had to be taken: 20+ teachers laid off; programs slashed; a $1.6 million loan obtained; and one year when no general increase was given to those teachers who remained (although the salary steps increases were still awarded - meaning that there was no "pay freeze" then nor at any other time).

It was a terrible time in our district's history, but we got through it together.

Today we have a hard choice before us. The national economy is imploding. Our local economy is also suffering, with unemployment at 10%. The future is uncertain.

The offer we had given to our teaching staff was for a 2.5% increase for each of the next two years, plus a one-time signing bonus. Although we voted unanimously to improve their health insurance plan, we did not include a request for an increase in their premiums. This was the offer that the SEA deemed to be "unworthy of a vote".

In a written letter, the SEA then asked for "binding arbitration" - but in the next sentence they severely limited exactly what the arbitrator could rule on. On the advice of our attorney, we declined this particular "binding arbitration" as we did not want to set precedent on such a limited scope. Please understand: this request was not for a "fact finding" arbitration. In addition, our current contract does not include binding arbitration of any kind, although perhaps that could be a part of negotiations in the future.

The Tentative Agreement demanded by the SEA was for an effective 3.7% general increase the first year and 4.1% the second year, among other things. These percentage amounts are the result of adding signing bonuses and other stipends to the base salary before adding on the general increase. (to help put that into perspective, several schools in Fulton County have recently finished contract negotiations - and have given a 2% raise to their teachers)

At our meeting Wednesday night, Cheryl (our treasurer) handed out copies of a spreadsheet she had prepared that incorporated these numbers. She also included in her calculations the $7.3 million carryover, and the assumption that the income tax levy would pass. She also had removed certain figures. She took out the wages and benefit costs of 2 teachers who are planning to retire, because we wouldn't be able to afford to replace them. She also removed money for programs we had hoped to restore, trying to help this district afford the TA as presented.

Her spreadsheet showed that the TA would put this district into deficit spending by 2011 by almost a half million dollars, and worse each successive year thereafter.

The mood in the room that night was grim. Not one person at the table was pleased with what we saw before us in cold, hard numbers. We talked for around 2 hours, trying to figure out ways we could make it work. But those numbers kept staring us in the face.

Do our teachers deserve a raise? Of course they do! We have many great teachers, and this board wants to give them a fair raise. Was our offer what they wanted? No - but was our offer unfair?? I think the facts show that it clearly was not unfair, nor was it unreasonable.

However - the SEA has issued a strike notice. We now have 5 working days left to hammer out a compromise, as the strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 6th. Both sides are willing to negotiate again. Yet - only the SEA can call off the strike.

Given all of the facts before us, I think it is totally irresponsible for them to hold this district hostage to a wage hike that our district simply cannot afford at this time. But that doesn't mean they should get nothing - only that we need to get back to the table together to find a solution that is fair for both sides.

At a meeting in Memorial Park last night, it was mentioned that parents had hoped for certain programs and staff positions to be brought back. The board would like the same, and we have discussed ways to do so. But we have only a set number of dollars that we can work with, and those dollars need to be used in the best interest of the entire district. I am certain that we can make it happen - but a true compromise requires concessions by both parties.

Please feel free to write or call your school board members. I also encourage you to contact the members of the SEA negotiating team, to let them know your desire that a fair compromise be reached that is in the best interest of our kids and our district. Here are their names and email addresses:

Judi Teague ~ swa_aca_jt@nwoca.org (VicePresident SEA)

Deisa Thielman ~ swa_aca_dt@nwoca.org (lead negotiator)

Darla Omey ~ swa_aca_do@nwoca.org (President SEA)

Renee Gothke ~
(yes, it is "rgo" as there are multiple "rg's" requiring the need for the "o")

Denise Brehmer ~ swa_aca_db@nwoca.org

We have faced hard times together before - we can do it again. With all of us working together, we can reach a fair compromise and get back to the business of educating our children.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Agreed !

Board member, Mona Dyke, shared some things with me that have value in our discussion of the issue before us. Below are her comments, slightly abridged:

There are arguments to be made for both sides, but as we continue the debate, the kids are suffering. Teachers are working to the contract, nothing more, & they are preoccupied with this.

There is a lot we agree on! We all agree that the teachers are not SOLELY responsible for low OAT scores. As Jeff, “IT’S TIME FOR ALL OF US TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF OUR DISTRICT!” We need to stand up and be the first to be accountable.

We agree that the teachers of Swanton deserve a fair contract.
-->What is “fair” is the disagreement
We both say we want to avoid a strike
We agree that we need to treat each other with respect.
We agree that teachers are not solely to blame for low OAT scores.
We agree that most teachers get into teaching, and continue teaching, for the students.

Other facts that we agree on are:
The current base pay of a starting teacher is low compared to other Fulton Co. schools.
We have a budget carryover of $7.2M.

This is NOT the Board from 2003-04!

In 2005, when school board elections were held, the incumbent was voted out and the top vote getter was Jeff Michael. The community sent a pretty strong message that they wanted things to be done differently. Last year, Cindy and I ran unopposed and replaced the last of the school board members that were seated in 2003-04. We don’t know what promises were made by people who are no longer here. Those promises don’t seem to have been put in writing. As to promises that were documented, I went back through levy documents and found the following:

Jan, 2004 1.25% income tax flyer: After several paragraphs about the deficit and the cuts that were made, then, “the Board continues to look for ways to reduce expenses and remains dedicated to the education of our children. If the March 2 levy passes, (the School Board) will examine the areas that most affect students as they decide what teaching positions can be filled, if any.”

Flyer for the Operating Levy renewal in Nov. 04 talked about the concessions the teachers and support staff made in the 04-05 contract and stated “the new treasurer and school board continue to look for savings and fiscal restraint.”

A 2007 Letter from the District to residents about the operating levy renewal said “Our school district needs the programs and services being funded by this levy to maintain the educational progress being made by our students. We also continue to be dedicated to fiscal responsibility. We offered contracts to our teachers and staff that gave them an increase yet is well within our budget. It is critical to our continued improvement and to the overall environment of the school that we are competitive with area districts and are able to attract and keep quality teachers and staff.” This point was reiterated in a flyer that was distributed.

These promises have been consistent: dedication to fiscal responsibility, to the education of the children in Swanton and an understanding that we must be competitive in the salaries we offer our employees, within our budget. Our offer to the teachers in August would put us in the middle salary range of Fulton Co. schools.

Our plan for the Budget Carryover

We might be able to afford the SEA’s request in the short term, but it will be at the expense of additional positions, programs and advisors, and the risk of returning our district to the serious financial situation we were in 5 years ago. The School Board’s plan has been to slowly build back programs and positions, as needed and as we can sustain them. Much has been done to bring back the programs and some of the positions that were cut. Does it make sense to hire good teachers, only to have to lay them off in a few years if we have to make cuts again?

We stated in the Board Bulletin, “The District has been slowly adding back programs and positions that were cut in 2003. However, the Board has no intention of going back to the spending levels that got us into trouble, nor do we intend to maintain this high carryover balance every year. According to the most recent draft of the 5 year forecast, in 2013 our carryover will have decreased to approximately $990,000, which is less than one month’s operating budget.”
Many of you know Mona personally, as she has been a very active participant in our school district for many years. She is known and respected by our teachers, as well as our community at large. She has earned this respect by doing her best to see both sides of a given issue before giving an opinion.

As she has stated above, the question before the Board and our teachers is: how do you define "fair" ? The offer we presented would place our base salary range squarely in the middle of Fulton County schools, and included an increase in benefits without an increase in cost to our teachers. Yet - the salary increase we offered is not quite as high as that asked of us by the SEA negotiating team.

So . . . what is "fair"? That is the decision that must be made by both sides of the table.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Question & Comment

At the community information meeting hosted by the SEA last night (Setp. 11), people were encouraged to write their questions on paper to have them addressed.

One paper read aloud gave the opinion that there should be specific qualifications to be a school board member: that the candidate be a parent with children in the school, and that they be a resident of the district.

First of all, in order to run for a public office you are required by law to be a resident of the district in which you run. All school board members are residents of their school district, all across the nation.

In addition, our district consists of a majority of residents who do not have school-age children. Yet, every resident in our district pays school taxes. Was the writer of this note suggesting that 2/3 of our residents should not have representation on the school board?

For the record, the current school board consists of 3 members with children in our schools and 2 who have no school-age children.

That brings me to another point. It is important to remember that this board has been uanimous in its approach to contract negotiations. One member is married to a Swanton school teacher - three members have children in the system. One member is a teacher himself in a neighboring district. This board is keenly aware of the detrimental effect these stalled negotiations have on our community.

That is why we unanimously agreed to the offer we have placed on the table. Although I cannot give specific details without having the SEA file an Unfair Labor Practice action against us, what I can tell you is that the general increase percentage we are offering is higher than the percentage increases the teachers happily agreed to in at least 5 of the past 7 years. In addition, at our August meeting we increased their insurace benefits - and our contract offer does not include a premium increase for those increased benefits.

I am at a loss to understand their refusal to accept this offer.

One comment told to me is that our carryover "belongs to the teachers". Actually, the carryover belongs to the entire district, some of which will be used for the teachers, and some that will be used for other things that benefit a broader base than teachers alone.

This morning, we learned of further state budget cuts from Governor Strickland - some of which will affect school districts across the state. It's not that your state taxes are being lowered - rather, we won't be getting as much returned to our district. That fact affects our residents and our teachers (no matter where they live). Schools across the state are reeling from one cut after another from Strickland's administration. With our economy still depressed (have you seen the unemployment numbers for Fulton and Lucas Counties?), it is very difficult to predict the future of state school funding. Our plan at Swanton is cautious - yet we want to give our teachers a fair raise (again - we're offering a higher percentage than what they happily accepted in 5 of the past 7 years). Plus, we have offered a 2 year contract. Board members have unanimously agreed that this offer is fair - reasonable - and still allows us to remain fiscally responsible.

Our offer sounds like a "win - win" situation to me.

For an insight into what issues are valid when calling for a teachers' union strike, go to the National Education Association website (the national teachers' union) and key in "strike" into the search box. I'm certain you will find it interesting.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Some Thoughts from Dennis Heban, President BOE

Dennis Heban is the current president of the School Board. The other day, he shared a few thoughts that he indicated could also be shared with You. Here is what he said:

One item that I might mention is that the offer that has been extended to the SEA is well within "industry standards".

It is bizarre that the SEA is even talking about a strike, given this offer. Teacher strikes occur when there is no pay raise and insurance concessions cause an actual decrease in salary. Or they occur when conditions are so deplorable that that it is near impossible to function as a teacher. We are nowhere near any of these situations. They have been offered a reasonable increase with NO insurance concessions. That is a better deal than what I signed in Delta! Our offer is reasonable, and what the industry will bear.

Also, the contradiction between statements that they are "united for kids", etc., and the fact that they are willing to walk out on them because of self-serving notions seems to be a bit conflicting to me.

Dennis Heban

Friday, September 5, 2008

From the Desk of Jeff Michael, Vice President of Swanton BOE

The following article was written by Jeff Michael, the current vice president of the Board of Education:

The reason I ran for this position was to increase the quality of education for the children of our district, lower the tax burden for our residents, return the district to the people, and challenge the status quo. I take pride that we have a new Superintendent and Administrative team with a plan to lead us to the designation of an Excellent district. We have been the lowest in either Number of Standards Met or Performance Index Score in Fulton County since the 2000-2001 School Year. While our Administrative team has a plan to increase our performance, the fact is that we have been and continue to be the lowest in Fulton County. Although the Swanton School District was, at one time, one of the highest spending districts in the county, held the highest expenditures per pupil, and had one of the highest paid group of teachers, yet our scores remained the lowest, clearly indicating that throwing money at the problem does not fix it. We have instituted a new administrative team to address the problem and I have complete confidence that this team is ready to do the things necessary to raise our scores. However, as our scores clearly indicate, we have a number of underperforming teachers that need to be addressed. I will propose a review process in identifying these underperforming employees. Raising their salaries will not increase the performance of these teachers, just as history has proven.

The School Board and the Administration is deservedly proud of all the positive steps that have been taken to reduce the burden to our taxpayers. Our district has gone from being $1.2 million in the red in 2003-04, to having a $7.3 million carryover this fiscal year. This is attributed to a combination of factors, including diligence on the part of the Treasurer, Superintendent and the School Board to be fiscally responsible. The Board’s goal is to continue on this path so that we may renew the income tax in November at the reduced .75% rate and continue with the business of educating our children!

We have refused a grant that is very similar to many of the pork-barrel politics that have plagued this district for years. This grant was very indicative of the wasteful spending that is approved by the Federal Government, part of this grant is my tax money and I did not agree with the allocation of these funds. I have been and continue to be very successful in leading a fiscally responsible course of action for the school district and this grant allocation was NOT FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE.

I have taken great pride in standing up to the “good ol’ boy network”. This grant and the demands of the SEA are both examples of the “good ol’ boy network” in action. The comments that the grant was “free money” are absurd. It is taxpayer money and it is our responsibility to ensure this money is spent wisely - this grant did not provide this certainty. There was NO PLAN, NO OBJECTIVES, NO MEASURABLES, meaning NO ACCEPTANCE. The only plan, objectives and measurables that were presented were pizza parties, poker tournaments, and parties before and after athletic events. Other than teaching our children how to gamble, how does this reach out to all of the children in the district? This was never presented. I hear that SACC has received another grant for $625,000 and the only plan mentioned is to have pizza parties, poker tournaments, and parties before and after athletic events. I would like to see a comprehensive plan and program to touch each and every child in the community, not pizza parties and poker tournaments.

I am sure the “good ol’ boy network” took a hiccup when we did not RUBBER STAMP the grant; I think the reaction documented in the media bears that out. But the question I have is what was SACC going to do if we approved the first grant, with a total of almost $1.2 million dollars between the two grants combined? That’s a whole lot of pizza parties and poker tournaments. I suggest you ask SACC representatives what they plan on doing with your tax dollars. In addition, the criticism of the Board of Education from SACC representatives is an attempt to discredit the board in furtherance of the “good ol’ boy network”. If SACC believes it can make the derogatory statements about the Board of Education and individual Board members and still have a good working relationship, it doesn’t happen in my book. Isn’t this so typical of the “good ol’ boy network”?

Another example of the “good ol’ boy network” in action is the insistence by the teachers that they DESERVE part of the carryover and should have their salaries increased because of that carryover. Why don’t they understand that this has no bearing on the offer we have extended, that carryover is the money of the residents and we intend to return some of it to our residents?

There has been much rhetoric put out by the SEA but much of it has been fabricated and untrue, beginning with the Treasurer’s salary and the pay freeze. The SEA misrepresented the Treasurer’s salary without validating the salary, simply for shock value. As far as a pay freeze, in my research there has not been any year when the teachers in the Step schedule did not receive an increase. Of course, this obviously is not performance based as our scores indicate. Maybe they should have given it back to the residents for lack of performance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we have some excellent teachers who are deserving, but when the choice was made to enter into the SEA I am forced to look at them as a whole. And as a whole, our scores are the lowest in Fulton County schools, the lowest in comparison to 20 area schools (see below for the schools), and the second lowest of Swanton’s ODE 20 Similar Schools.

The initial year of the final offer from the Board of Education that the SEA “deemed not worthy of a vote” will make the Swanton teachers:
· The 3rd highest paid teachers at the Bachelors minimum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Bachelors maximum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Masters minimum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Masters with 11 years experience level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters maximum level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters with 25 years level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters with 30 years level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Schedule maximum level
All for scores that are the LOWEST in Fulton County schools, LOWEST of 20 area comparison schools, and the SECOND LOWEST of Swanton’s ODE 20 Similar Schools.

And they want more and deemed this offer not worthy of a vote!!! Tell me where you do not have to perform, yet expect to paid at the highest level. Reality Check!!

The SEA keep saying that they have the lowest across the board starting salaries of any school district in Fulton County, yet what is not said is if they receive the outrageous demands they are asking for, it will make them the highest or one of the highest paid teachers in the county, yet still have the LOWEST scores in the county. This does not even consider the ridiculous lowest medical and dental coverage amounts paid by the teachers. Swanton teachers pay the lowest amount toward their health insurance in Fulton County. A teacher pays $12.20 a month for single coverage and $60.89 a month for family coverage and an additional $5.00 a month for dental coverage. Compare this to what you pay!

If the SEA gets what they want, they will be the highest or one of the highest paid group of teachers in Fulton County, pay the lowest amount towards their health care in Fulton County, and have the LOWEST scores in Fulton County. The SEA’s demands are what disrespects their education, profession, and dedication. If their demands are met they will be paid more than teachers from districts that have Excellent ratings!

It has been said that you get what you pay for, but 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. Is this reasonable or is it the SEA holding the residents of the Swanton Local School District hostage for the ALMIGHTY dollar without regard for PERFORMANCE or our CHILDREN!?!


As always I welcome and appreciate your support and welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions. This is our school district and I want to make sure it stays that way.

Local Report Card Details:


Fulton County:
1 Excellent with Distinction
4 Excellent
2 Effective
Average Indicators Met: 28 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 100.98
Swanton lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

20 Area Schools:
5 Excellent with Distinction
9 Excellent
6 Effective
Average Indicators Met: 27.4 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 99.8
Swanton lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

20 Similar Schools:
3 Excellent with Distinction
7 Excellent
9 Effective
1 Continuous Improvement
Average Indicators Met: 25.8 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 97.5
Swanton second lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

Swanton: Effective
Indicators Met: 20 of 30
Performance Index Score: 92.4

20 Area Schools include: Anthony Wayne, Pettisville, Perrysburg, Archbold, Sylvania, Wauseon, Eastwood, Maumee, Bowling Green, Bryan, Delta, Fayette, Otsego, Springfield, Evergreen, Napoleon, Liberty Center, Defiance, Washington, and Lake.


Anyone who wishes to respond to Jeff is welcome to do so in the comment section below, and I will make sure he sees all entries. Thanks!