Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Teachers union head in Fairfield

By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer

FAIRFIELD - The head of Ohio's largest teachers union came to Fairfield schools Tuesday to survey what he described as one of the most contentious school levy campaigns in the state.

The Butler County school system, which has lost four levy campaigns in three years, faces sweeping teacher and program cuts should voters reject a proposed operating levy on the Nov. 2 ballot. The campaign to date has featured a level of rancor previously unseen in the 9,400-student district, including destruction of campaign signs and public demonstrations for and against the tax issue.

"The vindictiveness and animosity of the campaign, especially toward teachers, is very unusual," said Gary Allen, president of the 131,000-teacher members of the Ohio Education Association (OEA), which is the state chapter of the National Education Association - the largest teacher union in America.

Allen, who was also in Greater Cincinnati to speak to representatives of the Southwest Ohio Education Association, said that people do not understand that "education is labor-intensive," with teacher and staff salaries making up more than 80 percent of most Ohio school budgets.

Allen said those opposing the Fairfield school levy, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $150 annually, are beginning to realize that the fault lies not with local officials at Ohio's 614 public school districts, but with state legislators who in recent years have under-funded public schools.

But school tax opponent Steve Barrett, who spoke out against the school tax Tuesday during a Fairfield City Council meeting, said "this is about money and the salaries and the wages of the people who work in the schools."

Alexis Vafides, president of the Fairfield Classroom Teachers Association, said that 88 teachers and seven administrators might be eliminated as part of $4.7 million in cuts to balance this school year's budget should the levy fail. Losing them will harm the district's education quality, Vafides said.

Fairfield school parent Pamela Ison is not optimistic about the levy's chances, but said that eventually even those opposed to raising school property taxes will "see the light when their property values start to go down and families start moving out of Fairfield."


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