Thursday, October 28, 2004
Fairfield teachers take freeze
Contract for coming year aims for levy approval
By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer
FAIRFIELD - Teachers here agreed Wednesday to forgo cost-of-living raises until next school year to boost the chances of Fairfield's school levy winning voter approval.
Levy supporters carve Yes-o-Lanterns behind Fairfield Central School on Wednesday evening in support of an upcoming school levy election.
The Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
Fairfield schools have suffered four consecutive tax-issue defeats since 2001 and are asking voters to approve a 4.9-mill operating levy, leading to one of the most contentious campaigns in the region.
The Fairfield Classroom Teachers' Association (FCTA) and school officials reached a contract agreement with no cost-of-living raises for teachers for the year that runs Sept. 1, 2004, to Aug. 31, 2005. The freeze will save the district about $1.5 million this year, Superintendent Robert Farrell said.
On Wednesday, teachers approved the contract, which remains the same as the previous labor agreement except for the cost-of-living freeze. The school board is scheduled to vote on the new contract at 4 p.m. today during a special meeting at Fairfield High School.
Farrell said regularly scheduled "step" raises for individual teachers will continue per Ohio law, but will average 2 percent and not the 4.5 percent claimed by levy opponents.
PROS AND CONS
Here are major campaign points by Fairfield school officials and the anti-tax advocates, Citizens for Accountability and Results in Education (CARE). |
Fairfield school officials say:
If the levy fails, schools face the continuation of no bus service, and elementary students also might lose bus service. Defeat also could bring state education minimums and class sizes could increase to 28 students or more while 88 teachers and seven administrators would be laid off, along with 12.5 classified, non-teaching and non-administrative positions.
Citizens Active for Responsible Education:
Wants cost of living raises for teachers limited to 3.5 percent and periodic "step" raises eliminated.
Wants full-time teachers to spend more time instructing in classrooms.
Sources: Fairfield schools, CARE.
Election 2004 page|
Cost-of-living raises have averaged about 3 percent in Fairfield in recent years but would have been much less this time, said school officials, because of the district's financial troubles. The district's operating budget is $65.3 million.
Anti-levy opponents claim Fairfield spends too much on teachers.
But FCTA President Alexis Vafides said her 579 members have "always done what is best for kids and now in this political arena we wanted to do what is best for the community" in helping to persuade voters to approve the property tax increase on Tuesday's ballot.
The district has also eliminated raises for its administrators until Aug. 31, 2005.
"I'm very appreciative that the teachers have stepped up and sacrificed," said Farrell, who added that state law restricts the district from negotiating such a freeze for longer than one year.
The district's most recent defeat was in August. A 6.9-mill operating levy failed by 717 votes in the Butler County community of 42,000.
A fifth consecutive defeat, however, will bring $4.7 million in additional cuts on top of those already made after previous levy defeats. The property tax increase would raise $6.4 million annually and would raise the annual property tax for a $100,000 home by $150.
Fairfield Mayor Erick Cook says the school district is "facing a fiscal crisis (and) failure to pass the school levy could result in a district that falls below state minimum standards."
Arnie Engel, head of Citizens Active for Responsible Education (CARE), dismissed the teachers' contract adjustment as a political move that "amounts to nothing."
"We do not have a funding problem in our schools. We have a spending problem," said Engel.
Farrell countered that recently compiled salary information from 43 other Southwest Ohio school systems in Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties showed Fairfield's starting salary of $30,350 is the 36th lowest of the 43 districts.
School parent Kay Carran, with a senior, a sophomore and a freshman at Fairfield High School, is concerned about what cuts to state minimums will mean.
"I'm worried that another defeat will mean freshmen and sophomores will not get the same quality education as my senior girl."
Veteran Fairfield Board of Education member Michael Oler is surprised by the level of acrimony in this campaign, which has seen the destruction of pro-levy signs, and those of the opposition, property crimes and heated public arguments.
"This is tearing the community apart," said Oler, who is in his 16th year on the school board. "I would have never dreamt that the community could become so divided."
Election 2004 page
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