ASHLAND -- John Court says he's not looking for a "pity party," but compared to similar districts in Ohio and regional districts, the Ashland City Teachers Association believes its teachers in the Ashland City School District are underpaid.
At a public, ACTA-organized financial round table held Tuesday evening at the Trinity Lutheran Church, the member of the ACTA negotiating team and nine-year Ashland High School employee, Court, said he hoped to share the ACTA's perspective on the district's financial state.
The district's five-year financial forecast projects year-end balances as low as $87,441 at the conclusion of the 2020 fiscal year. The Ashland City Board of Education reviewed and approved the forecast at its Nov. 18 meeting. Previously increasing cash balances appear to be gone, having been spent on building projects and renovations.
"It's not that these are bad. These are really good things. I can't wait to get air conditioning at the high school ... We're going to have a refurbished science wing at the high school. We're also going to have a refurbished cafeteria and a refurbished media center," Court said. "So yeah, these are great things, but at the end of the day we're a service industry, we're not a building industry."
He classifies education as a service industry and says because of this, the recommended percent of expenditures that a district spends on employee salary and benefits should be between 77 and 80 percent. In 2019, the percent for employee salary and benefits was only 65 percent, and further, it is below the market average for lists of similar and regional schools.
The figures presented Tuesday showed Ashland City Teachers base salary $4,564 less than the average of similar districts and $2,530 less than regional schools. The current Ashland salary for teachers with 15 years experience and a masters degree was $10,941 less than similar districts and $5,924 less than regional districts. The maximum Ashland teachers was $7,300 less than in similar districts and $5,815 less than regional districts.
To determine similar districts, Court explained the ACTA referenced the Ohio Department of Education's list, which considers adjusted median gross income, full-time student enrollment and more. These include Hubbard Exempted Village, Vermillion Local, Marietta City,Talawanda City, Dover City, Mount Vernon City, Lakeview Local, Lexington Local, Madison Local, Louisville City and ten others.
Regional schools included Ashland West Holmes Career Center, Black River, Crestview, Hillsdale, Lexington, Loudonville, Mapleton, West Holmes and Wooster.
"Why we're showing these similar districts, it's not to throw a pity party. It's not to be sanctimonious and to say us Ashland teachers are so undervalued. It's not because of that," Court said. "This is our market. This is the market it costs to get educators for districts.
"And as an economics teacher, if you're not paying market rates for a product, that causes issues, that causes shortages, that causes all sorts of inadequacies in the market."
In attendance was school board member, Bryan Lefelhoc, who said he wanted to hear the ACTA's side of things.
"I wanted to understand this position better, and this has allowed me to do that," he said.
He admits the school board did spend money on buildings, but says that can't be undone.
"There's no secret about that. I think if I had a time machine, I wouldn't change anything," Lefelhoc said. "Not every project has been the same price we anticipated it would be. A lot of things didn't work out exactly as planned. Some projects were over budget. Some were under budget.
"If had a chance to go back and do anything, I would look at the ones that were over budget, but I think longterm the district will benefit from this."
The five-year forecast approved in November, he said, included raises for teachers. The forecast included the raises as offered up Nov. 18 as the board's "last best offer." The ACTA later rejected the offer, saying it wasn't a "last best offer" at all.
"It's not dire where there's nothing," he said. "We were able to build buildings, and we are trying to take care of our teachers the best we can without having to ask for more dollars. That's what we've always been aiming to do."
At the financial round table, Court highlighted the ACTA's perspective of wondering how slim the budget will prove to be. He mentioned potential Rover Pipeline dollars and donations for the field house that could come back into the general fund.
Monday evening, the ACTA membership passed a vote of no-confidence against the Ashland City Board of Education on Monday night, according to ACTA spokesperson Rich Wasowski. In a second vote, ACTA membership overwhelmingly authorized its negotiating team to issue a strike notice, when they deem it necessary. Should the team issue a strike notice, the membership will need to vote prior to any job action.