In the city of Reynoldsburg, a small suburb east of Columbus, contract negotiations between the teachers and the school district have broken down as a result of the School Board’s proposal to tie salaries to the state’s new teacher evaluation system while eliminating district-provided healthcare.

The School Board has been in full marketing mode for their plan, but as we’ve discovered, their talking points simply don’t support the facts.

The Reynoldsburg School Board first put out a “Vision Statement” that was full of propaganda and absent of facts, and now the District has an FAQ page on their website that continues that trend.

Reynoldsburg has consistently performed among the top school districts in Ohio, and over the past four years has shown continued improvement based on reporting by the Ohio Department of Education.  In 2010, the district received a rating of “Effective”.  In the three succeeding years, the district advanced to receive ratings of “Excellent”, then “Excellent with Distinction”, and then received a grade of “A” on the state’s new report card last year.  In all three of those years, the district met 100% of the state’s performance indicators.

Even more impressive, the teachers in Reynoldsburg have accomplished this feat with a changing student population – specifically an increase in the number of students living in poverty of over 10% (from 37.6% to 47.9%).  With socioeconomic status being a huge factor in student achievement, such gains on state indicators simply cannot be ignored.

Instead of recognizing these accomplishments on the part of the teaching staff, the Reynoldsburg School Board has chosen to engage in negotiation tactics designed to divide the teaching staff, implying that a great disparity exists among the teaching ranks.  The performance of the district as a whole contradicts that notion.

The biggest recurring claim of the Reynoldsburg School Board is that they need to implement a “competitive” compensation plan in order to recruit and retain “excellent” teachers.  From the district’s FAQ page:

“… we face tough competition to hold onto good teachers who are being courted by districts with pay flexibility, and to recruit excellent new teachers. We know through daily experience that our teachers revere teaching excellence, and that they want to teach alongside the best teachers available.”

“…we are stuck with pay schedules that don’t recognize excellence and that don’t allow us to compete with offers from other districts. The only way for a great teacher to achieve a significant increase in salary is to move to another district or to administration. That’s true for most districts, but the competition is going to get worse.”

Let’s look at this apparent salary issue for Reynoldsburg.  According to the School Board, they need to be competitive with other school districts in order to recruit and retain excellent teachers.  Below is a chart showing the average 2012-13 teacher salary for Reynoldsburg and other local districts that would be “competing” for the same teachers:

average_salary

On this list, Reynoldsburg has the 2nd lowest average salary, so the Board’s claims of needing to increase salaries seems to have merit, but this simple chart does not tell the whole story.  Take a look at the average salaries for the same districts over the past four years:

average_salary_change

Of these competing districts, Reynoldsburg is the only district whose average teacher salary has actually decreased, and the margin is not even close.  While every other district’s average salary has increased, and while the districts’ combined average salary has increased by 1.7%, the average Reynoldsburg teacher’s salary has decreased by 4.5% over the past four years.

Is this because Reynoldsburg’s salary schedule does not allow them to “compete with offers from other districts” as the School Board claims?  Not at all.  Look at the following chart that compares key points on the salary schedules from these same districts.

salary_schedules

As you can see, Reynoldsburg’s existing salary schedule is right among the average for all of these competing districts and, with one exception, ranks in the top half.  The significant difference is the amount that Reynoldsburg pays to those experienced teachers with a Master’s degree.  Given that many teachers these days are graduating with a Master’s degree before obtaining their first teaching job, and since 78% of Reynoldsburg’s teachers have their Master’s degree already, this low figure could be key a reason that teachers would jump ship to one of the many other district’s offering a bump in pay at a level in which they could still likely get credit for the same number of years of teaching experience.

The fact that these salary schedules are very similar still leaves us wondering about the dramatic decrease in average salary that has been occurring in Reynoldsburg.  The most obvious explanation is that experienced teachers are leaving and being replace with younger teachers who are at the beginning of the pay scale.  But as we can see, since the salary differences aren’t that dramatic, then there must be other factors leading to this exodus of experienced teachers.  Given the particular nature of these negotiations as being driven by the Administration, it’s not hard to imagine that the climate in Reynoldsburg is not so teacher-friendly and, as any educator will tell you, a good climate is a major factor in work satisfaction in any school building or district.

More evidence that points to the Administration trying to create division among the teaching staff is encapsulated in their explanation of the proposal to eliminate district-sponsored healthcare benefits.  In the district’s narrative, they seek to pit unmarried teachers against married teachers by claiming that unmarried teachers are unfairly penalized despite receiving the same salary and same individual benefits that a married teacher does.  Here’s the explanation from the district’s FAQs [emphasis added]:

There are two kinds of inequities involved in our current health insurance rules. First, imagine Faith and Hope, two great teachers, both single. Faith gets married and takes a family plan from the district. Immediately taxpayers are investing about $10,000 more a year on Faith than on Hope, despite the fact that they are both equally good at their jobs.

For Hope, this amounts to a penalty for her making the lifestyle choice of staying single. That’s seriously unfair. Now let’s talk about inequity to the taxpayers. It turns out that Faith’s new husband has a job with an employer who offers coverage. But they like the Reynoldsburg plan better, so they both go on it. Faith’s husband’s employer now is free of cost for him, but Reynoldsburg taxpayers are picking up his coverage, despite the fact that he provides no benefit whatever to Reynoldsburg students. That’s unfair to taxpayers. The board’s proposal is designed to [enact] one-size-fits-all inequitable coverage, and replace it with cash payments that teachers can use to select the best products for themselves. Not only is unfairness eliminated, but teachers have more ability to choose what’s right for them.

The intent of the district is not to cut costs, but to offer a better, more flexible, fairer benefit to be used as individual teachers want and need regardless of their personal choices concerning marriage. 

It is also the intention of the proposal to eliminate the current inequity between the compensation packages of married teachers vs. single teachers.

Right now, the inequity is large. When a teacher marries and elects family coverage, the value of his or her compensation package increases approximately $10,000 per year without any corresponding increase in the quality of his or her teaching. This is inherently unfair to single teachers, and our proposal seeks to close that gap.

If the teachers’ union, which includes both married and unmarried teachers does not support this plan (which it apparently does not), then the “fairness” arguments put forth by the Administration fall completely flat.

Furthermore, the claim that the “intent of the district is not to cut costs” can be considered false when that statement is thrown right smack dab in the middle of an explanation that continually throws out the monetary figure of $10,000 as a supposed savings to “taxpayers”.  Add in the line from the district’s “Vision Statement” that says “This approach is in keeping with the Board of Education’s long-term fiscal goal of maintaining a positive cash balance through 2020” and we must absolutely understand that this proposal is all about cutting costs.

If Reynoldsburg truly wants to recruit good teachers and retain the excellent teachers they already have (as evidenced by the district’s improving performance), then the School Board should quit messing around and seriously reflect on how their actions are driving away experienced teachers.  Instead of eliminating benefits packages that, by their own admission, most other districts have in place, they should retain the benefits for married teachers so that young, talented unmarried teachers don’t feel the need to seek employment in a district that has a better benefits package.  That’s part of retaining teachers in a competitive environment, especially when the salary schedule is so similar.

And regarding the salary schedule, they should seek to increase it across the board, but especially for the large number of teachers with Master’s degrees who should be most tempted to look to competing districts that will pay them more for that extra experience (that may also help pay off the student loans required to obtain the degree).

The Reynoldsburg School Board thinks it is being innovative and forward thinking in trying to attract and retain teachers, but their misguided information, deceptive marketing, and lack of understanding of the “competitive teaching marketplace” has them driving a wedge between the excellent teachers that they already have employed in the district and instead is driving their best teachers away.

Instead of playing games, the Reynoldsburg School Board should listen to the teachers who are leading the way in improving the district’s overall performance.  While School Board members come and go, it’s the teachers who will be there for decades, continuing to have a positive influence on the lives of the children and families of Reynoldsburg.

Evangelize!
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  • Think.

    It looks like the Reynoldsburg School Board is getting some tips from John Kasich on how to use Divide & Conquer strategies to further diminish Ohio’s public schools and their teachers.
    It’s worth noting that Kasich’s “tips” represent “Theft In Plain Sight.”

  • Gopnomore

    Reynoldsburg just lost one of their best math teachers to a district right next to it. Thanks Reynoldsburg school board for being so extreme, as in extremely dumb. The teacher loves the teachers he works with and loves the people in Reynoldsburg. He just can’t be part of a district that thinks so little of their teachers. Looks like the tea party got a hold of the school board. The number one rule of leadership is to love your employees like your customers. Reynoldsburg does the opposite. The frequently asked questions piece is an insult to the voters and the teachers. The whole state of Ohio is watching the education association on this one. Teachers, do NOT give up your health benefits. It is so precious if and when you have a family. I highly doubt that if you have a family, the district will give you what they say your health care is worth(10,000 dollars). Corporations would love to cut everyone’s health care and force Obamacare on every employee. Why? Money of course. Teachers, listen up…merit pay = pay cuts. Basing salaries on test scores is like judging a doctor who treats diabetics on how well the patient controls their diabetes. You can educate them but ultimately it is out of your control. Time to get organized, educate the young teachers on this nonsense and either leave the district or strike!

  • Telchar Bladesmith

    Talk about using the politics of envy to divide and conquer!! Hey, that person has something better than you do because they are married! Don’t fall for these tea party con jobs!!

  • Ron Rucker

    Sounds like they should drop all health care and send everyone to the Obamacare website. ( ; That would be the fair thing to do.

  • Gopnomore

    Of course. Teachers are a bunch of women who only exist to serve their husbands anyway right? The only money they need is to buy a new apron so they look good when their husband gets home from a real job. This must be what the school board thinks of teachers. Goal of GOP – kill public schools for “For Profit” schools. This way they can launder more money to themselves. Sad really.

  • Michael Smith

    If they’re so worried about their “Faith and Hope” example, why not simply do what many employers do nowadays – apply a financial penalty if the spouse is eligible for coverage elsewhere and turns it down.

    For me, if my wife was offered health insurance at her job and the employer would pay at least 50% of the premium, then no matter how lousy the coverage would be, she would either have to take it or, to get on my policy, would have to pay a penalty to my employer of around $6,000 per year. If her employer offered her cash in lieu of insurance and she took it, she would be ineligible for insurance under my plan.

    The result is that cases like “Faith” simply don’t happen – the spouse never ends up on our policies (nonworking spouses are another matter). Couple that with higher premiums I pay (just like Reynoldsburg makes teachers with covered dependents pay), and there is actually little to no additional cost to the employer.

  • Red Rover

    So now they’re not just attacking teachers but their whole family!

    “Faith’s husband’s employer now is free of cost for him, but
    Reynoldsburg taxpayers are picking up his coverage, despite the fact
    that he provides no benefit whatever to Reynoldsburg students.”

    Faith’s husband provides no benefit whatever to Reynoldsburg students, despite the fact that the couple might have one or more children in Reynoldsburg schools. Clearly parents provide no benefit whatever to Reynoldsburg students. The Board also is insinuating that teachers without children are being treated unfairly since the children of teachers would receive coverage as well. Since those children aren’t employees of the school district, they need to go find jobs somewhere, get their own insurance, and stop robbing the taxpayers.

    This is a crystal clear example that an attack on teachers is an attack on parents and students as well.

  • anastasjoy

    I have questions. As far as the “spouse unfairly taking healthcare from the taxpayers” tihng: have they actually studied how often this occurs and how that stacks up against teachers who might take their spouse’s healthcare instead and actually SAVE the district money? Seems to me you always have things going both ways and some people always get more benefits than others. If I am completely healthy and you have a chronic condition, yet we pay the same for healthcare (and we are both teachers here), you COULD say that I am being cheated because you get more benefits. And I too don’t like the message that teachers are competing with each other to steal more benefits for themselves; this is divisive and nasty.

    Also have they come up with a dollar figure as to how much money they will give the teachers in lieu of health coverage, and whether this will be enough to help the afford a plan of similar quality? I get a little suspicious when I hear right-wing framing like “select the best products.” When you think about health care as a “product” and you use words like “select” as if you in most cases have much of a choice, which you don’t — you’re at the mercy of insurance companies — my bullshit detector starts to beep.

  • anastasjoy

    One more question. This has been troubling me for a while. If you want to pay teachers based on “excellence” (no matter how you determine that), but you don’t want to increase spending, do you have to set your bar high enough that a certain number of teachers fall below whatever your mark so they lose money in order to pay the teachers who get more? We all know that education funding is being gutted and will be at sub-poverty levels if Kasich is reelected. So it’s actually LESS than a zero-sum game. What if your overall teaching staff is excellent which, as measured by the ratings of this district, seems to be the case here. Do you raise everyone’s salaries? Where does the extra money come from at a time when spending is shrinking? I’m baffled and suspicious.

  • Joe

    Why aren’t you including other districts in Franklin county. There are 16 but you seem to have chosen the districts with the highest paid teachers to compare Reynoldsburg to. Off the top of my head I can see you are missing Gahanna, New Albany, Hamilton local, Groveport, and Canal. Each of those schools is in the bottom half of teacher salaries. Seems a bit misleading don’t you think??

  • Joe

    Also, Reynoldsburg is NOT one of the top school districts in Ohio. Unless you count #222 in the state a top school district.

  • Erica Leslie

    A decrease in salary of 4.5% doesn’t seem so bad for a group of public employees whose salary is paid out of the budget of a district which has seen the number of children in poverty grow by 10%.

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