From pink slips to teacher workloads, budget cuts brought on by the failure of the 2012 school levy will profoundly impact the entire UA school district

By Olivia Miltner, ’13 and Grace Moody, ’14

Dublin City Schools bond & levy: Passed.

New Albany-Plain Local Schools bond & levy: Passed.

Worthington City Schools levy: Passed.

Upper Arlington City Schools levy: FAILED.

The words scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen almost too fast to read. But the red letters caught junior Maggie Callaghan’s attention, and she was forced to do a double take when she saw the 55 to 45 percent failure of Issue 51, the Upper Arlington City Schools’ 2012 levy. Shocked because, according to an Upper Arlington Schools’ newsletter, a UA levy had not failed in nearly 20 years, Callaghan began to worry about the impacts that this levy failure would have on the district.

“I was surprised…that in a community that [is so focused] around the schools and the high school…such as Upper Arlington…that it didn’t pass,” Callaghan said.

Callaghan was not the only person surprised by this result. Language arts teacher Kevin Stotts had a similar reaction after seeing the levy’s outcome.

“I was surprised about the degree to which it failed,” Stotts said. “It was a 10 percent difference between passing and not passing. And when it passes by 10 percent, we consider that a huge victory…but we lost by 10 percent.”

Due to the failure of the levy, the UA City School District will cut a total of $5.8 million from its budget over the span of two years according to Robert Arkin, President of the UA Board of Education. These budget cuts will take place beginning in the 2013-14 school year and will have an effect on each of the eight schools within the district.

The Campaign

Unlike Callaghan and Stotts, Arkin suspected a levy failure despite his hope for a successful outcome.

Arkin credited the large margin of the levy’s failure to an opposition group that formed prior to the election season called Educate UA. The group was aimed towards making voters aware of the negative implications of the success of the levy and convincing them to vote against the issue. Educate UA was also the first organized opposition to a UA School District levy in 23 years, according to the Sept. 23 Columbus Dispatch article “School districts find organized opposition is increasingly common.”

While some levy supporters believed that a more aggressive campaign might have changed the result of the vote, Arkin said he foresaw the failure of the levy due to the state of the economy.

“I think it was destined to lose because this has been a very difficult time for middle-class families,” Arkin said.

bythenumbersCallaghan agreed with Arkin in that the state of the economy played a large role in the outcome of the levy.

“I think right now, money is tight for everyone,” Callaghan said.

Another reason Arkin believed the levy failed was because UA residents felt burdened by their already high taxes and felt hesitant towards another increase.

“I think a lot of people [who] feel very oppressed by paying high taxes wanted the chance to vote no, and they took this opportunity to vote no on the levy,” Arkin said.

This sentiment was echoed by Joyce Blake, the Treasurer of Educate UA and a former UA teacher. Blake said citizens should not be goaded into voting one way or another on an issue based on what the community thinks is “right,” but rather that they should vote based on their own beliefs.

“No one should feel pressured to vote a certain way,” Blake wrote in an e-mail to Arlingtonian. “People need to vote their conscience, and by doing so our community will be stronger for it.”

According to the Educate UA website, the group was formed by UA citizens who were “concerned with the unsustainable costs associated with the Upper Arlington School District.” Blake said the group’s goal was to inform the community about the facts surrounding school funding and the impact that voting “no” would have on the district.

“Our mission was really to get the information out to the voter… We trusted that their vote would be the right one for UA whichever way it went,” Blake wrote. “We had done a great deal of research [and] we felt a responsibility to share this information with the electorate and let them make up their own minds.”

Arkin said that due to the difficulty of understanding school funding and the aggressive opposition campaign, some UA residents voted no for the levy under unrealistic expectations that changes would not occur.

“I think that parents were led to believe wrongly that they could vote no without any impact. That was not true,” Arkin said. “It’s hard for a voter…to have time to read and understand everything… It just happens that the people were somewhat misled.”

Teacher Cuts

Due to the failure of Issue 51, budget cuts will impact classrooms across the district starting in the 2013-14 school year. According to Arkin, the district will decrease the budget by about $3 million for the upcoming school year and carry those cuts into the second year, for a total of $5.8 million. This impact will primarily be seen throughout the district with the loss of 25 teachers, according to principal Emilie Greenwald.

“The teachers’ contract says that we have to look at someone’s certification area and then at their hired date—the number of years [they’ve taught in UA]. Last in, first out, essentially,” Greenwald said.

Arkin said the faculty will experience the largest impact because roughly 85 percent of the school district’s budget goes toward teachers’ salaries and benefits.

“Very little of our budget is tied up in things like buses and buildings and paper and computers and things like that,” Arkin said. “So when you have a set of cuts that you have to make like the ones we are pursuing now, you have to look at people because there’s not much else to cut.”

The reason the district is struggling to find alternative cuts is because of the various cost avoidance measures it made after the 2007 levy was stretched from three years to five years. One of these changes was eliminating raises to teachers’ base salaries for 2012 and 2013, and then a one percent raise in 2014.

“Our teaching faculty, when we went into [union] negotiations with them, was willing to take a two-year zero percent increase in their base salaries,” Arkin said. “They were enormously helpful in that regard.”

However, teachers’ salaries were one of the criticisms that Educate UA brought forth during the election season. According to Blake, teachers in UA make more than both the average UA resident and teachers in comparable school districts.

“Some of the numbers we were seeing for wages and benefits were alarming compared to the average UA citizen,” Blake wrote. “UA teachers make 14 percent more than teachers do at similar school districts.”

The 14 percent to which Blake refers, however, varies depending on the school districts being compared to UA. Some area high schools’ average teacher salaries are actually higher than UA teachers’ salaries, according to salary data from the Ohio Department of Education.

According to Blake, a possible solution that would save money without having to compromise school programs is modifying teacher’s health care benefits and decreasing their salaries.

“Addressing health care and wage scales could save the district millions without affecting current school programs. It would also put our district on a much more fiscally sustainable path,” Blake said.

According to Arkin, teachers’ salaries are difficult to change for a variety of reasons. The first is that the last contract the school district negotiated with the union for 2009 through 2011 was favorable for the school district, which included the temporary freeze in base salary raises.

The state and contract laws the district must follow are another obstacle that limits the flexibility of teacher salaries. Arkin said that lowering salaries would make it more difficult for the district to hire the best teachers possible.

arkinquote“We have an incredibly talented teaching faculty, and a really smart administration,” Arkin said. “We have always paid teachers well…with an eye toward attracting the very best candidates, and I think we have been very successful [in attracting those people].”

The cuts in staffing, called a RIF, which stands for “Reduction In Force,” will be finalized by April 1, according to Arkin. The Board of Education will make layoffs following state and contract laws set by the state of Ohio and the teacher’s union, the Upper Arlington Education Foundation.

“It’s a process that’s driven by state statute; we have to follow state-mandated rules. It’s a process that’s driven by our agreement to the union, ” Arkin said. “So we have an understanding with them about how we go through this process.”

After retirements are decided, the Board of Education will eliminate the remaining positions by cutting teachers who have not been through their probationary period, or teachers who are still within their first two years of employment.

Arkin said that for teachers, the ones who will be impacted the most by the budget cuts are the ones with the least amount of teaching experience.

“Regrettably, it’s the young, new faculty that will be affected by this,” Arkin said.

Speaking about some of her younger teachers, Callaghan thinks an alternative layoff process would be the most effective way to cut teachers. She believes that layoffs should be made based on a holistic view of teachers, taking into account opinions from students, parents and other teachers.

“Sometimes teachers who shouldn’t be cut are cut,” Callaghan said. “I think we need to get the opinions of all those three groups for there to be cuts.”

Callaghan said that by gaining the perspectives of the students, parents and other teachers, the right teacher cuts will be made. She said that receiving these opinions would be beneficial since these three groups interact with teachers on a daily basis.

greenwaldquoteGreenwald is responsible for deciding which teachers will be cut at UAHS. Because teachers were hired through interviews and face-to-face communication, Greenwald said the layoffs should be told to individual teachers in a respectful manner.

“I think we owe those people that same courtesy to sit down with them and talk to them about what’s happening,” Greenwald said.

Regardless of the layoff process, the RIF will prompt other changes within the district.

The Impact

Along with facaulty cuts throughout the district, Arkin said that there will be other significant changes within the students’ education because of the levy failure.

“We’re losing a lot of things that make Upper Arlington unique,” Arkin said.

One of these changes that will affect students greatly, according to Stotts, is the availability of teachers to conference with students throughout the school day due to the increase in class size and teacher workload.

“I think teacher access for students is going to be greatly reduced,” Stotts said. “Next year I think teachers are going to say, ‘I can’t do it. I need to have some time here.’”

stottsquoteStotts credited this belief to the increase in teaching requirements from four classes and an instructional duty, such as WIW, GLRC or Math Lab, to fives classes and an instructional duty for Language Arts, Math, and Global Language teachers. This will cause both a decrease in time teachers will have to complete grading and plan for upcoming lessons, assignments, and classes, as well as increase the amount of students teachers will have. Stotts believes that teachers may begin to decline student’s requests to meet individually outside of their assigned class time.

“There are so many good teachers in this building and I know how much they care, how much patience they have, and how much time they put in,” Stotts said. “And when you’re going to increase their workload essentially 20 percent or more, I don’t know anybody that has 20 percent more to give.”

Overall Stotts is sad about the changes that students, teachers and the community as a whole will face due to the levy failure. Although Stotts is retiring at the end of this school year, he finds the changes the community will face disappointing.

“Now it’s become personal in the sense that I put real names and faces to the impact that’s going to happen,” he said.

In addition to the increase in classes that teachers will be assigned each day and therefore, the increase in workload due to less time for grading and planning, Arkin said that an increase in class sizes throughout the district will also take place.

“I’m told we are going to make every effort to protect K-3 because that’s where the research shows that smaller class sizes really do make a difference,” Arkin said. “But other class sizes from fourth grade up will almost certainly increase on average.”

One area that the district wants to preserve is the extracurricular opportunities students have throughout the district.

“We really value young people being able to do arts and sports,” Arkin said.

Another change that will be seen beginning in the 2013-14 school year is an increase in athletic fees at both the middle school and high school level.

“At the high school level they’re going to go up from $85 to $100 and at the middle school from $42.50 to $50,” Arkin said.

Along with teacher cuts and the increase in athletic costs, the district will also disaffiliate with the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, saving the district $50,000 annually, according to a Feb. 20, 2013 Columbus Dispatch article by Colin Binkley, “Arlington lays out job cuts, athletic-fee hikes.” However, Arkin believes that this could actually be a good change, enabling the district to try to keep the best parts of the program while cutting ties with unnecessary ones.

“We’ll retain [the IB program] at the high school for the certificate program, so you can still get an IB diploma and get certificates for the courses at the high school,” Arkin said.

UA’s Future

Another opportunity to vote for an Upper Arlington City Schools levy will occur this Nov. The Board of Education hopes that voters will see the impacts of the most recent levy failure and reconsider their vote to pass the upcoming levy.

“We will produce a list of things that we will have to cut if the next levy losses,” Arkin said. “And [voters] will be able to see in black and white…we’re going to be very plain about it, ‘this is what goes away if we lose again.’”

For elective courses and athletics, Arkin said that although no programs will currently be cut from the district, if the next levy in Nov. fails, the district will lose some programs.

Arkin remains optimistic about the future for both the school district and the community as a whole due to his high hopes for a positive result in the upcoming Nov. levy.

“I actually believe that when people see what has happened, and they see what could happen, they will come out to vote in droves for the schools in the next levy,” Arkin said.

Stotts, however, said that keeping high expectations for the future of the district will not be enough to fulfill the commendable reputation of the UA schools. He said this belief comes from the logistics of the next levy, in that if it passes, it will not bring the school district back to the position it was in before the most recent failure.

“There will be a levy in November and it is to be able to maintain what they will have next year,” Stotts said. “So if the levy passes it will not restore what we currently have, it will only maintain what we have next year; it’s not good.”

Although the Board of Education is disappointed about the failure of the levy and the implications it will have on UA’s education program, Arkin said it tries to see the future of the UA school district in a positive way.

“So long as we have enough money to do what we do, I’m not worried about the Upper Arlington schools. We will still be top dog in perpetuity if there’s enough money to do it,” Arkin said.

Regardless of the failure of this levy, Arkin, along with the Board of Education, wishes to maintain Upper Arlington School’s academic excellence and reputation.

“We would like to stay as strong and provide as much value added to [students] lives as we possibly could,” he said.

Arkin’s disappointment about the budget cuts that will be made throughout the district do not, however, get in the way of his high hopes for the future of the UA schools.

“I’m really sad about what has happened,” he said, “but I’m [still] extremely optimistic about the future.”