The following speech was presented to the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee on 24 Feb 2011 and the Ohio House Commerce and Labor on 9 Mar 2011.
Chairman, Senators and members of the audience,
I am here today to impart factual information about how collective bargaining has hurt the children in my school system. Springboro community has been economically devastated in recent years and the schools have been impacted by failing 5 levy requests in the last 3 years.
I am here today as an elected board member and as founding member of Educate Ohio whose membership is predominantly board members from across the state and have approved my statements presented here. I have also been an instructor and professor in higher education for 10 years followed by 15 years in private practice.
During these last three years, our students have been the recipients of budget cuts while our faculty and staff have been recipients of reduced raises and continued benefit packages that far exceed parity with the community. Yes, I said reduced raises. Raises meaning more income than they had last year while our community median income dropped 1.5 % last year our district employees have had increases averaging 2.5% under what they call a “pay freeze”. Frozen pay to the district means something very different than it does the community. Step raises are the reason the district has increased pay by 2.5%. Even though the district froze base pay raises, the step raises continued. Benefits have stayed essentially the same at 87-90% paid by the tax payers for these several years.
Due to collective bargaining, our employees pay less for health insurance than the national average prior to 1999. Our children, on the other hand, have gone without materials and supplies in the classrooms, field trips, busing to the high
school, and extra-curriculars now cost an exorbitant $475 per child per activity making this too expensive. Extra-curriculars proven to expand education through teaching self reliance, self respect, better self image and keeps students engaged throughout the school day and school year now cost each family of our students so much that we see 30% less participation. The children of our district have received less special education, less gifted services and less clean environment due to lay-offs.
Our district has laid off over 30 workers mostly through the cancelation of HS busing and custodial services. Districts such as ours are unable to maintain services and jobs due to the collective bargaining agreements that have a grip on our funds. Inflexibility in staff pay and benefits keeps us from saving jobs. SB5 actually would save jobs.
Our county has seen 300% more people in our food banks, 130 homes per month foreclosed on and the numbers of our students that qualify for free and reduced lunches have quadrupled in the last two years; however, our faculty and staff now
pay less for health insurance than anyone responding to a community survey and have had raises 2 1/2 times higher than inflation and 3 ½ times higher than the community that pay them all while, under a base pay freeze. According to the
Kaiser Family Foundation our employee contributions to their own health care insurance are below 1999 levels. Yet the rest of the private sector costs have more than doubled.
While collective bargaining has placed a stranglehold on many districts, these districts have had no choice but to place their children at risk with no busing, reduced education quality with no field trips and materials and supplies and extra-curricular out of reach for most and a significant financial hardships for those that have paid the fees.
Our district paid for an outside organization to conduct a performance audit. The audit report stated that we should adopt a healthcare cost split more in line with the national average such is published in the National Kaiser report. The Kaiser report combines public and private sector cost splits and reported in 2010 that the national average cost split is 70/30. Employees paying 30% of the health care costs. Our districts are nowhere near that national average.
This audit report also stated that we should stop the STRS and PERS pick-up. The amount of $’s we pay for this extraordinary benefit is equal to the HS busing costs. Instead of continuing to safely bus our students, some of our staff gets this bus money as an annual bonus!
Collective bargaining has taken our community to a very negative environment where the majority of our community votes no to paying more in property taxes because they simply cannot afford more and they totally disagree with continuing a pay and benefit system they themselves do not have. We have decided as a community that we cannot, and will not, sustain this collective bargaining way of life. The consequences have hurt the children of this school system across the state. We believe that this is an unethical, unrealistic and unsustainable choice the collective bargaining unit makes and it must be stopped. SB5 will help us save jobs, programs and education.
I appreciate the hard work being done by Senator Jones and everyone on this committee. For education to succeed in Ohio, we need to reform collective bargaining and we need it now.
Kelly Kohls, Ph.D., R.D.
School Board Member