By Janie Southard
Two financial experts from the Ohio Education Association believe a 3 percent salary increase is possible for Celina teachers, the experts told a crowd at a community forum Tuesday night.
The teachers have been working without a contract since August and negotiations for a new contract have stalled with the board of education. Board members have said the district's current five-year financial forecast shows the district cannot afford the raise teachers want.
"The numbers in any five-year forecast are someone's best guess. Treasurers prefer to err on the side of caution, so the forecasts are almost always based on conservative assumptions," said OEA's Andy Jewell, speaking to an audience made up of mostly teachers and a handful of community members.
By his own definition, the local five-year forecast as recently calculated by Jewell makes far less cautious assumptions and thus, he said "our folks (teachers) are asking a 3 percent increase, which is not significantly far apart (from the board's offer), just a few hundred thousand dollars ... It doesn't appear a 3.1 percent increase will bankrupt the district."
However, in defense of erring on the side of caution, school board member member Tom Rable cited, from the audience, the fact that the past couple years' forecast, which have totaled $45 million, have only missed the actual numbers by about $150,000. Jewell returned to his mantra saying "everybody's guessing" on five-year forecasts.
Is the OEA five-year forecast for Celina the definitive document?
"No, there are no guarantees," Jewell said. "Things change and the forecast is always being updated. By law, it must be filed with the state twice a year."
State funding dollars, which obviously have a huge impact on schools' five-year forecast, are a big question mark and will continue that way in the foreseeable future until the state satisfies court orders to get their financial act together.
Don Holub, Jewell's OEA partner, returned the discussion to teachers' pay.
"It is the responsibility of the community to determine the value of the people who educate their kids," Holub said.
Through the use of charts, handouts and a word maze of school finances, much of the audience was mute during the question/answer period.
Frank Snyder, a parent and publisher of The Daily Standard, commented on Jewell's projections. "You scare me with your projections ... We need to be conservative. Either we have extra dollars, or we have crisis," he said.
Citing an article in the Wall Street Journal and as well as various payroll considerations, including health insurance and a local 5 percent loss of jobs, Snyder compared Jewell's projections to those made by Enron executives before that corporate implosion.
With eyebrows raised, Jewell denied his were Enron projections. "If anyone is thinking we suspect any mismanagement of funds, we do not," Jewell said, adding once again that projections and five-year projects are "anyone's best guess."
"I'm not saying your treasurer's projections are incorrect. We just have a different opinion ... based on our different assumptions," Jewell said.
A recurring theme throughout the meeting was the OEA representatives' occasional comments on a multi-year contract.
The board is offering a two-year contract and stated at the last board meeting district funds could not support a longer contract, which the teachers are asking for.
At that meeting, Rable said Ohio law requires the district to certify its ability to fund all operations, including teachers' contracts. With the district's projected deficit of more than $3 million in the third year of the five-year forecast, certifying a full three years is not possible.
Regarding Rable's statement from the last board meeting about the state law, a teacher in the audience asked if the state really does require certification of a district's ability to pay.
"Yes, however, as you see by my five-year forecast, there might be more money there (in the general fund) than anticipated. But it's just an estimate, I don't know.
"Three-year contracts use to be the norm, but now it's less and less (contract length)," Jewell said.
The next round of negotiations between the teachers and board of education are scheduled for Tuesday.