SCHOOLS Salem says numbers back need for levy

The district faces a projected general fund budget deficit of more than $2.3 million.
SALEM -- The local public school system operates with slightly more administrators than the minimum number suggested by the state and pays its teachers better than the average in Columbiana County.
Those are some of the findings of a review of the school system's staffing and salary levels. The Vindicator asked for the information after Salem City Councilwoman Mary Lou Popa made a similar request at a meeting earlier this month.
Popa said she wanted to review the distribution of teachers and administrators after Superintendent David G. Brobeck asked council to hold off on plans to introduce a city tax measure on the May primary ballot.
Brobeck said he fears such a move would make it harder for the school system to win a continuation of a property tax levy that also will appear on the May ballot.
City council's Committee of the Whole will discuss the matter again today, and the full council intends to make a decision at its Tuesday meeting.
Records provided by the 2,391-pupil district show that Salem has 171 classroom teachers and 18 administrators, including principals and assistant principals.
"That's a lot of administrators," said Popa, who added that she has not had a chance to review the information in detail.
Brobeck said a formula developed by the Ohio Department of Education shows that a school system Salem's size should have a minimum of 16 administrators.
Last year, the school system had 19, not including Treasurer Alice Gunning, who is listed as an administrator by the district but does not count under the state's formula.
Brobeck said one administrator left for a different school system and another decided to return to the classroom as a teacher. He said the school system did not replace either position.
Sean Kirkland, a Salem High School assistant principal, started teaching a wood shop class and now splits his time between instruction and administrative duties.
That leaves the school system with 17 1/2 administrators, 16 1/2 not including Gunning.
Exceeding state-suggested minimums by less than one administrative position represents a lean central office, Brobeck said.
School board member Kathy Gano, who has aggressively advocated eliminating wasteful spending and operating more efficiently, agreed.
"We're where we should be in terms of administrators," she said.
Brobeck said the state's staffing formula calls for a minimum of 40 teachers for every 1,000 pupils, plus additions for special education, music, art and other specialty instructors.
Under the formula, a school system Salem's size should have at least 139 teachers to provide a minimal education.
Salem's teaching force exceeded that figure by 42 for the 2003-04 school year. After deciding not to replace teachers who retired and declining to renew the contracts of some nontenured instructors, the district this school year has 32 more teachers than the minimum number.
But Brobeck suggested it would be a mistake to slash faculty positions further. The base formula of 40 teachers per 1,000 pupils works out to 25 pupils per class. Brobeck said, however, that makes an unrealistic assumption that every teacher teaches every period.
With teachers off for lunch and planning periods, Brobeck calculated actual class sizes would be more like 33 or 35 pupils. That, he said, would drive people away from the community.
"There's enough research out there that says that's not what you really want," he told a group of business leaders at a luncheon last week. "The vicious cycle is people can vote with their feet."
Budget deficit
As the district enters fiscal year 2006 in July, it faces a projected general fund budget deficit of more than $2.3 million. School board members will consider proposals Feb. 28 to close the middle school and Prospect Elementary School. Shuttering both would save $1.09 million a year, Brobeck said.
The superintendent said board members will search for cuts elsewhere, as well.
Brobeck said such dramatic steps will not be enough to stave off fiscal disaster without an affirmative vote from Salem residents on the tax renewal.
The 7.6-mill levy brings in $2.1 million for the school system. The system will ask voters to renew the levy -- which will be 6.7 mills as a result of increases in home values -- for five years to generate the same amount.
In lobbying for the levy, school leaders face the fact that most district employees earn dramatically more money than the majority of folks who live in the community.
The average salary of Salem schools administrators is $64,363. Teachers make an average of $45,138.
By contrast, the household median income in Salem was $30,006, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The average wage of all jobs in the county in 2003 was $26,440, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nonteachers -- bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers and others -- make considerably less.
"I think it makes it very hard [to support a levy], especially when looking at the salaries of people who are making nothing, who are out of work," said Popa. "But our teachers deserve their pay."
Beginning teachers with a bachelor's degree earn $26,291 in Salem, says the state education department. They receive pay raises as they gain experience, maxing out at $55,869 after 25 "steps." They also can receive pay boosts for attaining master's degrees and completing extra hours of education.
Brobeck said teaching is a good job with good pay.
"I think most people understand that teachers are highly trained professionals," he said.
He added that the salaries are in line with what other public school systems pay.
Average salary
The state education department says the average teacher salary in Salem ranks third among the county's 13 school districts. Although it is 7 percent lower than the state average, it's above the average teachers make in Columbiana and Mahoning counties.
The story is similar for administrators. The average salary for those employees is 5 percent higher in Salem than the county average, although Brobeck's $82,000 salary is less than the $90,161 average of superintendents of school systems with fewer than 2,500 pupils.
Gano said she hopes the salaries do not turn off people who have suffered during recent economic troubles.
The solution, Gano said, is to prove to voters the school system is being as frugal as possible. That means closing underused buildings and trying to get district employees to agree to chip in for a portion of their health insurance costs during contract negotiations this summer.
"Business as usual is not going to happen anymore," she said.
The school system can count on at least one yes vote when the levy goes to the voters. It will come from Popa. "I have never not voted for a school levy," she said.