On November 5, 2013, Columbus voters will consider an additional levy of 9.01 mills to fund Columbus city schools. If approved, approximately 11%, or $8.5 million, would go to charter schools, while the majority of the $76.6 million a year would go to the Columbus City School District.
Having addressed the recent data “scrubbing” scandal that has prompted an investigation into district practices by the Auditor of State and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the previous blog, we turn our attention to the current and historical spending practices of the district, as well as the collective bargaining agreement between the Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Education Association (CEA).
A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is a contract between a union, representing its member employees collectively, and the management of a business or public entity. The CBA governs the relationship between a union and management, most notably regarding salary, working conditions, and employment. In the Columbus City School District, the CEA represents the teachers and the Columbus Board of Education represents the district. The Columbus School Employees Association (CSEA) represents the school support staff and has its own CBA with the Columbus Board of Education.
The current CBA for the teachers became effective on August 21, 2011, and will stay in effect until August 20, 2014. The current CBA for staff, became effective on August 1, 2009, and will stay in effect, with some changes made effective in September 2011, until August 31, 2014.
The provisions governing salary and benefits are the most important for the purposes of the upcoming levy. The salary provision of the CBA includes a “salary schedule” that lays out the amount of compensation a teacher will receive in a given year. The most recent salary schedules can be found on pages 5 and 6 of the agreement. When teachers gain a year of work experience, they move to the next “step” on the schedule, gaining a percentage raise over the last step. This annual “step” progression effectively gives teachers an annual raise automatically. Teachers may also move “horizontally” on the schedule by completing certain educational requirements, such as obtaining a Master’s degree. This horizontal movement provides another raise in salary. Under the current agreement, Columbus teachers receive approximately a 4% annual raise for their first 16 years of service. After the 16th year of service, the teacher’s salary plateaus drastically. The following chart provides a visual representation of the annual salary distribution according to years of experience.
The following chart illustrates the changes made to teacher salary in the current agreement, which became effective in 2011.
(Previous years salary schedules can be found on pages 97-100 of the agreement.)
Historically, a new CBA meant an increase in base pay, which represented the bottom step, and effectively created another raise in addition to the raise offered by the salary schedule. The most recent CBA, however, leaves the rate of base pay frozen at the previous 2010 level.
The non-teacher union employees of the district also made some concessions in their most recent agreement by accepting a freeze in the step process over the length of their current agreement. For example, a custodian will not gain a year of service time for the calculation of salary, and therefore will not advance to the next step. However, custodians will still gain a year of service time for the purpose of their retirement pension. In lieu of the potential step increase, the staff will accept a 1 percent increase in all wage rates starting in August 2012, and an additional 1 percent increase in August 2013.
But base pay freezes are frequently eliminated–sometimes by way of recouping all of the savings initially generated–in future CBAs that are negotiated after an economic recovery or subsequent new levy. In other words, the unions often seek to gain back most of what they “conceded” in previous agreements as soon as budgetary pressures are temporarily relieved. This tactic contributes to the need for more frequent levies.
Despite the changes to the CBA, the salary of a Columbus teacher is generally higher than that of a fellow Columbus resident. According to the District Profile Report, the average Columbus classroom teacher’s salary in fiscal year 2012 was $66,963.78. The average administrator salary was $91,702.06. The average income of a Columbus district resident in tax year 2010, however, was only $39,766, with the median income being $26,759. According to U.S. Census information, the median income for a Columbus household for the years 2007-2011 was $43,348.
A striking example of the disparity between school employees’ salaries and those of similarly situated Columbus residents is illustrated by the case of the Columbus City School District custodial staff. According to “salary.com,” the median annual salary for a janitor in Columbus is $24,797. The top 10% in the field earn greater than $32,551. In the Columbus City School District, under the current CBA, a person newly hired to the position of Custodian I enters at “Step A” with an annual salary of $33,461. A newly hired position of Head Custodian I, enters at “Step A” with an annual salary of $37,705, compared to the median annual income of $29,148 for the position of Senior Janitor with other employers in Columbus.
Health benefits are another piece of the expense puzzle. The CBA lists the Columbus School Board’s contributions to both Single and Family plans (page 85 of the agreement). The Board must contribute 90% of the cost of premiums for Single, Family, and “Single plus one” plans. If a teacher enrolls a “spouse or domestic partner for primary coverage to begin with the 2009-10 contract year or thereafter,” then the Board must contribute 70% of the cost of the premium. The door is open for teachers employed previous to the 2009-2011 contract to enroll a spouse and still receive a 90% contribution from the Board. The Board also makes a 90% contribution toward employee dental insurance (page 86 of the agreement), 100% of the cost of employee vision insurance, and provides for a $50,000 group term life insurance (page 89 of the agreement).
When compared to averages in both the public and private sectors in Ohio, the Board contribution for these benefits is high. According to a report by the Ohio State Employment Relations Board, public employees across the state of Ohio contribute an average of 11.2% of the cost of premiums for single plans and 12.2% toward the cost of premiums for family plans. Employees in School Districts with 10,000 or more people, like the Columbus schools, contribute 11.2% toward single plans and 15.7% toward family plans.
Contributions by average private sector employees throughout the state are much higher than those made by both the Columbus teachers and public sector employees. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average employee in Ohio, contributes 22% toward the premiums of a single plan, which is more than double what a Columbus teacher contributes. For family coverage, the average Ohio employee contributes 23% towards premium costs compared to the 10% contributed by a Columbus teacher.
After examining the CBAs and the current compensation issues in the Columbus School district, a series of questions are relevant: 1) What systemic reforms should the district make so that budgets are sustainable? 2) Given the poor academic outcomes achieved despite spending over $14,600 per pupil in Columbus, is spending more likely to achieve better academic outcomes? 3) Are there issues outside of revenue that must be addressed before adding more levy funds to a system that has already promised to use some of the new money to increase compensation for already generously paid employees?