How many of us old timers remember the television show Dragnet? Jack Webb, who produced the series and starred as Detective Joe Friday, would always ask a witness who started straying from his original question, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Once again those in the Greenville School District are being asked to support a school levy, and I have done some research and hope to give the people of the district “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
As I go around the district, it seems to me that the same questions concerning the school levy keep getting asked:
(1) “I won’t vote for the levy because the school board is stupid.”
(2) “The money we spend is being wasted because the kids aren’t learning anything.” and
(3) “Teachers and Administrators make too much now, and the levy will give them a pay raise.”
Let’s take them one at a time, without any emotion, and look at them logically.
First, “the school board is stupid.” Okay, I will admit that if you look at their track record, it does seem that their decisions sometimes appear less than smart. I have also heard this since I was in school, 40 years ago. They do make mistakes, they are human. We all make them, it is just their mistakes are more public.
Are they “stupid”? No. Do they make bad decisions sometimes? Yes. They are asked to do a thankless job, for very little financial or personal gain. They try their best, but they need to step up and show some leadership. When you make a mistake, admit it, and go on and DON’T DO IT AGAIN!! We do not expect perfection from them, just open honesty would do well. Don’t double talk, tell us what you mean and be done with it.
For all the alleged mistakes they have made though, the quality of education in Greenville has not suffered, which brings me to number 2, “The kids aren’t learning anything” is just not true. Greenville just received an Excellent rating from the State Board of Education. Now, you can argue that the State Board’s ratings are bogus, or whatever, but keep this in mind: ALL schools are rated based on the same criteria.
If Greenville gets this rating based on that, then nobody has an argument against it. All schools are graded the same. Greenville is excellent by the standard that everybody uses, so be happy about it. Don’t criticize the teachers, they have done their job. Now, they need to continue to be excellent. This is not a finish line for the school, just a beginning. I once heard that “Perfection may be unattainable, but Excellence can be achieved.” We have achieved it, now let’s improve on it.
The rating is good news, which brings me to the real sticky issue, salaries. With some help from Carla Surber, and the State Board of Education, I have some numbers for you to contemplate. Are Greenville teachers well paid? Yes. Are they overpaid? Probably not. Here are the numbers, and keep in mind that the school is a business. We all want government to be run like a business, so we have to be competitive in salary to get the best and the brightest or they will go somewhere else, just like in business.
According to the numbers, the average teacher salary in Greenville is $54,833.72. The average for districts our size is $53,300.51. The State average is $56,994.51. The fringe benefits as a percentage of operating expenditures is 21.68 percent compared to 21.56 percent for comparable districts and 21.23 percent statewide. Our benefit package for teachers is above average, so that is a big plus for teachers, and the district. REMEMBER, this is a business and in order to attract and keep good people, we need to be competitive. We’re not cheap, nor extravagant. As you can see, we are just slightly above average for our size, but below state average for all schools.
Our school district salaries as a percentage of operating expenses is 58.71 percent compared to 58.97 percent for districts our size and 57.47 percent statewide. We are in the ballpark, but not in the luxury seats! What these numbers tell me is that both sides of this issue need to quit pointing fingers at each other. Our teachers are not overpaid, but in a district where the average salary for non- teachers is $38, 565.00 (fiscal year 2008, last year data was available) our teachers are doing pretty well.
Both sides need to quit complaining. Now, for the real shocker, administration salaries. For years, I have heard that we are top heavy and our administrators make way too much. Keep in mind, this is a business, and if you want prime rib, you don’t pay hamburger prices.
Our administrator’s average salaries are $70,879.75. Average salaries for schools our size is $74,117.43, and statewide they are $74,911.80. Our pupil/administrator ratio is 174.02 pupils per administrator, compared to 166.71 for districts comparable to ours, and 158.53 statewide. This means we are getting more administration per pupil for less money! That’s the way it should be! That’s pretty good.
Are we paying too much in taxes? Yes, we are! Are we paying too much in school taxes? No, we’re not. Our total property tax per pupil is $3,346.35. Districts our size are paying $3,750.19 and statewide it’s $4,724.91. Our current operating millage, including the Joint Vocational School, is 35.31. Districts comparable to ours is 46.17, and statewide it is 47.91.
Thanks to Carla Surber for this information, and for her quick response to my questions. What all of this means to me, if I may give you my personal opinion on the levy is this: our school board needs to “raise the bar” (their own words) and do much better. We expect the best from our students and our administrators, it is not asking too much for the school board to try and excel, too.
We are getting a good education for the dollar but we need to improve where we can, and maintain excellence where we have it. Our teachers and administrators are well paid, with good benefits, but we are not extravagant with them. This is a business, the business of education, and we expect to get our money’s worth. Will a new school fix all the small problems we have? No. Will it enhance our chances for new business and further education for our children? Yes.
Prospective businesses come into town all the time unannounced, and drive around our communities to see what kind of place we have to live. If they see a place that is neat, clean, with good labor, resources, and good, clean, modern schools for their children, we get a chance to land them here.
Business owners want a good school system because this system is where their future work force is coming from. They want educated, responsible people to employ and make their business grow. If these employers drive around and see run down, outdated schools, they see us as backward and uncaring about the future, and off they go. It is just a fact that you get one chance to make a good impression, so let’s not blow it.
I have no children in the school system. I pay taxes just like you. I will vote for the levy because as a business man and a commissioner, I see the positives for the county, city, and the future. You must decide for yourselves.
Mike Stegall is a Darke County Commissioner . He can be reached at (937) 547-7300. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.