YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Do smart parents reward their children when they bring home failing grades?
spending report graphic nbOf course not.

But the Youngstown City School District has been rewarding its staff with raises and generous benefits, despite the district’s dismal report card from the state.

Youngstown teachers obviously have a generous union contract, based on the amount of money the school pays for their health insurance, automatic annual raises, and their current two percent general raise, which totaled nearly $8 million in 2012-13.

School administrators also obviously do well, considering that the 10 highest paid employees earned nearly $1 million in straight salary in 2012-13.

The entire staff really has nothing to complain about, since total salaries and benefits in 2012-13 came to about $72 million, which equals 77 percent of all school spending for the year.

So what does the school district and its taxpayers get for that type of “investment?”

Failure.

In 2012-13 the Youngstown school district received a “F” from the Ohio Department of Education in three key academic categories – overall student progress, closing of the achievement gap between white and minority students, and graduation rate.

You don’t suppose the employees could be made to return at least part of their salaries and the value of their benefits, since their job was not done very well, do you?

At the very least, the school board should learn a hard lesson and stop throwing good money after bad. For the amount of money it costs, the Youngstown school district has been an abysmal failure. Only stupid people would continue to invest in such a system without major structural reforms.

EAGnews spent several weeks recently studying spending records for the Youngstown school district for 2012-13, as part of our ongoing “Where Your School Dollars Go” series. The purpose of the series is to inspire citizens and reporters across the nation to keep a close eye on school spending and hold district officials accountable.

Employee costs dominate budget

Youngstown’s 553 teachers were financially rewarded in 2012-13. For what? We’re not sure.

But their automatic, annual raise, which is stipulated by their union contract and based on seniority and college credits earned, cost the school district a combined $479,471. And an overall two percent raise, also mandated by the contact, cost the district $315,441.

That adds up to $794,912 “invested” in raises for teachers whose students (as a whole) didn’t achieve a great deal. With 553 teachers on staff, that averages out to more than $1,400 per teacher.

The teacher union contract also provides lots of expensive extras for employees. One example is low-cost health insurance premiums. In the private sector these days, employees pay around 30 percent of premiums. In most school districts they pay around 10 percent.

In Youngstown in 2012-13, the district paid out a whopping $7.4 million for health coverage for employees covered by the teacher union contract, while the employees paid a combined $339,293, or 4.5 percent.

Another pricey perk for teachers were bonuses for unused sick and personal days, which cost the district just over $1 million in 2012-13.

District administrators also made out pretty well, based on the salaries of the 10 highest paid.

They made a combined $955,463 in salary, starting with superintendent Connie Hathorn ($132,000), Assistant Superintendent Doug Hiscox ($102,233), Assistant Superintendent Karen Griggs-Green ($100,280), Director Marla Peachock ($90,918), Choffin Career Center Director Joseph Meranto ($90,808), Principal Holly Seimetz ($90,808), Principal Jerome Harrell ($87,854), Choffin Career Center Supervisor Denise Vaclav-Danko ($87,854), Assistant Principal Edna Douglas ($86,854), and Principal Sheila Rollins ($85,854).

Are those salaries out of line with top administrators from other districts? Not really. But they are still handsome salaries, going to a group of people managing a district that’s failing academically.

Overall, Youngstown district employees made a combined $49,703,978 in salary and $22,296,475 in benefits, bringing their total compensation to $72,000,453. The district’s total budgeted expenditures came to $93,288,540.

That means compensation for staff took up a full 77 percent of the district’s budget in 2011-12. The people who manage and teach in the schools are by far the biggest “investment” for the district.

Recently that “investment” has been yielding few positive dividends.

Other costs add up

There was a lot of wasteful spending in Youngstown schools that can’t be blamed completely on district officials.

A good example is the district’s legal services tab, which came to $93,967 in 2012-13. As a district spokesperson explained, a “significant amount of the expenses covered labor negotiations,” and other expenses involved employee matters like grievances, arbitration and mediation.

All of those expenses were made necessary by the presence of the powerful teachers union in the district, and state laws that empower teachers unions in general.

Another example is the district’s hotel and travel tab, which totaled $81,939. As the district spokesperson noted, most or all of the travel was for professional conferences and was funded with government grants.

When schools accept that money, employees are required to attend certain conferences, whether they are worthwhile or not, or whether the same information could be dispersed to teachers and other employees by electronic means, without all the travel costs.

There was also the district’s $988,975 cost for paying substitute teachers. A big part of that cost can be traced to an Ohio state law that guarantees public school teachers 15 paid sick days per year.

Youngstown teachers took advantage by taking a combined 7,053 sick days, which averaged out to nearly 13 per teacher.

But other questionable costs were the responsibility of the district, which has had more than its share of financial problems in recent years.

One example was the district’s restaurant bill, which included 48 separate credit card charges and totaled $16,474.

Another example was the $2,898 spent at A La Cart Catering for the “Teacher of the Year” dinner and a principals’ retreat, which was paid for out of general funds.

Alissa Mack contributed to this report

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