I would like to offer a few simple, documented pieces of information to those residents who wish to know the truth about several financial issues as they prepare to vote on the upcoming levy.
For the past six years, I have represented the Howland Local Teachers Association in negotiations with the superintendent and Howland Board of Education, and we have worked collaboratively to help the district navigate the perfect financial storm brought on by state cuts, the cost of school choice, the loss of Tangible Personal Property revenue and difficult economic times for all.
The Howland Classroom Teachers just signed a three-year contract (2013-16) that has a zero percent base wage increase for all three years. The contract that just ended, which covered the previous three years (2010-2013), also had a zero percent base increase in all three years.
Another matter dealt with collaboratively has been employee health care. The Howland Teachers began contributing to their health care premiums in 2007. In each contract since, the employee contribution has increased.
The average premium contribution of all teachers, which is currently more than 10 percent, will approach 15 percent by 2015. In addition there are increased deductibles, co-pays and no employee plan has vision coverage.
Over the past six years, 18 teaching positions have been eliminated through attrition, three full-time administrators have not been replaced, and approximately 25 support staff positions (educational aides, bus drivers, cooks and custodians) have been cut.
Another topic that seems to be severely misunderstood is the history behind Howland's current affiliation with the Ashtabula County Technical and Career Center (A-Tech), and the savings it has meant to Howland taxpayers over the years.
It is important to note that Howland taxpayers are the only residents in Trumbull County who are not assessed 2.4 mills on their taxes by the Trumbull Career and Technical Center (TCTC). The reason for this is that Howland currently sends its career center students to Jefferson (A-Tech) and pays for them on a per pupil basis out of the district's general fund.
This began in 2002-2003 because some vocal residents complained to the former superintendent that they did not want to pay the 2.4 mills that TCTC and the state, not Howland, require of taxpayers to fund county career centers. So the former superintendent and board negotiated a state approved agreement with A-Tech that saved taxpayers money and met the state mandated needs of Howland's career center students.
While it is uncertain whether or not Howland will remain affiliated with A-Tech in the future due to cuts in faculty, programs and revenue at both Howland and A-Tech, the fact remains that for 11 years, Howland property owners have not had to pay the 2.4 mills that residents in every other district in Trumbull County have had to pay for educating their career center students.
Most residents are aware that funding has dropped by $2 million to the Howland Schools over the past three years; however, many do not realize that this year alone, an additional $900,000 in Howland funds will be funneled out of Howland to pay for the cost of charter school choice.
This is not open-enrollment. These charter and on-line schools are privately run, for-profit schools with little accountability to taxpayers, and not one in Trumbull County has the Excellent rating Howland has had for seven years.
Finally, the Howland community has passed one additional operating levy for its schools since 1992. That was a decade ago in 2003.
As far as assessed taxes for the purpose of funding schools, Howland has the third-lowest millage rate of all Trumbull County schools. And with that third-lowest rate comes one of the best educational products.
Yes, property values are relatively high in Howland, and that is one of the factors that enables millage rates to remain low. But isn't it fair to say that a large part of why property values have remained high is because of the reputation of the school district and the educational product produced here?
Consider real estate adds that frequently include the phrase "Howland Schools" in the opening line of the add. Quality schools have helped protect property values through difficult times, and now it is in the best interest of property owners to protect their schools, and in doing so they will be protecting their future property values.
A world class community deserves world class schools, and no school district reaches or maintains a world class standard without a concerted effort among all stakeholders: teachers, administrators, support staff, board members, parents and property owners. The state is leaving it up to communities to decide the fate of their schools.
Surrounding districts like Niles, Warren, Hubbard, Austintown, Girard, LaBrae, Badger and Mineral Ridge have or are constructing state-of-the-art facilities, while Howland is simply treading water.
Plays and concerts are performed in an old gym, because there is no auditorium. There is no air conditioning in any building in the district. Some textbooks are dated from the late 1980s and early 1990s, and technology is in desperate need of improvement with no wireless Internet and a severe lack of updated computers and software throughout the district.
How far behind will Howland be in five or 10 years if we can't make crucial improvements now?
The cost to help remedy some of these vital issues and add all-day, every-day kindergarten is 37 cents a day for the owner of a home with a $100,000 tax appraisal value, or approximately $11 a month. The cost is 74 cents a day, roughly $22 a month, for a home with a $200,000 appraisal value. This is a small price to pay considering the many positive effects it will have on the Howland community as a whole.
Substantial cuts have been made, employee concessions given, programs cut or consolidated, additional workloads shared and clever cost saving measures have been implemented and practiced for over a decade. I hope some of these facts compel voters to make an investment in their community and vote YES on the Howland Schools emergency levy November 5th.
Howland Classroom Teachers Association