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 unfortunate financial storm brought on by state cuts, the cost of school choice (charter schools), the loss of tangible personal property taxes and difficult economic times.
Howland teachers signed a three-year contract (2013-2016) that has a zero percent base wage increase. The previous three-year contract also had no base raises.
Many people want to know what will be cut if the levy fails. The reality is we have cut through attrition 17 teaching positions, three full-time administrators, multiple programs and elective courses, and approximately 25 support staff positions (educational aides, bus drivers, cooks and custodians) over the past six years. Additionally, Howland has passed only one additional operating levy for its schools in the past 20 years.
Howland has the third-lowest assessed millage of all 20 Trumbull County districts. Despite these facts, the district has continued to produce one of the best educational products in the area. This is increasingly difficult to maintain as more internal cuts and staff reductions occur each year.
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: students, teachers, administrators, support staff, board members, parents and property owners.
Unfortunately, the state is leaving it up to communities to decide the fate of their schools. Even when the state "claims" to increase funding for education, it fails to mention how most of those funds have gone to charter schools in recent years. For example, Howland lost more than $800,000 to area charter schools this year alone.
Surrounding districts like Niles, Warren, Hubbard, Girard, LaBrae, Badger, Brookfield, McDonald and Mineral Ridge now have, or are constructing, new state-of-the-art facilities with the latest technology while Howland is simply treading water; the newest building in Howland's district was built in 1968. The portion of the high school that houses 80 percent of the classrooms was built in 1949.
Plays and concerts are performed in an old middle school gym because there is no auditorium anywhere in the entire district. At one point this winter, there were more than 20 trash cans throughout the high school and middle school buildings catching water from leaking ceilings. There is no air conditioning in any building in the district, yet many rooms lack heat in the winter.
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.
I hope some of these facts compel voters to make a small investment that will pay large dividends for students, parents, and property owners by voting yes for the Howland Local Schools emergency levy on May 6.
Whittaker is president of the Howland Classroom Teachers' Association