School board earns trust with pay move

The Howland Board of Education made a good decision last month when it voted to eliminate routine pay increases known as “step increases” for 10 of its schools administrators.

School officials said the decision to eliminate the step increases will save the district and taxpayers some $100,000.

Step increases grant employees — often public employees — pay increases based solely on how long a person has been employed by an entity. That means workers receiving step increases will earn more even when they aren’t promoted to a new rate, or even if the contract calls for a zero-percent increase for the year.

It’s just one more perk that public employees often enjoy that most workers in the private sector do not. We believe, of course, that pay raises — especially those funded by taxpayers — always should be based on merit and not just on longevity.

And years of granting routine step increases for each employee drives up the public payroll exponentially.

That’s clear because despite the zero percent pay increase approved for the 2018-19 school year for these 10 school administrator positions, school district Treasurer Rhonda Amorganos said the 10 administrators still stood to see $18,420 in total increased payroll this year alone. Then those increases would have snowballed into about $100,000 over the course of three years.

In all, five steps have been eliminated for these 10 administrators: high school principal and assistant principal; middle school principal and assistant principal; three elementary school principals at Howland Springs, Howland Glen and H.C. Mines; facilities / maintenance supervisor; transportation supervisor; and technology supervisor.

In addition, the board voted to freeze these administrators’ salaries. Any future salary changes would be decided later and would be based only on performance.

The board of education’s unusual action proves to taxpayers that their elected leaders are keeping their promise that with the passage of this year’s new 5.9-mill operating levy, there would be no pay increases.

For the first time in 15 years, voters in Howland passed a new levy — a 10-year emergency operating levy — expected to raise about $3.2 million per year, at a cost of about $206 to the owner of a $100,000 home. It came after the district reported losing $1.9 million in annual taxes due to elimination of the tangible personal property tax in Ohio.

The board of education’s decision to be transparent and eliminate the step increases should earn the trust and respect of voters. It will go a long way if the board of education ever has to go back to the voters again.

In the meantime, the district’s certified and classified unions have agreed to accept zero-percent pay increases for the current school year. Both unions are on three-year contracts and agreed to zero-percent increases in the third year, as well. Still, the previously agreed-upon labor contracts for these unionized workers do call for step increases.

Perhaps those employees working for taxpayers — the very taxpayers who in May voted generously to dig into their own pockets to add revenue to the school district — now should consider doing the same by voting to return their step increases.

If they do, it will be the school district, the residents and the students who will be the real winners. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?