Teacher contract talks: Iffy during state budget negotiations

About one-third of Butler and Warren county’s school systems are in contract talks or will be in the coming months.

Ohio’s biennium is a big, unknown factor in the budgetary bottom lines for local school districts, and those currently in or facing upcoming teacher contract negotiations say it can make those labor talks tougher.

Among the 17 Butler and Warren county public school systems, six — or 35 percent — are either in teacher contract negotiations or will soon be.

Labor costs comprise on average about 80 percent of Ohio public schools’ operating budgets and teachers are the largest and highest proportion of those expenses.

State funding for most Ohio districts averages between 30 to 40 percent of a district’s annual revenue, with almost all the rest coming from local school property taxes.

Contract talks during the Ohio Legislature’s biennium budget process are problematic, say some area school officials, because districts won’t know until June 30 — the deadline for creating a new, two-year budget — how much state funding they will receive.

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“Negotiating a contract without knowing the state’s budget is tough,” said Ross Schools Superintendent Scott Gates, whose district begins negotiations with its teachers union this month.

“Ross has not received any increases from the state the past several biennial budgets so we are planning on this happening with this budget,” said Gates. “We are also concerned about the loss of transportation funding per the governor’s proposal. We are currently analyzing all of our district budgets and purchasing processes to look for more efficient ways to do business while supporting our students and teachers in the classroom.”

Besides Ross Schools, other districts in Butler County with pending contract talks are Middletown and Fairfield.

In Warren County, Kings, Little Miami and Springboro also have upcoming talks.

Twenty of 40 school districts in the greater Dayton area have teacher contracts expiring this summer. The list includes bigger districts like Dayton, Fairborn and Troy, high-performing suburbs such as Bellbrook and Vandalia-Butler, and smaller districts including Brookville, Bethel and New Lebanon.

So far only Kettering and Centerville City Schools have ratified new contract agreements that take effect for next school year. Bellbrook and Covington have tentative agreements that have not yet been formally approved.

“There are projections out there on what (state funding) we’re going to get, but we try to be conservative on those, because you never know what’s going to happen between now and June 30 when the budget’s passed,” said Ken Lackey, director of business services for Kettering schools. “We don’t build in the full amount of the projections, and you also take into account what the worst-case scenario might be.”

That is the key to planning for contract talks without know exact state funding, said Fairfield school officials. Also helping is state school law that requires all of Ohio’s 612 public school systems to do 5-year budget projections twice annually.

Moreover, every district’s local tax base — and its ratio of commercial tax revenue compared to residential property tax collections — are different.

“The five-year forecast is used to project the revenues and expenditures of the district for the current year plus four years into the future,” said Nancy Lane, treasurer of Fairfield Schools.

“Much of the information that is used in the forecast is based on historical trends and knowledge of upcoming issues and events that will financially impact the district. The Fairfield Schools’ forecast includes conservative estimates of increased state funding and negotiated salary increases for staff,” said Lane.

“Early indications from the information that has been distributed by the state show that we may see a slight increase in funding for the next two years. Therefore, the timing of this information has little to no impact on negotiations for this year,” she said.

Staff Writer Jeremy P. Kelley contributed to this report.

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