I recently attended a Q & A house party with new Upper Arlington School superintendent Paul Imhoff and I came away very impressed. Paul took tough questions and provided solid answers for over an hour in a sometimes heated exchange of ideas over Issue 52. The fact that he has been willing to get out on the front lines of this issue and attend over SIXTY of these type meetings tells me he is passionate about his new job and what he believes is best for the U.A. school system. I trust his opinion and am now convinced, without a doubt, that failing to pass Issue 52 would do damage to both our kids and the overall well being of Upper Arlington.
Standing behind the counter of Colin's Coffee I have heard numerous arguments from intelligent well-meaning people on both sides of the issue and I have noticed that the biggest issue brought up, by far, is teachers' salaries. This was the dominant theme at the house party as well. Here is what I learned and would like to share.
* Voting no on Issue 52 does not have an effect on the collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union. Is this clear? Your vote "no" does not impact collective bargaining, it will not affect teacher salaries. It just slashes funds for the schools.
* Arlington teacher salaries are in line with other comparable districts (New Albany, Bexley, Dublin). Our average salary is higher overall because as a land-locked district, we add very few new teachers, unlike Dublin which adds thirty new teachers a year, at the lowest starting salary, which drags down their overall average.
* Once again, the teachers salary structure is a collectively bargained "step & ladder" type pay scale. I am not going to bore you with the numbers, but basically, whether Issue 52 passes or not, it has zero effect on the system currently in place statewide. On a related note, you get what you pay for. Very few successful companies proudly announce they are seeking the cheapest CEO and/or labor available.
* Superintendent Imhoff, though not allowed by law to comment on contract negotiations, said he has heard the concerns of the voters and will work to meet their goals. He assured us that he will continue to be frugal and provided numerous examples of the steps already being taken. The man knows his stuff.
Speaking of numbers, it's easy to get lost in the numbers provided by both sides. I think it is important to remember that there are kids behind these numbers. Just for fun, let's say Issue 52 fails and all the taxpayers save $200 a year. The trade-off is that UA eliminates counseling services for elementary students to balance the books. (Like Olentangy recently did.). Let's say five kids really suffer due to the lack of these services and eventually end up in trouble and with poor grades. These kids could have become productive citizens with a little help at an early stage but never reached their potential due to the elimination of this program. Is a $200 saving worth the lives of five kids? I don't have the answer. Maybe yes or maybe no. You can decide. I'm just trying to reframe the argument so we remember there is a human element to all these statistics both sides are so fond of stuffing in your mailbox.
Basically, it is up to the voters to decide if education is a priority or if it isn't. My wife and I moved to Upper Arlington for the schools and so far we haven't been disappointed. Our son Owen is in the 4th grade at Wickliffe and if I could give the school a grade it would be A+++.
In closing, I think failing the school levy last year sent a message that the voters wanted more accountability from the school system and I think they have responded. It is my opinion that Superintendent Imhoff is the right person to meet these challenges. I would like to give him an opportunity to see what he can do with our support and not see him hamstrung right out of the gate. No matter how you vote on Nov 5th, it is important to remember that in the history of the world, no community ever benefits in the long run by repeatedly de-funding education. It always ends up poorly for the kids, the property values and in the end, everybody loses. Always. How close do we want to cut it? Is it worth the risk? I'm cool with one school levy failing but not two in a row. That isn't the Upper Arlington I know and love.
I am voting for Issue 52 on November 5th and I hope you will join me.
Colin Gawel wrote this at Colin's Coffee. He plays in the band Watershed and edits the website Pencilstorm. His lives in Upper Arlington with his wife Erin McHam and son Owen who is in the 4th grade at Wickliffe Progressive.