Ok, we have come up with the magic number that needs to be cut from the budget $4,488,837.41. How do we get there? We can look at every expanded or new non-mandated program over the last 7 years, add up the cost, and cut what needs to be cut. Unfortunately, starting here only causes suffering to the kids. We need to start with the adults, and we already know labor is our highest cost.
In 2006-07 the average salary was $56,781. Since the start of the Great Recession, if teacher increases were kept at the rate of inflation, this would translate to an average salary of $62,874.75 in 2011-12 compared to the actual average of $66,523. Dr. Newcome gave me a current number of teachers at 197. This would have saved the school district and taxpayers $718,705.25.
However, we need to look deeper. While an average salary of $62,874.75 puts us below the average Chester County salary of $64,344, many of our neighboring school districts pay much less. Chester County’s average is skewed high because of the very high salaries, paid by very wealthy school districts like Great Valley, Tredyffrin-Easttown, and Unionville-Chadds Ford.
Octorara Area School District pays a high premium compared to our closest neighbors: Coatesville ($59,662), Oxford ($54,843), Pequea Valley ($58,610). If we apply the highest, Coatesville at $59,662, the school district and taxpayers would have saved $1,351,617.00.
The Octorara Area School District May 2012 Finance Committee Meeting report shows that a mill in Coatesville is valued at about 2.5 times a mill Octorara. The question then becomes, should we even be paying salaries that high?
The same May 2012 report shows, while Octorara receives the least value from a mill, the Oxford School District is the next lowest. The Oxford School District currently has a millage rate of 30.0502 verses ours at 36.66. Why is ours so much higher? A significant portion is teachers salaries. Oxford’s average salary is $54,843. If we paid teachers similarly, it would save the district and taxpayers $2,300,960.00. This is more than half of the reduction we are looking for in the budget.
We are not done! A strong argument can be made that even comparing ourselves to Oxford School District, because the low value of a mill, is too much.
All Things Considered
If we want to be draconian, we would adjust salaries proportionate to mill value. Oxford’s mill value, according to the May 2012, is the second lowest in Chester County, and is still worth 1.58 times more. That is the reality of how poor this district is, and has to be included in discussions about wages and in contract negotiations. If we set wages proportionate to Oxford’s wage-to-mill ratio, our salaries would average $34,530.81. That is how poor we are as a district!!
Before you gasp at such a low wage, it wouldn’t even be the lowest in Pennsylvania. That distinction goes to Turkeyfoot Valley Area SD in Somerset County. They have an average teacher salary of $32,988.
In fact, an average wage of $34,530.81 would put teachers more closely in line with average wages of this community. In the Borough of Parkesburg, the Median Family Income is $65,016, and the Income Per Capita is only $27,748. Adjusting the average wage to $34,530.81 would save the district and taxpayers $6,302,461.43, far beyond the “magic number” and without cutting anything for the kids. In fact, we would have more to spend on them.
Of course it is unreasonable to cut salaries from $66,523 to $34,530.81. However, it is also unreasonable that the poorest school district in Chester County is paying much higher wages than others. West Chester has a mill value of $8,230,657. It is the highest in Chester County, and more than 10 times the value in Octorara. We pay teachers close to the same. The West Chester average is $67,136. Is that reasonable?