The Elephant In The Room: Octorara’s Historic Labor Cost Issue

elephant-in-the-roomLabor cost is the elephant in the room that the school district does not want us talking about. They want to blame school district’s problems on reduction of revenue from federal and state sources, Public Charter School tuition, increases to the retirement fund. However, their own documents show they have made adjustments that almost nullify those costs. They also want to blame farmers, and the greater community for not wanting to lose green space to development. They need more things to tax. It is everyone’s fault but theirs. In my opinion, the big problem is an historic failure to keep labor costs under control.

As you look at the chart, make special note that even in 1999-00, Octorara was paying high salaries compared to wealthier school districts, like Coatesville & Downingtown. Octorara wage increases also outpaced the most affluent school district, West Chester. There was once an $8,000/year gap with West Chester. Today, it is roughly only $600. Note how Oxford School District, the second poorest district, was able to keep salaries in line. What was once less than a $5000 salary gap with Oxford, is today more than $11,679. The data is sorted based on 2011-12 average wages.

1999-00 2011-12 Avg. Annual Increase
Tredyffrin-Easttown SD $63,559 $80,068 $1,269.93
Great Valley SD $59,742 $78,826 $1,468.04
Unionville-Chadds Ford SD $58,126 $74,942 $1,293.50
Phoenixville Area SD
$52,503 $70,211 $1,362.16
Chester County IU
$58,971 $69,944 $844.06
Center for Arts & Technology $56,981 $69,371 $953.11
West Chester Area SD $58,186 $67,136 $688.43
Octorara Area SD $50,579 $66,523 $1,226.45
Avon Grove SD $49,469 $66,085 $1,278.14
Kennett Consolidated SD $52,238 $65,545 $1,023.59
Downingtown Area SD $50,308 $65,321 $1,154.87
Owen J Roberts SD $54,285 $60,462 $475.15
Coatesville Area SD $46,989 $59,662 $974.85
21st Century Cyber CS $56,966
Oxford Area SD $45,651 $54,843 $707.09
Chester Co Family Academy CS $36,350 $53,870 $1,347.67
Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School $48,422
Achievement House CS $47,109
Renaissance Academy CS $46,243
Collegium CS $36,889 $45,684 $676.53
Avon Grove CS $44,959
Sankofa Academy CS $41,000
Graystone Academy CS $39,943
Agora Cyber CS $36,815

A serous argument can be made that even back in 1999-00, Octorara was paying wages out of line with the community. If all we did was limit wage growth to that of the wealthiest school district, West Chester, the average salary in Octorara would have been $59,529 in 2011-12. We would have also saved $9,645,071.76 since the 1999-00 school year, and $1,377,867.39 out of the 2011-12 annual budget.

If, on the other hand, we had been paying labor at the same rate as Oxford, the savings could have potentially been $21,266,022.82 over that last 13 years, and $2,300,880 out of the current budget. It is all money that could have been put into programs, like athletics, which could enrich a student’s educational experience.

This analysis shows that this labor cost issue goes back at least 13 or more years, and has only gotten worse. It shows a historic disconnect by the school district with the community when negotiating these contracts. It is so bad, and so out of line with the local economy, that it would take several contracts with absolutely no increases, in order to get Octorara to live within its means.

Octorara’s labor cost issue was reported in the news long before I ever got involved. It has been focused in on as the primary reason for Octorara’s high per-student cost. It is not because of the complexities of school budget finance. It is not our debt service. It is not the reduced revenue from state and federal sources. It is not the increased cost of public charter schools. It is not increases to the retirement fund. It is not clean and green regulations. All those arguments are red herrings, used to keep us from talking about the elephant in the room.

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