Greensburg Salem teachers, administrators reject wage freeze

| Monday, May 16, 2011

A wage freeze apparently won't be part of efforts to help balance Greensburg Salem School District's budget.

The teachers union has rejected a salary freeze. And administrators, despite the urging of some school board members, failed to "lead by example" and take a freeze.

On Wednesday, the school board will vote on a 3.95-mill tax increase as part of the preliminary 2011-12 budget. That would amount to $65 more for the average homeowner and yield $880,673, officials said.

"It's disappointing, because we could have averted a tax increase," Director Lee Kunkle said of the rejected wage freeze, which would have saved about $1 million.

"I think we have great teachers. But in these tough times, we have to deal with the hand dealt to us. I don't know how you can keep going back to the taxpayer," he said.

In addition to the tax increase, directors are considering using $1.5 million from the financial reserve to balance the budget, along with spending cuts of more than $2.5 million. The district will retain a $1.5 million reserve.

State and federal funding to the district is down about $1.8 million. Changes can be made before the final budget is put to a vote on June 22.

The district is proposing to fill only three of 19 teaching positions to be vacated June 30 through retirements. That will result in more students per classroom, Superintendent Tom Yarabinetz said.

"Some of these positions could have been saved," Kunkle said. "Now, going forward, we have no choice ... but not fill those positions because we don't have the money."

Matthew Sofran, president of the Greensburg Salem Education Association, declined to discuss the wage freeze's relationship to the tax increase. He said that teachers already are making sacrifices, because 16 of the 19 teachers retiring might not be replaced.

"We don't see a need for a pay freeze due to many reasons, including all the teachers we're losing in the school district in the upcoming school year. They're saving close to $2 million," Sofran said.

Financial services company Standard & Poor's and various analysts have recognized the district and its teachers for the results students achieve for the cost, he added.

Director Nat Pantalone said too much emphasis is being placed on teachers not taking the freeze, and there are other factors. Administrators should have first accepted the freeze, then turned to other employees, he said.

When it was proposed in April, most directors said they wanted a freeze only if all employees -- administrators, teachers and support staff -- supported it.

"I didn't think they would accept it," Pantalone said of teachers. "If your leaders aren't doing it first, why would you?"

"It starts at the top, and I think you lead by example," Director Barb Vernail said. "I think if our administrators took a pay freeze, the teachers would have been more receptive."

According to a recent Intermediate Unit 7 survey, many Greensburg Salem administrators are among the best-paid in Westmoreland County. The superintendent is earning $173,452, the most in the county, the survey shows.

"There's no doubt that many of these administrators are doing the job that several people would be doing," Director Frank Gazze said.

Gazze said his gripe isn't with the lack of a wage freeze, it's with cyber schools, which he said cost the district $900,000 yearly. And those schools don't have expenses for building upkeep or student transportation, he said.

"I think we have some of the best administrators in the county," Pantalone said. "Do they deserve it, I say they do. Can we afford it ... we really can't right now."

He said the school board made a mistake years ago when it began giving administrators the same percentage raise that teachers negotiated.

Board President Trudy Ivory defended the administrators' salaries. Yarabinetz has more than 40 years of experience, she said.

"I firmly believe the superintendent is one of the best in the county," Ivory said.

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