Passage of school levies puts pressure on districts

Voters in the Boardman, Poland, Jackson-Milton and Joseph Badger school districts are to be commended for protecting the interest of children by approving tax levies and a bond issue that were shown to be essential for the operation and maintenance of the schools. But the fact that it took a special election Tuesday to secure passage of the issues must not be lost on the boards of education, superintendents, principals and teachers.
Taxpayer discontent is at an all-time high in the Mahoning Valley, triggered in part by the worsening national economy and in part by residents' impatience with the public sector's tardiness in adopting cost-cutting measures that have become standard operating procedure in the private sector.
All school districts in the region must realize that it can't be business as usual, especially when it comes to the largest expense in their budgets -- employee compensation.
Last November, voters in Boardman, Poland, Jackson-Milton and Joseph Badger rejected requests from the school districts for new money or renewal of taxes, and while the margins of defeat were not that significant, the underlying message was clear: Times are tough.
Thus, as they celebrate the results of Tuesday's special election, school officials would do well to embrace the words of Canfield Superintendent Dante Zambrini following the passage in November of a 6.9-mill, five-year levy: "We will move ahead on a very cautious, conservative route."
Zambrini also said that the board of education "will not be luxurious" with the additional money.
Given that employee salaries and benefits command such a large portion of every school district's budget, we believe the boards of education should let it be known that the next round of contract talks will be conducted against the backdrop of what is taking place in the private sector.
For instance, on the contentious issue of health insurance, school districts that do not now require a premium copayment from their employees will be hardpressed not to bring the issue to the table. Many government entities have come to the conclusion that they can no longer afford the lucrative benefit packages public employees have long received.
Indeed, former state Auditor Jim Petro made it clear in a special performance audit of Mahoning County that health insurance copayments, for example, are becoming the rule in government, rather than the exception.
For too long, public employees have not been asked to make sacrifices to keep their jobs that private sector workers have had to make.
But now, with taxpayers on the warpath, school districts and governments at all levels have no choice but to change the way they operate.

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