Sound Off: School employees brushed aside

By Steve Schultz

The following statement was presented to the Oak Harbor School Board during its scheduled meeting Jan. 10, 2005:

“I am not here to try to tell our school board members and administrators anything they already don’t know. They possess a full working knowledge of the structure and working policies of this school district.

As an Oak Harbor citizen, tax payer, parent of two high school students and an Oak Harbor School district employee, I have actively participated in many of the committees that were supposed to help direct the the future of this district. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that such committees are of marginal value since the district has demonstrated a tendency to quietly proceed on it’s own course of action, regardless of any committee recommendations. I’ll gladly explain this negative comment to anyone that is interested.

It has also become apparent that utilizing the forum of school board meetings to communicate with the school district has not been very productive, so I will be directing all my future comments to the public and any media that will listen.

I have never been a strong advocate of unions. More often than not, unions have increased the cost of U.S. goods, while encouraging a less than dedicated work force. Unfortunately, there are still organizations such as the Oak Harbor School District that prefer to exploit its employees, rather than promote their professional advancement; thus creating an adversarial atmosphere between employee and employer. Fortunately, the classified employees of Oak Harbor have the Public School Employees Union to support them.

The school district and its classified employees started to negotiate a new contract back in April of 2004. Little was accomplished or agreed upon. As expected, wages and benefits provided the main hurdle. As of August of 2004, the classified employees have been working under an extended contract, and in August of 2005, there will be no binding contract at all.

The school district or its classified employees can both provide the public with an array of facts and figures intended to support their prospective positions. This is just the plain nature of political statistics. At present, the main goal of the classified employees is to receive wages that are at least comparable to the state average. This goal was supposedly adopted by the school board as a recommendation from a recent steering committee. Out of this, some employees may see a small pay raise, while others may be able to afford additional healthcare. One simple fact that both parties have agreed on is that the present contract offered to the classified employees is worth approximately $31,000 less than the previous three year contract.

Personally, I believe that the school district has become callous to the real needs of all its employees, as the result of its intended or unintended practice of exploiting the military communities pool of retired and dependent workers. The infusion of retired pay and health benefits has offset the shortfalls in compensation that all school employees receive, and has muffled the pleas of those who rely solely on school district compensation.

Finally, I feel it extremely important to make clear to the Oak Harbor public and all school employees that this unfortunate situation should in no way be associated with the drive for a continued school levy. The timing is unfortunate, but could have been prevented. As an Oak Harbor resident, I actively participate at every levy committee meeting and am voting in favor of this levy. The school children need this.

As an Oak Harbor School District employee, The responsibilities of my job have become exceedingly out of proportion with the compensation provided me. Oak Harbor School District has stated many priorities in future planning, and it has become exceedingly clear that the classified employees are not one of them.

Steve Schultz is an employee of Oak Harbor School District.

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