By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Ohio Senate Bill 5 would make sweeping changes to public employees' bargaining rights throughout the state, but one provision could have a more immediate effect on contracts at three local districts.
The bill still must pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but as it's written now, it would give school districts in fiscal emergency or fiscal watch additional leverage in labor contracts.
Districts in fiscal watch could suspend negotiated pay and benefit increases. Districts in fiscal emergency could tear up their contracts.
Ohio has 10 districts in fiscal emergency, including Springfield in Summit County.
Another five school systems are in a less severe category fiscal watch including Coventry in Summit County and Cloverleaf in Medina County.
The numbers could grow. School districts throughout the state are bracing for 10 to 20 percent cuts in funding when Gov. John Kasich's budget is released on Tuesday, though it's anyone's guess how much they'll lose.
Cuts may push some districts into deficits. If they can't raise the money locally to cover the shortfalls, they fall into fiscal emergency and state control.
Coventry has been in fiscal watch since 1987 and its teachers' contract expires June 30.
''It's interesting because the [Ohio Education Association] has asked us to begin negotiations right away,'' said Coventry Superintendent Russell Chaboudy. ''We're going to kind of hold off and see how this bill plays out and those types of things. Our teachers are quite concerned.''
He said the bill would give his side of the table more leverage. ''It would give management more flexibility in the negotiation if you're in fiscal watch or fiscal emergency,'' he said.
The Ohio Education Association, which opposes Senate Bill 5, agrees.
''It would take away a great deal of leverage in negotiations,'' said association spokeswoman Michele Prater.
Senate Bill 5 would apply only to contracts signed after the effective date.
Cloverleaf Superintendent Daryl Kubilus Jr. has been negotiating with his teachers since their contract expired last June.
Cloverleaf has been in fiscal watch for seven years.
''I would anticipate that it would take effect after we had a signed agreement,'' he said.
But he said that while both sides are negotiating in good faith, he couldn't speculate about when they would have a signed agreement.
Springfield Local School District has been in fiscal emergency since 2007, when the state took over control after several failed levy attempts left the district unable to cover projected deficits.
Superintendent William Stauffer said two-year contracts were settled late last fall before ''there was any hint of Senate Bill 5.''
''I'm glad to have it out of the way,'' he said.
The state commission overseeing Springfield's finances made sure that the contracts didn't add to Springfield's bottom line.
''One of the directives from the state commission was in order to do a negotiated agreement, anything new had to be cost-neutral,'' Stauffer said. ''In order for them to get any additional pay, we had to come up with a mechanism to create that money and it was changing the insurance.''
Employees agreed to concessions on health insurance deductibles in exchange for raises.
''We took the savings that we got in health benefits from them and rolled it over into pay increases,'' Stauffer said. ''In teachers, it became a half a percent increase this year and three quarters of a percent next year.''
Custodians and other classified employees got a 2 percent raise.
Why didn't the district just pocket the health concessions?
''They've been on a pay freeze for several years,'' Stauffer said.
Besides, Springfield may not be in fiscal emergency for much longer.
The district projects that it will lose 12 percent of its state funding in the next two-year budget.
''Even with that projected cut, we're looking at ending the year, we think, with $3.5 million,'' Stauffer said.
Under fiscal emergency, Springfield already has made many of the tough cuts that other districts may be forced to make now.
''I think there are going to be a whole lot more districts that are going into fiscal emergency, so they're looking to get some districts out that are relatively healthy and we're looking healthy right now,'' Stauffer said.
One of the districts going into emergency could be Cloverleaf.
''Our current projections show a 10 percent cut and that yields a $3 million deficit for 2012,'' Kubilus said. ''Needless to say, we're looking at a potential levy in November and then that will determine our future whether we're one of those districts in emergency or not.''
Kubilus said that by the end of this year, the district will have cut $3.6 million from the budget over the last three years.
But labor accounts for 82 percent of the district's budget, which is why districts are watching both the state budget and Senate Bill 5 closely.