Bellaire teachers, OAPSE making sacrifices

BELLAIRE – There is no “I” in team.

That is an age-old sports adage, emphasizing that team success trumps what’s best for an individual. A squad’s success is paramount on adhering to such a theme.

Much can be said about the current crusade being carried out in the Bellaire School District. We are not talking athletic, but rather the financial stability and subsequent future of a school district.

The financial plight of Bellaire schools is no secret. The school district fell into “fiscal emergency” with the state. Fiscal emergency is a state of financial chaos, with the state education officials having a major say in the district’s operations.

Bellaire Superintendent Tony Scott – who walked into the fiscal mess as John Stinoski’s successor – has worked passionately and doggedly to clean up the district’s budgetary woes.

He has done a masterful job of reducing expenditures in many varying ways, albeit some of which were quite painful. However, the district cannot totally free itself from the state loan shackles until a new funding pipeline is tapped.

The district has attempted four times in the past two years to do just that. However, four times have seen rejection at the ballot box.

The initial two setbacks were to a 12.9-mill levy. The last two were in the form of a 1-percent income tax.

Now district officials are taking another approach.

They are seeking an 8.7-mill levy in the Nov. 6 election. Upon passage, it would essentially put Bellaire schools’ financial mess in the rear view mirror.

“We feel 8.7-mills is a reasonable amount now,” Scott said.

In an attempt to make the fifth election try a charm, the no “I” in team approach is also being utilized.

Both of the district’s unions are teaming up with the administration in the effort to save money and reduce expenditures. In the process, it is a signal to voters that every one is on the same page and making sacrifices for the long-term good of the school district.

The teachers association and OAPSE each stepped up in a huge way to aid the district in its quest for solvency. In an extraordinary display of unity, selflessness and teamwork, both the teachers association and OAPSE voted separately to accept a pay freeze while also entering into a new health-care package which will save the district major money but cost the district employees more.

Such generosity doesn’t come down the union pike every day.

But in the case of Bellaire schools, it reflects the severity of the problem and the sincerity of the district’s employees. No one likes to give up their money.

“It’s a credit to our employees, as we are all working together to take care of our house,” Scott beamed. “Now we are in desperate need of the support of our parents and organizations to get the levy passed.”

Marion Stolz is the president of the Bellaire teachers’ association. She has served the district for many years in superb fashion as a teacher, Red Line advisor and jack of all trades. She said the teachers, while maybe not all happy, passed the freeze and insurance plan with very little opposition.

“I am proud of what the teachers are doing, as it will cost them some money,” Stolz said. “We are trying to show the community that we are totally behind the district and this levy.

“People always have excuses why they vote against the levy, but they need to know a lot of people are making sacrifices for the district and that the levy is needed so we can offer the best opportunities for our students,” Stolz continued. “For some of us, we are taking a double hit with our concessions as well as a hike in our Bellaire property taxes. But we understand the need.”

Stolz also noted that in addition to the salary freeze and increased insurance costs that salary steps are currently no longer in play.

The teachers’ action should speak volumes to Bellaire voters that the union is all in.

The same can be said of OAPSE, which consists of classified works such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors.

Brad Cook is the Bellaire OAPSE president. He is a soft-spoken, class act of a union boss.

“Our membership realized the problems our district were dealing with. We wanted to help,” Cook said. “Our contract doesn’t expire until next June, but we reopened it for the good of the schools.

“The freeze and insurance were tough pills to swallow, but Tony brought us up to speed,” he added. “We felt we needed to jump on board to help save the district. We are all on same page.”

“OAPSE will be affected a little harder, making a bigger sacrifice,” Scott said. “The teachers and OAPSE both should be commended for what they are doing. It shows a great sense of pride and commitment on their part.”

The district employs nearly 150. The new insurance package will save the district $500,000 for one year.

The infusion of money, however, is needed as there is no more meat on the bone for Scott and the board to cut. Already eliminated have been 40 teachers, 20 classified positions and five administrators.

That is a massive amount of personnel. To Scott and the board’s credit, they have effectively cut costs.

“We are now in a situation where our revenue is exceeding our expenditures. We have tightened our belt as much as we can,” Scott stated. “The teachers and OAPSE have really aided the cause, but the problem lies with paying back our state loans. If not for the loans (more than $3 million) we would be alright. We need the levy money to shed us of debt.”

Despite being financially handcuffed, Scott touts the success of his schools.

“Our middle and elementary schools are excellent in their academic efforts and our high school is making great strides,” he said. “We don’t want to limit our students’ education opportunities. The levy will give our students the best chance to realize their potential.”

Should the levy pass, a Bellaire School District homeowner whose residence is valued at $50,000 will pay $133.52 per year. For those with a Homestead Exemption the cost drops to $66.76.

A $75,000 home carries a $173.58 price tag with a $106.82 Homestead tag.

With all the extensive cuts being executed as well as OAPSE and teachers giving back, the ball is now squarely in the voters’ court.

“We have everyone pulling in the same direction,” Scott said. “We desperately need the support of the community. Our parents have a vested interest in the levy and the future of the district. We need them and our support groups to champion our cause.

“Our steering committee is working passionately to garner support,” he said. “We have everything in place for a great school district. There is a great sense of pride in this district. We hope that translates into voter approval of our levy.”