Saturday, March 1, 2003

Fort Thomas crisis

Teachers ditch Ky. for Ohio


For all its success with riverfront development, Northern Kentucky badly trails Ohio in another area of competition: teacher salaries.

Gary Bertsch couldn't believe the difference. A Northern Kentucky native, he taught until 2001 at Campbell County High School, five minutes from his home.

Then he switched to the West Clermont Local School District. It's a 30-minute commute, but so what? He's making $6,000 more.

"It was a no-brainer," Bertsch says of his move to Amelia High School. "My wife and I have two little boys and a third on the way."

Grass is greener

Incredibly, Northern Kentucky teachers with master's degrees and 12 years' experience made an average of only $37,645 last year, according to the Region 4 Service Center of the Kentucky Department of Education.

This compares to an average of $51,334 in the 22 districts of Hamilton County, says a comparable agency there.

No wonder Kentucky teachers often end up crossing the pond.

This can't be good for Kentucky kids. Yet somehow, the teacher salary crisis hasn't registered with opponents of a tax increase in Fort Thomas.

Next Tuesday, voters in the city of 17,000 will say yea or nay to an 11 percent boost in property taxes for schools. The actual increase would be more like 28 percent due to rising property values.

The School Board already has approved the tax, but it can be repealed. The increase brought in $1.5 million this year, which boosted the general fund by only 5.8 percent due to cuts in state funding, Superintendent Larry Stinson says.

If voters approve, much of the money would go to teacher salaries, he says.

They need it. Fort Thomas pays only $32,472 to teachers with five years' experience, for example. That's fourth lowest of 19 school districts in Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Gallatin, Grant and Pendleton counties.

Compared to who?

Conveniently, opponents of the Fort Thomas tax overlook such comparisons.

In a widely distributed e-mail presentation, the opposition group dismissed the salary issue thusly:

"In 2002, our teachers overall were among the highest one-third in the state in terms of salaries."

Hoo boy - the top one-third in Kentucky! There's something to brag about.

The obvious reality is that this region competes for teachers not with Harlan County but with Southwestern Ohio.

Last year, English teacher and drama coach Lee Lowery left Highlands High School in Fort Thomas for a $10,000 raise at Mariemont High.

Her smallest class now has 15 students and her largest 26, with the majority less than 20.

At Highlands, class sizes ranged from 23 to 28, Lowery says.

She knows several teachers who left for Ohio. The trend, she says, was to replace them with less-experienced people.

Some Fort Thomas residents apparently believe their schools will continue to excel regardless.

They are mistaken. or (859) 578-5584.

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