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Talawanda school board discusses new salary model and tiered busing system; presents educational excellence award

Talawanda school board members David Bothast, Pat Meade, Rebecca Howard, Chris Otto and Dawn King discuss potential district changes with superintendent Ed Theroux and treasurer Shaunna Tafelski seated on each end.
Talawanda school board members David Bothast, Pat Meade, Rebecca Howard, Chris Otto and Dawn King discuss potential district changes with superintendent Ed Theroux and treasurer Shaunna Tafelski seated on each end.

The Talawanda School District Board of Education met on the evening of Thursday, March 22 and discussed several potential changes for busing services and administrator salaries beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. The board also announced its selection for the Harry and Virginia Teckman Excellence in Education award.

Ahead of its return next school year, the board discussed re-structuring the district’s busing system. Due to busing shortages, a proposed two-tiered system would allow for Talawanda High School to have its own set of buses, while Talawanda Middle School, Bogan, Marshall and Kramer elementary schools would split a set of buses. Though the board only votes on the financial implications of Superintendent Ed Theroux’s eventual decision on logistics, discussion was still held amongst the members. 

As of now, busing services are planned to return for all high school students, elementary and middle school students who live more than one mile away from their respective schools, rather than the two-mile radius currently set. Theroux said this will bring back services for 461 students. 

In order to support this model, elementary school start times would be moved from the current 8:25 a.m. start and 3:05 p.m. dismissal to 7:15 a.m. and dismissed at 1:55 p.m.

Contrarily, the middle school and high school start times would be moved to later in the day. The middle school would start at 8:40 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m., while the high school would start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. The hour-and-twenty-minute block between the two schools will allow for the buses to be shared over the 144-square mile district.

As noted by the board, some pros of this model will allow for elementary students to have their ELA and math block classes before lunch since students are more attentive in the morning. This model will also allow for middle and high school students to get some extra hours of sleep.

“There’s evidence … that show[s] that those older students need the time [to sleep],” Theroux said. “Elementary students still need sleep, don’t get me wrong on that, but they also get up earlier biologically.”

However, with the busing changes and losses already in place this past school year, district parents have already moved their work schedules to support the needs of their students. Public participant Sarah Went emphasized that not all families will be able to modify their work schedules an additional time in order to accommodate.

“As a parent who has had to make three schedule changes for my children’s schools this calendar year alone, I can tell you that the last thing I want to do is approach my employer about another change in my work availability,” Went said. “And I say this from a place of privilege because I know that I’m not going to lose my job over this. The same cannot be said for everyone else.”

The board has not publicly stated when this decision will come to a vote.

In hopes of retaining its administrative staff and attracting new hires, the district is considering passing a motion for a tiered salary structure. Talwanda is aiming to provide administrators with a more competitive salary that reaches the 50 percentile for Butler County and comparable district salaries, along with rewarding staff members who have served in the district for 15 to 20 years. 

“This isn’t just an administrative negotiation,” treasurer Shaunna Tafelski said. “This is trying to create and come up with a hiring placement tool so that we can recruit qualified people, and right now, our beginning salaries are not competitive.”

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In past years, the district used a salary range and placed staff members within it. Nevertheless, there was an absence of comparison to other school district salaries in recent years, resulting in a failure to upgrade the range to be more competitive. 

The new model being discussed would look at administrators as a group on a tiered system, and then placing individuals within that group within the salary schedule. This would allow administrators to continue progressing in salary as they remain in the district, and prevent further staff losses. 

School board president Rebecca Howard compared the model to how temporary (TEA) and classified (TCSA) staff receive their salaries. However, school administrators are not unionized in the way other staff members are, so deliberations around salaries work differently.

“I think that’s one of the points of discussion here is how do we go about talking about this restructuring in a way that maintains the integrity of the negotiations,” Howard said. “In the same way that we do not release specifics of negotiations with the unions on contracts because that’s confidential information, we can’t release the specifics of these proposals yet because they’re in negotiation.”

Negotiations are being led by Theroux and Tafelski. After conversations with other leadership personnel, Theroux and Tafelski will present a proposal to the board for a vote. Until then, information regarding the dollar amount is not publicly available. Next month’s executive session will continue the conversation.

Finally, the annual Harry and Virginia Teckman Excellence in Education award from the Oxford Community Foundation was presented to Bethany Kuhl, a third-grade teacher at Kramer Elementary. The award recognizes stand-out teachers and gifts the winner $500 to use towards their classroom, along with a certificate.

“I’m just beyond grateful and want to thank the community for being supportive and loving, especially the school district for all your support,” Kuhl said, “and I’m just very honored, so thank you, [and] thank you for letting me work with such great teachers and administration.”

The next school board meeting will be held in the Talawanda High School auditorium on April 11 at 7 p.m. A live stream option is available and can be found here.