GENEVA — As the debate continues regarding the Geneva Area City Schools District’s attempt to pass a 1.25 percent income tax increase on May 8, some of the district’s critics on social media have questioned the salary of Geneva teachers.

The average Ohio teacher earns about $56,715 per year. The average Geneva teacher earns $58,898 annually, the second highest in the county. Buckeye Local Schools’ average teacher’s salary is the highest in the county

at about $60,075

per year. Ashtabula Area City Schools comes in at third at $54,357. Conneaut Area City Schools comes in last at $52,187, behind Grand Valley and

Pymatuning Schools.

School administrators said they do not believe that means Geneva teachers are overpaid, however, because teachers’ salaries are often considered a good indicator of the quality of the education. Geneva Area City Schools Superintendent Eric Kujala said he believes the best teachers are often the best paid and that a good salary is a powerful hiring incentive.

“We want to be able to pay our teachers a good salary,” he said. “Better, more experienced teachers are more likely to want to work where the pay is good.”

Geneva pays starting teachers more than all Ashtabula County schools except A-tech. It pays its starting teachers on average $35,485 and A-tech pays starters on average $35,518.

However, Kujala said most of the 153 Geneva teachers have more than 10 years of experience with the district and there is less turnover than in most districts in the state and county. 

“Keeping teachers in place by paying them well is one way we can continue to provide a great educational experience for our students,” he said. “Constant turnover in teachers can cost the district additional funds in new training and other additional costs mandated by the state. As a district, we have 56 percent of our employees that choose to make or community their home. We want to continue to pride ourselves on finding and keeping the best teachers here in Geneva.”

Andy Tetlow, a member of the I Support Geneva Schools Committee and a concerned parent, said he understood that Geneva pays its teachers better than most Ashtabula County Schools. But, he said, Geneva Area City Schools also competes with Lake and Geauga county schools, which are closer than many Ashtabula County schools and generally pay their teachers more than Ashtabula County districts.

“It’s understood that Geneva pays its teachers better than most other Ashtabula County schools,” he said. “But we want to retain these Geneva teachers with more experience. Good teachers mean strong schools, which means more attractive communities with higher property values and more community development.”

When compared to the average Lake County teacher’s salaries, Geneva is behind the pack. In the lead of Lake County teachers’ salaries is Kirtland, which pays its teachers on average $70,841 per year. Nearby Madison Schools, which has had financial difficulties of its own and needed to pass a 4.99 mill property tax levy last May, pays its teachers on average $64,148 per year.

Zack Mansky, Geneva Area Teachers Association president, is a guidance counselor and former teacher. He said Geneva teachers are not overpaid.

“Just to become a teacher requires a fairly large cash outlay and student loan debt,” he said. “The average teacher goes to college for four years, which costs often as much as $25,000 per year or $100,000 for four years. On top of that, teachers must renew their teaching licenses every five years by taking six semester hours. That costs around $1,000 plus around $200 for the actual license. Many Geneva teachers have 30 years of experience, with Masters degrees and beyond, which incurs an even greater cash outlay and more student loan debt.”

He said the job of teaching is highly skilled and worthy of decent pay. 

Buckeye Local School District Superintendent Patrick Colucci said having an attractive base salary was important when it came to building a good hiring pool of teachers. He said while some districts were more affluent than others and could afford to pay more, the real attraction was having a reliable hiring pool.

“Just like with any other career path, students in college look at salary when basing their decision on selecting a field,” he said. “Having a competitive base salary in the field of education can increase a school district’s pool of candidates, thereby increasing the likelihood of hiring quality teachers. It’s better when teachers are well paid. Salary is a legitimate hiring tool for teachers.”

Kujala said not only in teachers salaries, but in other positions, the district has always done its best to manage the taxpayers’ dollars responsibly. He said over the last several years there have been complete wage freezes, “no-step” increases and increased employee contributions to health insurance.

“Geneva is already spending less on staff than most Ohio schools,” said Kujala. “Of the 607 public school districts in the state, only 44 spend less on administration. The district’s pupil to administrator ratio was 193, compared to the statewide average of 143 in fiscal year 2017, ranking as the 69th lowest in the state. And as it relates to last January’s reductions, teachers and administrators cannot be cut during the school year because of contract language.”

He said Geneva Area City Schools is one of the largest employers on the area, and with dozens of jobs already cut and dozens more on the horizon, the jobs lost will take their toll on the community.

“I think in any industry people realize that you need to recruit, hire and maintain a high quality staff to be successful,” Kujala said. “As in any career, a competitive salary is one factor that may help an employer attract an employee.”