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Garden City School District Wraps Up 2011

Board of Ed approves CSEA contract agreement, district’s state aid picture remains uncertain

The Garden City Board of Education wrapped up its 2011 school year with a final meeting held on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Garden City High School. The Board unanimously approved a contract agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) for 170 district employees. The Superintendent of Schools also announced that the district could be receiving aid from New York State next year.

 At the start of the meeting, Board of Education President Colleen Foley bestowed a certificate of appreciation to John Sullivan for over a decade of “dedicated and devoted” service to the Garden City Union Free School District as a member of the Audit Committee and also welcomed longtime resident Frederick Leuffer as its newest member.

After highlighting student achievements, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen announced that on the agenda was a recommendation to the Board to approve a contract agreement made with CSEA, the bargaining unit that represents custodial workers, bus drivers and maintainers.

Superintendent of Finance Albert Chase offered the details of the new contract that he said was behind a year and a half. “Last month, we were able to reach an agreement with the CSEA, which has approximately 170 members of the district staff,” Chase said, adding the length of the four-year contract is from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2014.

According to Chase, the salary increases will total 6 percent spread out over a four-year time period and will include significant benefit changes. “New staff who are hired, actually from this point forward, will be required to contribute 15 percent individual and 25 percent family to their health plan, whereas now they contributed 15 and 12-1/2 percent. So that’s significant in that any new staff who are hired will go to what’s becoming the district standard in terms of health insurance contributions,” Chase said.

Chase announced that the district achieved savings for dental plan contributions as well. “Currently the district had been paying 100 percent of the CSEA dental plan. New employees will be required to contribute 10 percent and, in addition, effective with the 2013/14 contract year, all employees, existing employees, new employees and so forth, will move to a lower tier dental plan, which will save an estimated $65,000 a year for the school district,” he explained.

Chase updated the board on changes of sick leave policy that he estimates will save the district $15,000 to $20,000 a year, effective immediately. “The district had been paying for a certain limited amount for people who are essentially out with long-term illness. Now what will happen is instead of the district paying, we have decided to go to an insurance policy and the people who apply, will have to apply through that policy, which is through New York State Insurance Fund,” he said.

The district also came to an agreement to a one-time retirement incentive where eligible individuals working for the district must apply by March 1 of 2012 in order to retire June 30, 2012.

“It was a fair agreement and we feel we did fairly well as far as bargaining goes and we’re glad we were able to reach an agreement,” Chase concurred.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen clarified why the administration asked the Board to ratify an agreement that is already half over. “That’s really a function of the bargaining process. The district had a very aggressive stance in those bargaining sessions. We did not reach agreement with the union in a timely manner so the contract expired,” he explained.

He further stated that the district went through many negotiating sessions before coming to what he described as a “fair agreement.”

“It’s certainly in line with other agreements. Actually it’s better than other agreements that have been signed in other districts with similar units,” Feirsen explained, adding, “We achieved some significant savings not only immediately but the potential for magnified savings down the road.”

Later in the evening, Feirsen addressed if the district would receive state aid. He said, “Every year we’ve kind of been trailing a little bit behind in the budget process before we even hear what the state aid might be. And that, as you know, revenues are the other half of the equation in developing the budget. Last year, the state promised 4 percent increase in state aid as part of its budget package. We’d heard throughout the fall that the state might not be able to fulfill that pledge because the economy had not turned and projections were not as robust as they thought they would be, etc.”

Although he was “fairly confident” that the state will fulfill its commitment for a 4 percent increase in school aid, Feirsen warned against putting on party hats any time soon. “I caution against tremendous optimism in that regard for our budget in Garden City for a couple of reasons. Number one, within that legislation is still the promise to fulfill the coffers of a couple of the government state programs for which the Garden City School District is not eligible by virtue of its wealth status, or at least what the state perceives to be a wealth status.”

Secondly, he said it is uncertain if state aid funds would be expense-driven or be derived from Foundation Aid, which is the name of the general aid that the state provides. He explained that Foundation Aid has remained frozen over the past three years. “I don’t expect big bucks out of this,” Feirsen warned.

“I really feel pretty fairly confident in saying ‘don’t expect a huge gift from the state,” he said.

He also indicated that contained in the legislation that will provide the state aid is the repeal of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax for school districts and non-profits. “It was placed upon us a couple of years ago and it cost the district about $200,000. However, the state has, although not always in a timely manner, refunded that expense to us as they promised they would do. So we’ve given it to them but we’ve also gotten it back,” Feirsen said.

“So really in terms of what this does for our budget picture — it’s a wash. It’s really no change. The only thing it might do is improve our cash flow a little bit because, again, there was a lag between us sending our money to Albany and them reimbursing us. Again, I say this is not a cause for great celebration. We will be discussing the budget after the new year,” he said.

The District released its budget calendar for 2012-2013. The first regular and budget work session will include an overview of the superintendent’s budget and revenues on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012.

Garden City residents will vote on the school budget on Tuesday, May 15, 2012.