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Letter: NYSSBA’s Editorial and Its Impact on Island Trees

In the first line of the NYSSBA’s December 13, 2010 editorial, “School districts face $815M shortfall under tax cap,” they state that in order to meet personnel costs, school districts face a state aid shortfall of $815M over the next four years if a statewide tax cap of 2 percent or the rate of inflation is instituted. In this op-ed taken verbatim from the NYSSBA website, NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer opines that “a hard tax cap would clearly threaten the quality of public education by forcing drastic cuts in classroom teachers and academic programs.” My initial reaction after reading his quote was to go back and research whether Tim Kremer heads the NYSSBA or is it the president of NYSUT, the 600,000 member NYS teachers’ union. Words like “threaten” and “drastic” and phrases such as “it’s for the kids” are routinely used in NYSUT missives and radio/television ads when addressing these matters. One important word missing from the opening line of NYSSBA’s op-ed is “current.” If local school boards agree with NYSSBA’s philosophy, expect the current financial burden on taxpayers to become even more overwhelming. In the coming months, tough decisions have to be made and these decisions cannot be made by school administrators, by NYSSBA or NYSUT, but by your locally elected school board members. They control the purse strings.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” I agree. Regarding Tim Kremer’s reference to personnel costs, in the meeting minutes from the Island Trees Board Meeting, dated June 27, 2007, the Island Trees Board of Education negotiated with the United Teachers of Island Trees for a contract with incremental annual increases of 3.5 percent, 4 percent, 4 percent, and 3.5 percent, respectively, for a four-year 15 percent raise.

In 2007, the school board included three members with first line relatives working for the district. While this is legal in New York State, it may be less than desirable for the taxpayer from a negotiation perspective. In states like Florida and Virginia, anti-nepotism laws forbid this practice.

In 2009, while teachers received their 4 percent raise, seniors saw no increase in their Social Security checks. Seniors will once again have to tighten their belts this year due to President Obama’s announcement that due to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), they will receive another “goose egg” while UTIT members will see another 3.5 percent raise in their checks.

The UTIT contract expires on June 30, 2011. Unemployment is at 9.8 percent as of November 2010, foreclosures are skyrocketing, and there is no positive financial news on the horizon.

When the union comes to the board in June looking for another “15 percent special,” who will tell them in the words of tennis great John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious?”

The current school board includes the husband of a highly paid employee. Another is the father-in-law of a highly paid employee. Another trustee is an employee in the SCOPE/Island Trees preschool program. A fourth board member is a highly paid employee in the Syosset School District.

In 2009, at a time when seniors received zeroes, the Island Trees Board of Education gave the newly hired superintendent a $300 per month cash car allowance on top of a $225,000 salary which includes 3 percent salary increase every year. Do you receive a car allowance? Who is the taxpayer’s advocate on this board? Who will sit on the labor negotiation team in June 2011 to represent and defend the Island Trees taxpayer? As I reported in “Island Trees School Budget for the Record Part III” that appeared in the April 9, 2010 edition of the Levittown Tribune, student enrollment in Island Trees decreased by 221 students in the past four years. According to the NYS Education Department (https://www.ny web-rc/2009/55/AOR-2009-280226 030000.pdf), enrollment decreased from 2,721 to 2,615 students in two years (2007 to 2009) while, incredibly, the total number of Island Trees teachers increased from 220 to 237 for the same two years. The union added 17 teachers to the payroll while 106 kids disappeared from the classroom. Island Trees has a teacher to pupil ratio of one teacher for every 11 students. These are ratios found in private boarding schools.

So, what is the solution?  On the state level, New York must adopt an anti-nepotism law to eliminate conflicts of interests and at the local level there will be four school board seats up for grabs in Island Trees in May 2011. This will be a unique opportunity for all voters in Island Trees to turn out and have their voices heard and turn this ship around. These four incumbents must go. It is time to elect four pro-taxpayer candidates. It’s time for a good old-fashioned tea partying. Remember the seniors! They built Island Trees.

Brian Kelty

Island Trees resident