In the Manhasset Press last week, School Superintendent Charles Cardillo called for public participation in the school funding dialogue. "Public discussion is welcomed with the full understanding that some dissent is the necessary correlate of such discussion."
I appreciate the superintendent's invitation. Let's understand that all dissent and support is nascent at this point because the district's final proposed budget has not been presented to the public. The district is presently in the listening and considering phase of budget preparation. Let's hope that the points of view that are offered by the community are based upon fact and not innuendo, surmise and bias.
Admiral Early, a frequent dissenter on the school budget, contributed a letter that appeared on the same page of the Manhasset Press as Mr. Cardillo's article. Unfortunately, his familiar refrain was less than informative because certain key "facts" that he cites are incorrect.
In his criticism of the teacher's contract, Admiral Early professes that "Manhasset already pays the best wages per comparable contracts." This is false. Detailed analyses of comparable district salary schedules were made available during negotiations both to the district and to the teacher's union. The comparisons showed that the Manhasset salary structure was somewhere near the median of ten comparable districts, not the highest as professed by Admiral Early. The gap between the highest paying district and Manhasset's structure is substantial, especially in the middle and senior years.
Another utter falsity is the suggestion that the junior board members were excluded from board deliberations on the contract. The board worked on the teachers' contract all last year. The district negotiating team and its lead attorney periodically reported to the entire board. All members had full access and participated. Later in the year, impatient with the lack of progress, I began attending negotiating sessions with then vice president Cindy Cardinal, an experienced management-side labor lawyer in her own right. Those sessions produced significant gains in teacher productivity clauses. Before and after those sessions, we fully briefed the members of the board at executive sessions, usually with the district's lead attorney present. Our negotiating positions were formulated only upon approval by the entire board after full and open discussion.
Negotiations continued into the current year, beyond my tenure. The board approved the new contract a few months into the current school year. Three out of the five members on the current board are junior in experience. They had enough votes to thwart the contract if they wanted to. Yet, all board members approved the contract, and wisely so because it is a reasonable and fair deal. Contrary to Admiral Early's thesis, there was no board schism regarding the teacher's contract negotiations last year and the vote this year demonstrates a unified board as well.
The contracted salary increases are mitigated by the value of productivity improvements and other measures such as the increase in teacher contribution to health insurance premiums. Putting aside the productivity enhancements, the salary increases are modest when one compares percentage increases in recent contracts in comparable districts. The board released details to the public after it approved the contract in September, 2005. To get the facts, type this address into your web browser: http://www.manhasset.k12.ny.us/news.cfm?story=307
Our district competes with many other fine districts for the best teachers. You cannot compete for the best teachers if you offer substantially lower compensation. That goes for most walks of life, doesn't it?
Admiral Early concludes with unwarranted shots at two board members whose terms expire this year. One board member is in her sixth year of selfless and distinguished service to the district. The other, current President Cindy Cardinal, is propelling the district into a new more efficient and effective era. Her accomplishments in only three years are too numerous to mention.
If you are interested in lowering your taxes, the answer does not lie in cheapening your school district, driving away your experienced teachers or making the district an undesirable place to work. Such tactics, in the long run, will destroy the excellence of the district along with the value of your property. Rather, we must attack the current paradigm of public funding for education which is heavily biased against so-called "wealthy" districts. Simply stated, we need to reduce our property tax burden by getting more of our money back from Albany.
I hope Cindy Cardinal chooses to run for re-election. Among many other things, Cindy is one of the leaders of a consortium of local school districts that is beginning to fight back for us. Her leadership is important if we are ever to obtain relief from a state bureaucracy that imposes mandates and refuses to fund them. If she does run, I am sure that Admiral Early will carefully consider her many attributes, her vision and her record in choosing whom to support in the upcoming board election. He might find it very much in his own interest to welcome Cindy back.
Thomas J. Maimone