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Letter: Real Mandates

Mr. Timothy G, Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Board Association accuses Governor Paterson of destroying New York public education (Manhasset Press, July 1, Governor’s Extender Bill and Tax Cap Proposal). The executive director believes that Governor Paterson’s proposal for a 2.5 percent property tax cap, similar to tax caps proposed and in effect in many other states, will “limit the ability of New York school districts to raise funds locally.” Unlike the Governor who has focused on spending cuts, Mr. Kremer has a two-prong approach to the school tax crisis; increase local property taxes and demand mandate relief from a bankrupt State. The executive director’s statement is vague as to what constitutes a reasonable property tax increase and what constitutes a mandate. Apparently he would like to see local taxes increase above 2.5 percent annually. His mandate relief plan demands that the Governor provide relief from rising energy costs, health care costs, pension costs etc. One may be tempted to question if Mr. Kremer really has a serious plan?

Here in Manhasset and all over Long Island, we have a serious plan. We believe that a 2.5 percent property tax cap is very generous. We believe that real “mandate relief’ can be achieved immediately by local school boards. Let us begin with the costliest mandate, the labor union contract, that is negotiated in secret between school boards and labor unions, and delivered to the taxpayer as a fait accompli. Thereafter, the taxpayer is mandated to pay, on average, annual, contractual, salary increases of 6 percent to 7 percent regardless of merit or competence; with an ironclad guarantee of job security. How about some relief from that mandate?

Mr. Kremer demands mandate relief from rising health care costs when in fact local school districts negotiate health care costs with their labor unions. Is Mr. Kremer asking that school boards and unions negotiate health care costs and give the bill to the State, aka the taxpayer?

Mr. Kremer wants the Governor to focus mandate relief that would help districts control pension costs. Would the School Board Executive Director support mandate relief by changing the pension formula from one of guaranteed pension to an IRA type pension? Would he support a change in current pension policy which would ban union personnel from padding their salary for the last three years of service thereby enabling them to retire on a higher pension than their actual salary?

Every taxpayer on Long Island needs immediate mandate relief from the “little perks” unique to every Long Island union contract. Here in Manhasset, our school board has negotiated, defended and mandated through the union contract, unlimited sick leave for tenured personnel. As a result, over one third of Manhasset tenured union personnel have taken 10 or more paid sick days in addition to the spring, summer, winter breaks and every conceivable holiday. Over 17 percent of tenured personnel have taken three or more weeks of paid sick leave burdening the taxpayer with the cost of substitute teachers, not to mention the loss of valuable classroom time.

One would think that an executive director of the NYS School Board Association would mention academic excellence and fiscal responsibility in his statement but nowhere in the Manhasset Press statement were either mentioned. Our community should thank the Manhasset Press for exposing the similar agendas of local school boards and labor unions. The community was given a heads up in regard to the upcoming school board and labor union contract negotiations. We should all watch closely.

Laurann Pandelakis