Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00
For many years, Long Island school taxes increased at two and three time the rate of inflation. They are now the highest in the entire country. With great fanfare, a tax cap was recently signed into law, but unfortunately, when the dust has settled, we may find that it did more harm than any good it achieved.
Contracts with New York teachers’ unions have long provided step increases, a feature that guarantees annual salary increases for many of those employed. Thanks to the Taylor Law’s Triborough Amendment, these annual increases continue indefinitely, even when a contract has expired.
This acts like an engine continually forcing school spending ever upward. And the increases demanded, are much larger than can be accommodated under the cap. How will school districts deal with this? Some are beginning to trim programs and lay off teachers. A few others are asking voter approval for piercing the cap. Here in Massapequa, rather clever accounting is being employed.
For several years, the district budgeted and taxed us for more money than the schools actually spent. The surplus, almost $20 million was placed in reserves. This year, in order to operate within the cap, several million of the reserve funds were utilized and the plan calls for tapping reserves again next year.
Obviously, this can’t go on forever. When reserves have been exhausted, only three different actions seem possible:
• Reduce the teaching and administrative staffs and/or eliminate various programs;
• Get approval from the electorate to pierce the cap. Thus, sizable increases in spending and taxes would continue, or;
• The school board and the teachers’ union work out a new agreement providing a much-needed reduction in the upward salary spiral.
Parents and taxpayers would of course much prefer the previous option 3, but very likely, it will be difficult to achieve. Union leaders are usually in the business of asking for more. They seldom agree to less.
School employees have unions to represent them when labor contracts are negotiated. School boards are supposed to look after the interests of parents and taxpayers.
Dianne Sheffield and Joseph Marsh have lengthy periods of hands-on involvement. Moreover, they are educated, articulate, have children in the schools and have impressive backgrounds. They will have my votes.
Experience now seems very desirable. In Massapequa, the contract with hundreds of teachers is the single most important element in the district’s finances. Whoever is elected to the board on May 15, will immediately become involved in crucial negotiations.
On June 30, the present contract with the teachers union expires.
James E. Stubenrauch