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Letter: Let’s Get Our Pitchforks

Recently, I was in a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in about a year and the subject drifted from the state of our economy to overall taxes and then to school taxes. When he heard just how much it costs per year for a student here in Mineola, he had but one comment, “It’s a wonder that you don’t all stand at the school board with pitchforks and demand a stop to those taxes.”

He was right and we all know he’s right but have permitted previous school boards and school administrations to go on a non-stop spending spree for over a decade.

Now, we are being prepared for a 2.5 percent budget increase and are being told we should be grateful it isn’t 5 percent or more. We are being told that great sacrifices are being made, there will be layoffs and more schools will close. Certainly sounds like the end of the world is approaching!

But let’s step back away and look at some very cold, hard facts regarding our school district. Granted. All school districts are going to have difficult financial times, but so are millions and millions of families, many of which have lost their homes and/or jobs. So what makes the Mineola School District unique? Perhaps it’s the way it has been managed for so long and backed itself into a financial quagmire without room to move. We, as residents and taxpayers, must know the facts of how Mineola compares to other districts, something sadly missing in the information we are being given.

In a June 2007 article on the cost of local school districts, the New York Times used U.S. Census Department figures for the 2004-2005 school year, which showed Mineola was the sixth (yes, sixth) most expensive school district in all 50 states (based on districts with 500 or more students and that provided kindergarten through 12th grade classes) in terms of cost per pupil. There are well over 10,000 school districts in the country. At that time, our cost per student per year was $23,339. This raises the question of why? Is Mineola so unique or is it perhaps that Mineola is the sixth best performing school district in the country? What is the justification?

Recently, I performed a query of the most recent U.S. Census Department school district figures, using the same criteria as the New York Times in 2007. The most recent data is now from the 2007-2008 school year. We are no longer the sixth most expensive school district; we are now at number 10 with a cost of $26,243 per student per year. We still have the national distinction of being in the top 10 and it certainly isn’t very flattering.

We are now feeling the legacy of those actions, which is compounded by the poor economy. The school board/administration wants us “taxpayers” to bail them out of a financial mess that they created. We need to get our collective “pitchforks” out and say, “Stop fleecing us; we’ve had it!”

The school administration says it needs to have layoffs, so do it or reopen the current contract to get major, long term wage and benefit concessions (as is being done in New York City). The staff needs to feel some pain, times are tough for all of us!

The school administration says it’s going to close schools. Why is this even an issue? Close schools.

This community cannot sustain the levels of spending by this school district, which is far outside the bell-shaped curve for even high cost Nassau County. Compare for the 2007-2008 school year the cost per student per year in Nassau County of $19,312 against Mineola’s $26,243 (a 36 percent difference). Should we be concerned that drastic spending cuts will affect the quality of education here in Mineola. Let’s look at the costs of some nearby high-achieving districts: Garden City - $17,990; Port Washington - $21,395; Herricks - $19,200, etc. (These statistics are U.S. Census Department figures).

Let us also not forget we’ve already had a silent tax increase this year as New York State ended the school tax rebate program, our effective taxes have already risen to close to $500 a year.

So, is a 2.5 percent increase justified? Grab your “pitchfork” and be heard! We need every taxpayer, business owner and senior citizen to say, “No more!” Flood the school board with emails, express yourself at school board meetings, organize your fiends and neighbors; do not be silent; you must be heard.

Costs must be cut; we must not accept a budget increase. It is no justified. To the school board and administration: get our students costs per year down to at least the county average and then perhaps the community will be willing to listen.

John F. Ciesla