On Tuesday, May 16, we will vote on both an $88 million school facilities bond and a school budget of $75 million. If both are approved, our school taxes will increase by 15 percent ( 10 percent for the bond and 5 percent for the budget). School taxes already account for 63 percent of our total property taxes. For the average Port homeowner, this school tax increase will be four times as large as the county tax increase resulting from reassessment!
The advocates of the bond proposal are being very deceptive in claiming that our schools are "overcrowded." One letter writer, Marjory Fisher, claimed "our current population approaches the number present in Port schools 30 years ago." Where on earth did Ms. Fisher come up with this notion? In point of fact, we had 7000 pupils in 1970; we have 4200 today! The numbers aren't remotely close - even adjusting for two fewer elementary schools. The "big spending coalition" supporting the bond is deliberately and deceptively trying to frighten parents in order to pass the bond. Several Port teachers and school employees have told me they see no overcrowding, but rather an inefficient use of space; all of these school employees are fearful of writing letters to the local papers because of job retribution concerns. I asked Dr. Inserra if I could stop in and get permission to walk through several of the schools to see first-hand the extent of this alleged "overcrowding." Dr. Inserra denied me this permission. The numbers simply do not support the claimed "overcrowding." Assuming an increase of 1100 students over the next 10 years, and assuming we add back Salem School, we will still be well below where we were in 1970 - in fact, we'll be 1700 pupils below! We need a reasonable bond proposal, not an absurd $88 million one. Our school facilities bond proposal is four times the average proposed for all other Nassau school districts, and is 65 percent larger than the next largest proposal - and this takes into account all bond proposals for all Nassau school districts approved in the last five years!
The school budget is also excessive. The district wants to add 23 more teachers to our already bloated staff. Each professional staff person in our Port schools is handling an average of 10 pupils. In the other 55 Nassau school districts, school professionals handle 13 pupils. If we could increase productivity to a mere 11 pupils per teacher, not only would we not need the additional 23 positions, but we could eliminate 20 more! And if we increase productivity to 12 pupils per teacher - still a very reasonable level - we could actually reduce both the budget and our taxes.
To sum up, I think we do have to spend money improving our school facilities and bring the Salem School back into operation; we can do this in an educationally sound way at a fraction of the proposed $88 million cost; we don't need to add 23 more teachers; we should get at least 20 hours of classroom time from existing teachers, instead of the mere 17 we get from many; and, we have too many in costly administrative positions. I urge voters to reject both the bond proposal and the school budget and elect new members to the school board (viz., Ferro and Meyer) who might show at least some minimal concern for the overburdened taxpayers.
Frank J Russo, Jr.