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Opinion

Port residents, I believe, are entitled to the full picture on what our school taxes will be if the proposed $68 million capital bond is approved on March 20, and the presently discussed school budget increase of about 11 percent is passed in May. First, the $68 million bond will increase taxes by seven percent and this will be locked in for 18 years. While this bond is $19 million less than last year's, the amount that the taxpayers will have to fund is only reduced by $7 million, since state aid was reduced from 28 percent to 18 percent. Second, the school budget increase being discussed will increase taxes by 13 percent. This means our total school taxes will increase by about 20 percent if both the bond and current budget numbers are approved. None of this takes into account reassessment, the results of which will be known next summer. And all of this is on top of county tax increases which will total 40 percent for the average Port homeowner in two years, and the town increase arising from the $34 million judgment.

Because school taxes account for over 60 percent of our total property taxes, the school tax increase will literally dwarf the combined county and town tax increases. There is not much really that can be done about the county and town tax increases. But the school tax increase - which is the largest of all by far - can and should be altered. How? By defeating the upcoming bond proposal which is still three times as high as the median for all Nassau school districts, looked at over a five year period and taking school size into account. A bond defeat on March 20, or even a high "No" vote, would also serve to alert the school board, which on a day-to-day basis faces constant pressure to spend more and more and hears little from overburdened taxpayers, that the budget for next year needs to be reduced, and reduced significantly.

Our pupil to staff ratio of 10 1/2 to 1 (i..e, one professional staff person for every 10 1/2 students) is one of the lowest in the county, state and nation. If we could increase this ratio to 11 1/2, which is still very low and much lower than Nassau's average of 13, we could eliminate 25 teaching positions for next year instead of adding 20 positions as the school administration proposes. This alone would pay for half the bond cost. And contrary to what many believe, the overwhelming preponderance of studies indicate that educational quality has little to do with this ratio, or with teacher salary levels. The median (or middle) salary for Port teachers is $81,500. More than 25 percent of our teachers earn over $90,000, which is far more than the market requires. Pay the best performing teachers $90,000 perhaps, but not simply the longest tenured or those with the most additional credits. Whatever your views, please consider the above facts and make sure you vote on March 20.

Frank J. Russo, Jr.


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