The recent letter by Port teacher union activist Marie Jo Spinella was deceptive and inaccurate on numerous points. In claiming "average salaries are a product of average longevity" Spinella only gives part of the picture. Most of the difference is due to the salary schedule. Port teachers with an MA+30 and 25 years of service are paid over $100,000, or 25 percent more than an equivalent NYC teacher. And, NYC teachers have much larger class sizes and far less pleasant work environments.
Spinella's charge that I "fabricated" the claim that "Port receives 100 applications for every vacancy" is not only offensive, but worse, unprofessional as a teacher to say that without first verifying the facts. I've checked this point repeatedly with the PWSD over the years, and the average has always been over 100 applicants per vacancy. To be certain, I checked again with Asst. Supt. Ed Sallie, and Port has 4800 applications for 36 vacancies this year, or 133 applications per vacancy. If a position in a special area were difficult to fill, fine, you pay what you have to. But for the vast majority of our positions we're paying millions of dollars more than needed to attract well-qualified teachers. And, many get these positions primarily because they know someone---in the administration, union or school board. Since NYC does not attract sufficient applicants, they need to raise salaries, but Port salaries should be frozen, with any salary increase linked to higher health cost contributions or increased productivity. Schreiber teachers still only teach 17 hours/week instead of the contractual 20 hours. Getting 20 hours/week would save us well over a million dollars/year! And, if teachers truly had the children's interests at heart, they'd agree to a merit based salary system, like the rest of society. Today the worst teacher is paid the same as the best, has no incentive to leave, and stays forever.
Spinella claims voters already have enough control over school budgets. Baloney! Even when defeated, state law allows school budgets to increase 4 to 7 percent. There should be only one vote, not two, and defeated budgets should be frozen, and this is now a goal of the Nassau Conservative Party. Many factors affect educational quality. The key factor is the family's attitude at home towards education. Most studies show spending more money is rarely a key factor. Yes, it's possible to spend too little, but Port, where the average teacher costs us $114,000 ($89,000 salary plus $25,000 benefits.) is way above that point.
Test results are reported in Newsday every year for Math and ELA (English Language Arts) for fourth, eighth, and 12th grades. Any fair observer would agree our results compared to other comparable school districts are only mediocre. And this is so in spite of Port spending over $20,000/pupil. On a local basis, St. Peter's spends less than $5000 per pupil ($3000 tuition, plus parish aid and PWSD aid -e.g., transportation, books). Yet, both this year and last, St. Peter's fourth graders had equal or higher proficiency scores than the PWSD and their eighth graders exceeded Weber's by a huge margin. My point is that more money is clearly not a factor in improving Port's education. A merit pay system would help, as would more family involvement and support. My key concern combines justice for the average Port homeowner and quality education for our students. As a "teacher union activist," Ms. Spinella, whose son I believe is also a teacher, has an understandable self-interest in seeking even more money and benefits. Perhaps, teachers deserve more than their current 16 weeks of annual vacation? But please, Ms. Spinella, don't accuse me, the father of seven and grandfather of 18, whose wife, mother, daughter and two daughters-in-law are teachers, of "advocating the harming of children," as you thoughtlessly did in closing. Finally, as I've done before with Ms. Cariello, head of your teacher union,
I invite you Ms. Spinella, and Ms. Cariello, to appear on our weekly tv program to publicly and amicably discuss these issues for all Port residents to see.
What do you say?
Frank J. Russo Jr.