I attended the May 24 school board meeting held to discuss the school budget revote, and heard repeatedly, "we've cut to the bone." And just how much did they reduce the 10 percent tax increase? By about 1 percent! And some of their cuts are actually unwise. The board seems unwilling to consider major cost savings, including $2 million by getting 20 hours/week of contractual class teaching at Schreiber.
But I'm getting a better perspective on the cause of the problem. The board too often simply takes the word of school administrators, failing to check the facts themselves. Example: last week, I requested to see how they calculated the contingency budget. It turns out the calculation is done on one page with less than a dozen numbers---very simple and uncomplicated. Within two minutes, I spotted a significant error, that the PWSD was overstating the contingency budget by some $562,000! If just one board member spent five minutes looking at this single page, they would have spotted this enormous error. But no one even looked at it. Are they exercising "due diligence?"
What I conclude from this and other errors I picked up is that, when I see board members telling me I'm wrong in claiming our average custodian earns over $60,000 plus another $25,000 in benefits, or that we can save $2 million by having Schreiber teachers teach 20 hours/week instead of 17, they've not looked at all the facts, and are simply taking the word of the school administration. Yes, teachers make themselves available for resource center or tutoring time every week, some of which students utilize and some is not utilized. It boils down to this: is it worth $2 million to provide more hours of tutoring/resource center time? I believe the community would choose to save the $2 million. But just as our school board failed in due diligence to pick up the obvious $562,000 error, they're making the same mistake over and over again, taking the word of administrators more concerned about keeping the teachers union happy than they are about the burden on taxpayers.
A group of concerned citizens, including myself, will participate in two public forums moderated by the General Council of Homeowner Associations to discuss/debate with invited school board members, administrators and teacher union leaders the major areas where huge cost savings may be possible, without changing a single K-8 program, nor dropping a single course at Schreiber. If you're at all concerned about our out-of-control school taxes, come hear the facts debated by both sides at the library at 3 p.m. on June 6 or at the Community Chest Building on June 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Frank J. Russo Jr.