Last week, the president of the Port Washington Teacher's Union wrote that "teachers need a fair contract which will provide compensation and working conditions similar to those provided in surrounding communities." However, Port Washington is not like surrounding communities. The communities which surround us have larger commercial tax bases, wealthier residents and more homogeneous populations of students. In Port Washington, our diverse population includes a high proportion of children requiring special (often more costly) services and many less wealthy residential taxpayers who must pick up the bulk of the tab for our schools. In addition, the burden on our few commercial businesses has increased dramatically as well.
As an involved parent who supported the budget I heard over and over again from fellow residents that we need to reduce our costs. Many cited the fact that over 75 percent of our budget is personnel costs, the bulk of this salaries and benefits for teachers. Many of these same people (myself included) are grateful to individual teachers for the service they provide to our children and by extension to our larger community. However, the reality is that our taxpayers can't afford to pay more. Since the last teacher's contract was negotiated, some residents have lost their jobs, those able to find new jobs are forced into lower paying professions, those with the same jobs are working longer hours without salary increases, many folks now pay a greater portion of their health insurance (if they have it), and still others have seen their retirement benefits reduced or eliminated.
By law, the board of education is limited in what it can discuss in public about ongoing negotiations. However, as elected representatives, the BOE has an obligation to listen to residents' concerns. The BOE in attempting to negotiate a new contract, also represents the viewpoint of many parents and taxpayers. The teacher's union could create an enormous amount of good will by showing flexibility and understanding in these difficult financial times.