In a letter appearing in the Sept. 29 issue of the Port Washington News, Frank Russo writes, Úquot;I have great respect for our teachers and realize most are doing a fine job.Úquot; Mr. Russo's letter, however, belies this claim. In its reliance on logical fallacies and innuendo and in its condescending tone, this letter manifests a deep disrespect for the educators in this district that masquerades as admiration.
Mr. Russo presents Úquot;basic factsÚquot; that Úquot;strongly suggest (the district's) current salaries are more than high enough to do the job fairly and effectively.Úquot; Interestingly, Mr. Russo's contentions omit information key to assessing their merit. He notes that Port has over 100 applicants for every teaching position, yet he does not reveal how many of these applicants are qualified for those jobs. I have served on hiring committees for the English department at Schreiber High School, and we have often had difficulty finding even one or two candidates who could teach at the superior level expected by this district. The members of the faculty of Schreiber High School have received their undergraduate and graduate degrees at some of the finest educational institutions in the country, including Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Swarthmore College, Middlebury College, Colgate University, Columbia University, and Fordham University, to name a few. These individuals have invested vast economic resources in their own learning to be able to bring the best to the children of this district. Many of them continue to pursue credits and degrees beyond their masters in such prestigious programs as Middlebury's Bread Loaf School of English. This district will not continue to attract and keep the talent it desires if it becomes a place that doesn't properly compensate its teachers for the years of expensive schooling that have made them experts in their field.
Mr. Russo also notes that 30 percent of Port teachers earn over $100,000 a year and that the average Port teacher earns $90,000 a year. According to the district's current salary schedule, the first time an educator can earn $101,198 is after teaching 13 years and earning a PhD, an expensive undertaking. A teacher with a masters degree who is required to gain permanent certification in New York State, can earn $94,578 after 25 years in this profession. You can be sure the 140 Port teachers earning over $100,000 annually have spent 25 years or more serving this district's children and have expended significant amounts of money to further their own education and advance their professional skills. More importantly, why is it so unthinkable that a teacher could earn a six-figure salary? If a recent college graduate with no advanced degree or job experience can begin work at a Wall Street firm for six figures, why would the district begrudge the same or more to those who have toiled their entire careers to help children reach their fullest intellectual potential and to serve as guardians of students' emotional and physical well-being? As for the salary of the average Port teacher, how does Mr. Russo define Úquot;average?Úquot; What is an average advanced degree or an average number of years' experience? I have taught for 13 years, 12 of those in the public school system, and my salary is a good $8,000 short of Mr. Russo's Úquot;average.Úquot; And keep in mind that these salary figures are before-tax numbers, a fact Mr. Russo doesn't mention.
Beyond the issue of basic salary, the fringe benefits which Mr. Russo believes to be excessive are, in fact, not as good as those available to teachers in the employ of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. My sister, a teacher in a Diocesan high school, had a medical plan that includes the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as participating providers, while the Empire Plan/UnitedHealthcare coverage provided to Port employees does not. As members of a family with a history of breast and ovarian cancer, my sister and I are under the care of specialists at Memorial. I am often forced to pay out of pocket a sum that can total $1,000 every six months for my cancer prevention tests and doctor appointments. More than one Sloan Kettering doctor has spoken to me of the inadequacy of the Empire Plan/United Healthcare coverage for both their well and cancer-stricken patients. An article appearing in the Oct. 4, 2005 Newsday presented national rankings of health plans in New York State by the private nonprofit National Committee for Quality Assurance. The Empire Plan/UnitedHealthcare was ranked 113th nationally. Of New York state health plans, 12 ranked higher, while only five ranked below. These are statistics you just won't find in Mr. Russo's Úquot;basic facts.Úquot;
The above represent some examples of the crucial information Mr. Russo overlooks, to the detriment of the validity of his arguments for a freeze in the teacher salary schedule. Furthermore, his conclusion that Úquot;considering the harmful pattern of recent tax increases, this new contract should be revenue and cost neutralÚquot; is flawed. Mr. Russo doesn't prove the link between freezing teacher salaries and easing the tax burden of Port residents. Freezing teacher salaries may, in fact, have no significant impact on the economic stress of district residents, for the costs of under-funded but state and federally mandated programs and other educational expenses, including, but not limited to, major repairs of aging facilities may increase. But logic doesn't seem to matter to Mr. Russo as he asks teachers to agree to a salary freeze to help the Port community in these tough economic times. I'm curious whether Mr. Russo plans to convince the teachers in the other districts on Long Island to agree to the same freeze so that the vast majority of teachers who live in other communities will be able to meet their growing tax burden, rising gas prices, and the $500,000 median purchasing price of a home on Long Island.
Mr. Russo, you have an anti-teacher agenda, and no matter how you try to hide it with remarks of the Úquot;Some of my favorite family members are teachersÚquot; variety, you are fooling no one. Your lack of respect for the teachers of Port is epitomized by the following statement: Úquot;Let's be candid, most Port teachers fully recognize how many others would love to have their jobs.Úquot; We, the teachers of Port Washington, while proud to work with the talented students and dedicated, supportive parents of this community, are not so devoid of self-respect and the knowledge of our own tremendous professional worth that we don't realize how fortunate this district is, and other districts would be, to have us.
Paul D. Schreiber High School