Several teachers responded to my letter which presented facts in support of a freeze in the teacher salary schedule, while continuing the 3 - 4 percent salary ("step") increases most receive annually regardless of performance. Many residents have privately expressed disappointment in the tone taken and silliness of many statements made in these teachers' letters - e.g., criticizing me for "not mentioning the salaries I quoted were 'before tax' salaries." In any case, let me present even more data in support of a freeze: over the past 10 years the inflation index (CPI) for our area increased by 31 percent. But over the same 10 years proposed school budgets were up 82 percent and school taxes up 90 percent, or three times inflation. Clearly, school costs are out of control.
Some Port teachers want a contract comparable to Manhasset's new contract because they think we're "comparable" districts. But, in truth, we aren't "comparable" at all:
(1) Average home value: Port - $778,000; Manhasset - $1,118,000
(2) Average family income: Port - $129,000; Manhasset - $205,000
(3) Total income/pupil: Port - $341,000; Manhasset - $580,000
The only reason a "fair" contract has not been signed is because of the unfairness - some would call it "greediness" - of the Port Teachers Association. "Fairness" involves two factors: affordability of the community to pay even higher taxes, and market data suggesting what is required to be paid to attract quality teachers. Since we've long had well over 100 applicants per open teacher position, as anyone in the real world of competition knows, this suggests little reason to raise salaries further. This is even more true when you're locked into a system where the worst teacher gets paid as much as the best, and where a teacher gets perpetual tenure after three years, which means keeping the job regardless of performance. Let's be honest and acknowledge what I've heard for decades from "insiders" - many teachers got their jobs because they knew the "right" person. To suggest, as one teacher did, that few of our 5,000 teacher applicants are well qualified is sheer arrogance. With Port students averaging in the middle third of Nassau districts on standard tests, I suspect our teachers, as good as they are, are no better than in other districts with lower salaries. I'm sure most Port teachers appreciate the fine position they have. I know there are thousands of well qualified New York City teachers who wish they could work here, and it's disappointing to see Port teachers make derogatory remarks about New York City teachers.
In recent years we've paid tax increases at three times the rate of inflation. Port taxpayers need a break. It'd be nice to see a reduction for a change - and it is possible. I respectfully ask our teachers to please stop this selfish nonsense and agree to a truly fair contract with step increases but no across-the-board increases. And, if you truly support excellence in education, agree to pay a higher share of the $45,000/teacher health insurance costs over the next three years, with the savings going to the best 300 teachers in the form of bonuses.
Finally, on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Library, the Port Washington Educational Assembly will be holding a public forum to discuss important issues relevant to next year's school budget and related issues. We'll present our view of the budget outlook, and have time for community questions and comments. If you support our objectives and want to get on our mailing list, just drop us a note at PO Box 203, Port Washington.
Frank J. Russo Jr.
President, Port Washington Educational Assembly