On May 17, 2005, 45 Long Island districts voted down school budgets. In June 2005 when the smoke cleared, 21 Long Island school districts including Port Washington were placed on contingency budgets by the taxpayers. As a New York State public school teacher with over 25 years experience, I know all too well that school boards are to blame for a lack of fiscal restraint. Some individuals will blame spiraling education costs on federal and state mandates alone. There are numerous costs that board members can control. Salary and benefit packages, class-size ratios, and supervisory personnel levels are just a few of these areas with large price tags.
Mr. Seiden in a spring 2005 election flier made reference to "fighting for taxpayers ... " while Mr. Marcellus made reference to being "fiscally responsible." I encourage the school board to address the issue of lifetime health benefits offered after five years of service and age 55. Thousands of New York State teachers must work 10 years of service to be entitled to lifetime health benefits at age 55. How fiscally accountable is the Port Washington school board which offers lifetime health benefits with only five years of service? How many residents get lifetime health benefits and let alone after only five years of service?
How fiscally accountable is it to have superintendents making salary packages in excess of Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and County Executive Suozzi? Why should Long Island superintendents be receiving additional compensation for miscellaneous expenses, fitness center memberships, and car allowances? What justifies such outlandish expenditures? It's not performance. When have school boards set performance standards before they enrich a superintendent or administrator with more perks and raises? A recent analysis found the average salary and benefits package for Long Island superintendents has risen 38 percent in value over a 6 year period.
An analysis of state audits shows that school boards are failing to rein in the high spending ways of their administrators. It remains to be seen how fiscally responsible the Port Washington school board will be with the ongoing teacher contract negotiations. As a point of reference, a 14 year Port Washington teacher with a master's degree plus 30 credits makes over $93,000 under the current contract.
Trish Quirk's (Feb. 16, 2006) "Letter to the Editor" spoke critically of the Port Washington Educational Assembly (PWEA) as not having educators. This is not true. I am one educator who belongs to the PWEA and is also a member of its advisory board. Having said this, I don't believe that educators are the sole determinant of educational policy as Ms. Quirk seems to imply. I believe that all community members can and should contribute to educational policy and issues. Might I remind Ms. Quirk that 47 Long Island budgets failed last May due to disgruntled taxpayers holding school board members' feet to the fire. These very taxpayers are fighting school boards' reluctance to seriously examine "teacher hours worked," "class-size caps" and "contract terms" which school boards alone control.
When a Rauch Foundation poll found that 95 percent of Long Islanders ranked high property taxes as a serious problem, it is understandable why organizations like the PWEA have been formed to demand fiscal accountability while supporting academic excellence to the community at large. And why not.