Over the past year I and others have met with members of the board of education (BOE) and administration, with school district employees, and with parents with different views. These meetings were purposeful, civil and helped reduce the distrust that often arises between people with opposing views. We were hopeful the BOE would come up with a budget we could support--- with an increase no higher than the 3.6 percent inflation increase. For these reasons we're disappointed in seeing a proposed increase of 6 percent. Making matters worse is the fact the actual increase in spending is even higher, because $1.6 million in roof repairs will come from our fund balance (i.e., emergency savings account), to be replenished with future taxes, so it doesn't show up as part of this budget increase. In addition, debt service is lower by $750,000. So spending, excluding debt service, is really up 8 percent.
Where could we save money? First, by making sure the new contract increases the amount teachers pay for health insurance. Under the current contract, individual plans costing $8000 require teachers to only pay $400, while taxpayers pay $7,600. For family coverage at $15,000, teachers only pay $1,800 while taxpayers pay $13,200. We must condition any teacher salary increase on getting teachers to pay more than they now pay for health insurance. Four Nassau districts now require teachers to pay 20 percent. This item accounts for a quarter of our budget increase.
Second, is the issue of getting Schreiber teachers to teach classes 20 hours per week as per the contract, instead of 17 hours they now teach, to save $1.5 million per year. If students need more tutoring, let's require teachers to stay until 4 p.m. two days/wk in return for any pay increase. Teachers could use their current prep time for tutoring, and do prep work after 3 p.m.
Finally, Weber has over 600 class sections, excluding Special Needs, AIS, ESL, PE, band, chorus, homeroom and resource room classes. Of these 600 sections, most have 19 or fewer students. By consolidating some of these into classes with 22 to 24 students, we can eliminate 50 sections and save $1 million per year. This can also be done at Schreiber, but to a lesser extent. However, recent remarks by BOE members indicate such steps will not even be considered, even though most studies show no adverse academic impact at these grade levels in going from 18 students to 23 students/class.
I ask our BOE to please lower the increase by 2 to 3 percent and negotiate a contract fair to the community, which should include a substantial increase in teacher contributions for health insurance, a salary freeze this year with modest future increases over the current average salary of $90,000, plus $30,000 in benefits. We'll conduct another public forum on the school budget at the library, on Thursday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. To get on our mailing list, send a note to PO Box 203, here in Port.
Frank J. Russo, Jr.
President, Port Washington Educational Assembly