A teacher once said to me, "School districts are not about education, they are all about money." Nowhere is this truer, than in the Port Washington School District, the mother of all money machines.
Neither the State of New York, the Board of Education nor the administration will contain or restrain the money machine. Only the people of Port Washington can by voting No to the budget on May 16.
On March 17, the New York Times reported that teachers in Florida and Ohio were being investigated, fired and sent to prison for fraud in connection with continuing education courses for teachers. But not in the PWSD where teachers were given substantial pay-raises in the 1990s for taking summer vacations to Europe and Asia and Mickey Mouse courses like aerobics and basket weaving at the local Teachers Center costing the people of Port Washington millions of dollars. The former president of the PW teachers union publicly admitted at a school board meeting that the teachers union ran their own salary upgrade program, rather than the school board, and if the community did not like it, "It was too bad." The former asst. superintendent for personnel also admitted that the provisions of the teachers' contract designed to avoid abuse of this program were not being followed. Because of its past abuse and the program being conducive to continued abuse, it should be eliminated. Larry Teitz, former president of the board of education, publicly called for the elimination of this program. He was right. Teachers are well paid in this town and also receive cost of living and longevity increases. The continued cost of millions of dollars annually to fund additional salary increases through this post degree program should be ended.
Interestingly, no teacher ever cried against the abuses of this program which has structurally and institutionally inflated the cost of education in Port Washington by tens of millions of dollars over the years. Teachers only cry out when they want a contract. In fact, teachers already have the best contract in the world - tenure and a state law that says in the absence of a new contract, the last one will continue in perpetuity. That's why the teachers union will never give in and never give back.
Fueling the money machine further is an attitude of arrogance on the part of the board and the administration. When the school district was asked a few years ago how much it spent on travel and conferences, the administration responded: "What do you mean by travel and conferences?" Little wonder the board of education and administration last year engaged in a scorched-earth, scare-tactic campaign to pass the budget, which failed twice, rather than intelligent economic planning.
For more than 15 years I have written about detailed ways in which the Port Washington School District can intelligently restrain and reduce expenditures while increasing quality education, including the preparation of a five year long-range financial plan which the school district itself has never done. In my opinion, the school budget is grossly over-inflated, fueling an ossified bureaucracy and unions with give-aways that are unjustifiable. It is the unjustified costs of running the school district that are to blame, and nothing else.
In the early days of July 1863, at Gettysburg, PA, Joshua Camberlain, commanding officer of the 4th Regiment from Maine, told his men at Little Round Top, "You are the flank. You are the end of the line". The boys from Maine knew what he was saying. There was no one else to turn to. It was up to them. If they did not hold the line, the Confederate army would encircle the Union forces and win the Battle of Gettysburg. The boys from Maine held the line and the Union prevailed.
To the people of Port Washington, I say, You are the flank. You are the end of the line. There is no one else to turn to.
Steven M. Schlussel