(Ed.'s note: The following letter was sent to the board of education and is printed here at the writer's request.)
To the board of education,
Congratulations to Patrick Foye on his election to the BOE, thanks to Dean Nardone for the countless hours he has dedicated to our schools and best wishes for the new board. As we prepare for another school year, I offer the following comments on voting rights, the teachers' contract and the exclusionary practices of the PTAs.
Port is an economically diverse community with low, middle and upper income families. Most lower income families appreciate the degree to which Port's wealthier families subsidize their children's education. The school tax on a small house in Manorhaven is a fraction of what the district spends educating one child. Opening another polling place at Sousa or Manorhaven's village hall would make it easier for lower income voters to get to the polls, yet the BOE has declined to do so. I suspect this is due to a fear that lower income voters (1) won't vote along the same lines and (2) will consider the teachers salaries as being very good already.
Teachers earn about the median income in this community where a large portion of the population is wealthy. That is fair. Resentment of teachers' salary packages has been growing across Long Island for decades. The fact that a few other districts pay more doesn't mean that Port should too. Even if salaries were frozen, we would still be offering a great deal for teachers when their benefits packages are considered.
In contrast, it is obviously not fair and equitable to ask low and middle income parents to work 60 hours a week, 48 to 50 weeks a year, so that teachers can teach 18 hours a week and then go on vacation for 16 weeks a year. Most working parents would prefer to have more time with their kids themselves. Many feel that they could better provide the personalized attention that their children need if they didn't have to work so long to pay school taxes.
At the March 27 Community Forum held by the school district, I heard a number of working mothers, obviously in professional or managerial positions, who were not afraid to constructively criticize the schools. That open discussion of strengths and weaknesses, which was dramatically different from any PTA meetings that I've attended, defines another division in the community.
The PTAs' agenda have far more to do with defending the territory, rights and privileges of stay-at-home moms than with promoting the education of children. Over the 10 years that I've had children in Port's elementary schools, the PTA has been the biggest obstacle to my involvement in our school. As my youngest child moves up to Weber this year, I hope that I will never again have to depend upon a PTA for information on school activities.
There are other concerns with the PTAs. First, by carefully nurturing PTAs from a narrow segment of society, then isolating themselves within those social circles, teachers have developed a delusional view of wage and benefit levels. Second, as public institutions, it is totally inappropriate for schools to be taking sides in "mommy wars" between stay-at-home moms and working parents. Third, it is inappropriate for schools to be hosting PTAs that clearly act as PACs for the teachers' union.
Teachers' inflated salary expectations come from the limited view that they get in that closed PTA community. The teachers look at the PTA moms and think "If she gets a $2,000,000 house and a $50k car for doing that, I deserve at least as much." For their part, the PTAs look at the teachers and think, "If I had to work, I'd want to be home by 5 p.m. and have 16 weeks vacation too." With this dialog dominating their perception of the community, it is hard to believe that this group can (1) recognize and respond to the diverse needs of Port's children or (2) act in partnership with working parents.
If we had exit polls with demographic profiles of who voted for and against the budget, I think that they'd show divisions other than one between parents with school age children and retirees on fixed incomes. There is another division between working parents and traditional bourgeois families. That division is over different ideas of fairness. In the end, both working parents and soccer moms may have voted for the budget simply because they needed the late buses that were cut under last years contingency budget. That is not a mandate for the BOE to spend freely.
Robert T. Schill