I was very saddened, as I am sure many others were too, to read the recent front page story in our local newspapers about our middle school teacher who is accused of having defrauded our school district out of approximately $2,800 in overtime pay. Perhaps, someday, we will learn what compelled this obviously bright and accomplished math teacher to do what she is alleged to have done. I was also saddened, but not surprised, to find that our superintendent of schools had taken the occasion of the breaking story to propagandize, through a press release, about imagined financial accomplishments of his and our school board's.
By first deciding to legally prosecute this teacher over the alleged $2,800 loss and then by splashing the story on the front pages of our local newspapers, instead of quietly giving the teacher the opportunity to make restitution, our school administration obviously opted to send a severe warning message to all school district employees. I am sure that they received the message loud and clear. I also believe that our administration attempted to convince us that under its watchful eye, the sorts of financial wrongdoings that were recently uncovered in school districts like Roslyn and William Floyd, cannot happen in Port.
In his press release, our superintendent refers to a "zero tolerance culture," which I assume he had a heavy hand in creating. He also refers to a District Fraud, Waste and Abuse Task Force established by him and the school board in 2003. He then goes on to say that this task force "has been aggressive in ferreting out wrongdoing." Elsewhere in the press release, our superintendent labels his actions and the board's in connection with the math teacher case, as "a paradigm of how a district can proactively ferret out fraud or abuse and preserve the public trust and taxpayer funds." Since we all want to prevent any financial fraud from taking place in our school district, I will not take issue in this letter with the administration's decision to prosecute the teacher and to publicize the case. However, to suggest to our community that through the functioning of some task force, he has been aggressive and successful in ferreting out financial waste and abuse in our school district, is a flight of fancy on the part of our superintendent. If this newspaper allowed me the space, I could fill pages describing some of the wasteful and abusive policies and practices in our school district that cost us tens of millions of dollars each year. To begin with, why was an expensive math teacher earning overtime pay for serving detention duty? Can't this function be carried out by a much less expensive teachers aide, a clerk or some other lower level employee?
The following is a list of just some of the policies and practices in our school district that I believe are wasteful or abusive, and that unnecessarily cost our community tens of millions of dollars each year:
1. Paying for increased teacher salaries based on post graduate courses that were taken, like Self Esteem 1, Self Esteem 2, Basket Weaving, Mud Pie Making and the like.
2. Failure to require our high school teachers to spend 20 hours each five-day week in classroom teaching.
3. Utilization of "modified block" scheduling in our high school, which appears to benefit a small group of gifted students, but which allows the great majority of students to have excessive free time. (Port Washington is the only school district on Long Island to utilize this method of class scheduling.)
4. Failure to consolidate under-enrolled classes (non-special ed classes).
5. Failure to weed out under-enrolled advanced placement or honors courses.
6. Failure to restrict the number of advanced placement or honors courses.
7. The employment of seven assistant principals, along with a secretary and clerical assistance for each.
8. Granting annual across-the-board salary increases to our teachers.
9. Granting annual across-the-board salary increases to our teachers in excess of any increase in the cost of living.
10. Failure to require our teachers to pay for at least 50 percent of their health insurance costs.
11. Excessive sick time by teachers.
12. The employment of "double dipping" (retired) assistant principals and teachers.
I have been following Port school district finances for some years now and cannot recall a single example of a significant wasteful or abusive practice that has been identified and halted by our superintendent or his task force. Unfortunately, I estimate that at the rate our superintendent and his task force are ferreting out fraud, waste and abuse, our district's current annual budget of $110 million should grow to $150 million four years from now and should reach $200 million, eight years from now. When we reach those levels of spending, our superintendent may consider them "soaring achievements," but they could prove to be disastrous for Port Washington.