We'll soon be given a final school budget, which determines 60 percent of our property tax bill. Our school district has a history of always increasing its budget by more than inflation. Hopefully, this year, given the state of our economy, our school district will keep any increase below the rate of inflation. Where can costs be cut? Since most of our budget is for salaries and benefits, let me present some interesting facts from the NYS Education Dept. comparing our school district (SD) to all other Nassau SDs, based on the latest data.
The average Nassau SD has 25 teacher aides per 1,000 students. Port has 42 aides per 1,000 students, or 68 percent more than the average, at an increased cost of over $3 million per year. Nassau schools average 2.3 guidance counselors per 1,000 students; Port has 3.3 per 1,000, at a cost of $600,000 above average. The typical Nassau district has 83 classroom teachers per 1,000 students; Port has 88 per 1,000, at an incremental cost of $2.5 million/year. These data suggest we have 110 more employees than the Nassau average (adjusted for enrollment), at a cost well over $6 million a year. The PWEA has also identified hundreds of low-enrollment class sections at Weber and Schreiber (excluding special needs and AIS classes). Couldn't we reduce the overstaffing in these areas through attrition? If anyone wants to see this NYSED data, send a self-addressed envelope with the words "staffing data" to PWEA, PO Box 203, here in Port, or visit our website at www.PWEA.net.
With regard to educational quality, let's act on the contractual provision setting up a committee to examine merit pay for teachers. Paying for performance will encourage the best teachers to stay, while encouraging the poorest to retire or transfer. Prudent fiscal management and pay for performance helped make our country great. The penalties paid for the unnatural monopoly we have in public education are enormous and are borne by both students and taxpayers. Let's hope our school board and superintendent have the courage to give us a budget that's both educationally and fiscally sound.
Frank J. Russo, Jr.
Port Washington Educational Assembly