As a public school teacher with four decades of teaching experience, I have followed Port school district finances for many years now. Often, school officials claim that our exorbitant school taxes are due to a lack of adequate state aid and unfunded state mandates. They will present bloated school budgets while pitching that their requests are "lean" and "bear-bones" with minimal impact on our expenses. In reality, our soaring school taxes are directly attributable to uncontrolled spending by our school district. Teacher salaries and overly generous class size policies are the driving forces behind soaring school taxes. As a teacher, I certainly advocate for just salary increases but not for the excessive percentages we currently offer.
Port Washington teachers will currently get a 12.3 percent raise over four years, in addition to automatic step increases, which bring the average overall four-year salary increase to a whopping 23 percent. Any clubs, coaching, test scoring, etc. would add additional remuneration. When one considers that the PWSD has 110 more employees than the Nassau County average (adjusted for enrollment) and our administrators are pursuing foreign language study in the elementary schools, one wonders when will the excessive spending end? We certainly don't have an excessive number of special education students to merit such staffing levels.
The actions of the current administration show a disregard to any meaningful curtailing of spending while taxes have driven seniors from their homes, put enormous strains on middle class families and have contributed to the growing exodus of young people who can't afford to live where they grew up. I mention just a few expenditures which merit disclosure. The PWSD paid $8,000 in moving expenses for one employee, hired a creative arts director, reduced middle school class enrollments to under 20 students, allows many teachers to accrue 20 sick days per year, offers more Advanced Placement classes than only one other local district and is well above the Nassau County average.
While I don't advocate going back to classes of 40 or 50 students where many of us were able to excel in, our class sizes (excluding early childhood classes) can be increased with no recognizable detriment. Interestingly, each school district controls their class sizes and teacher/student ratios are not mandated outside of special education settings. I must ask, haven't we functioned well for many years without the recent addition of more administrative positions? Perhaps these days with a weakening economy, real estate values plummeting and job outsourcing, people are convinced more than ever that the PWSD must do more with less. Last year, Dr. Murphy, the Sachem superintendent, came in with 1.5 percent budget increase and almost no increase in school taxes. He is proposing another 1.5 percent budget increase and no tax increase for the 2008-2009 year. Sachem, a very large district, works under the same state unfunded mandates as other districts. Why can't we follow his lead in Port and do a little more with a little less?
Why can't the PWSD examine meaningful inter-district purchasing or district merging as Center Moriches and East Moriches in Suffolk County are considering after school consultants claimed they would save more than 25 percent on residential bills? Why must we rehire employees on an interim basis or as consultants, if in fact we already have the best employees on staff? What justifies offering an excessive number of Advanced Placement courses as highlighted in Newsday recently? Why offer a 20-day per year sick benefit while most New York State public school teachers get 10 days per year? Why increase the current draft budget for substitute teachers from $700,000 to $1.2 million? Before considering your vote on the school budget scheduled for Tuesday, May 20, I encourage interested individuals to check out the following two websites to compare 2006-07 staffing ratios for New York State school districts (http://emse32.nysed.gov/irts/pmf/2006-07/home.shtml or www.pwea.net).