(Ed's note: The following letter was sent to BOE President Larry Greenstein and is printed here at the writer's request.)
I was heartened to read the following statement that you made in your letter addressed to Dear Neighbors, that was published in the January 2009 issue of "Port Advances." You said, "We all know that the economic downturn has taken its toll on our community as well as elsewhere. These are difficult times for all of us, and together we must face some tough choices. We will continue to review every program for not only educational effectiveness but for cost effectiveness as well. To paraphrase President-elect Obama, it is not a question of bigger or smaller. It is a question of smarter."
Although you do not indicate if it is your goal and the board's to reduce our current level of annual spending, which is set at $122 million, or if you are referring to the size of next year's budget, I believe that when you refer to "smarter" spending, you are clearly saying that there are ways that we can deliver the same high quality of education to our children, but at less cost than we are now incurring. If this is not what you are saying, then your statement is simply empty rhetoric.
Yes, our nation and our community are now experiencing the worst economic times in 80 years. As a consequence, the governor of our state has ordered all of his agencies, including health and education, to reduce their spending by at least 15 percent for next year. The mayor of New York City and our own county executive have also issued similar orders for drastic cuts in their budgets for next year. I would expect that our school district would follow the budgetary examples for next year set by those higher levels of government, but as of yet, there has been no hint from you if this is going to be the case.
Our school spending could be reduced by 15 percent, but I know that this would be much too much of a drastic goal for you, our board and our superintendent of schools to ever contemplate achieving. However, only a 2 or 3 percent reduction in spending ($2.5 - $3.5 million) should be easy enough for you to accomplish through "smarter" spending. I am sure that if you and our board made the effort, cost reductions in that range could easily be found. After all, 80 percent of our budget is made up of personnel costs. The average teacher now costs us approximately $125,000 per year and we now employ, I believe, almost 487 teachers. So, to start with, I would suggest that the most obvious area of the budget to look into to achieve just a modest reduction in spending, would be the number of teachers on our payroll.
I plan to attend the board's town hall-style budget meeting on Jan. 27, at which time, I intend to ask you what progress you have made toward drafting a budget for next year that is at least $2.5 - $3.5 million less than our current budget. I do not think that my budget suggestion is at all unreasonable. After all, if state, city and county spending for next year must be reduced by 15 percent or thereabouts, how can it not be possible for our school spending to not be reduced by a much lesser percentage next year?