(L. to r.) BOE President Larry Greenstein, NYS Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and Planning and Community Relations Committee Chair and BOE member Sue Sturman who led an interesting and informative discussion at the Daly Annex recently. BOE members in attendance, but not pictured were Sandy Ehrlich and Jean-Marie Posner.
On March 6, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel was the guest speaker at the BOE's Planning and Community Relations Committee meeting. A lively and informative discussion was led by committee chair and BOE member Sue Sturman.
Ms. Sturman handed out a list of priorities that the committee and guests wished to discuss with the assemblywoman. This article will report on two of the priorities, one is how to best work with the assemblywoman's office on an ongoing basis and mandate reform. Next week we will cover the rest of the topics discussed at the meeting.
Ms Schimel told the audience that she has an "open door" policy and works 24/7. She can be reached in her downstate office by calling 516-482-6966, faxing 516-482-6975, or emailing her at email@example.com. You can also "snail" mail her at 45 N. Station Plaza, Suite 203, Great Neck, NY 11021.
Interestingly, in her Albany office, she has a Schreiber graduate, Jordan, working for her as an intern who can be reached at 518-455-5192. You can reach her by fax at 518-455-4921.
She stressed that taxpayers should "make their voices heard," and informed the attendees that she comes from an advocacy, grassroots background herself. She said that she has been very successful "mixing and matching" people and urged everyone to find those who can "open doors for you."
She cautioned the board to not be "self-reliant," and to network with colleagues, even those from other districts, including the ones in Suffolk and Queens.
She also advised the group that they "can come up with bills" and she wants to hear their ideas on possible ones to bring to the table.
She said that emails are mostly complaints and that she prefers phone calls. She also mentioned that information will get to her if given to her staffers, with whom she communicates constantly.
A large part of the discussion at the meeting was dedicated to exploring the question of where the assembly stands on mandate relief. Ms. Sturman mentioned that the Port Washington school district has formed a Legislative Task Force to study various items relating to mandates that come before or are being considered by the assembly and the state Senate.
Ms. Schimel replied that while it's way too late for this year, she and her fellow legislators are working hard to "unstick" some of the onerous mandates placed on the districts and pointed out, however, that some mandates are good and created to protect the children or enhance their educational experience.
Ms. Sturman agreed that mandate reform should not be "too sweeping." However, she pointed out that while "experts should put the mandates in place," parents should have some input at some point in the process.
Ms. Schimel reminded the group that she and state Senator Craig Johnson are currently working on revising transportation mandates so that they are more tailor made and cost effective for the individual districts. She advised that the initiative is "getting legs."
Assemblywoman Schimel informed the group that Roger Tilles, the NYS Regent for our area, has asked for a list of mandates with an eye to helping the districts. She said that Port is lucky to have Mr. Tilles as its Regent and urged the board to communicate with him.
The legislator also noted that when a mandate is proposed the thinking of the legislators should be "great" and "how are we going to fund it?"
Interestingly, the federal mandates are less stringent than the state ones, she said.
She told the group that in terms of mandates, her domain tends to be more in the areas of health care, pension, energy and transportation. In the areas of curriculum and testing, Ms. Schimel suggested that board members communicate with the assembly's education sub-committee, adding that "regulations" instituted by the state education department do not come before the legislature.
She then asked that BOE President Larry Greenstein keep her informed and updated on the various issues in education in general and the Port school district specifically.
Ms. Sturman asked the assemblywoman to consider instituting a state mandate that would cap the amount of money a district was responsible for in a predicament when they have a shortfall that is out of its control, say in the pension fund.
She also thinks a cost/benefit analysis for the individual districts should be included in decisions regarding mandates, and the district should be informed on the amount of money it will cost them.
Another suggestion from Ms. Sturman is to have sunset clauses for mandates. Meaning, that at the end of a certain period of time, she would like to see the mandate evaluated by the state assembly and Senate and "only reauthorized with various statistics being considered."
The special education mandates were also discussed. The consensus was that this area should be left up to educators.
The Tier Five proposal by Governor Paterson was touched upon at the meeting. This mandate is part of Paterson's plan to change the pension benefit for state and local employees. For the teachers, it would restore the retirement age to 62 instead of 55 and require employees to keep contributing after their 10th year, which they currently do not have to do. For police and other public safety workers, Tier V would end the use of overtime to help calculate pensions for police and other public safety workers.
The assemblywoman reported that she has not heard anything yet about moving this proposed mandate forward.
She commented that there is pushback from the unions.
The school district's Director of Guidance Hank Hardy commented, however, that he finds this change in the pension structure less offensive than others because he feels as if he gets the money he puts into the pension back in the end.
Parent Judy Epstein astutely commented that the mandates fall victim to "inertia," and once "they're in, they don't get out."
(Ed.'s note: More mandate discussion and the rest of the topics in next week's issue.)