As promised, here is Part II of our write-up of the meeting of the Planning and Community Relations Committee held March 6, at which NYS Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel was the guest speaker.
Another state mandate that was briefly mentioned for possible reform was the Wicks Law, which has to do with multiple contract requirements for construction work on public buildings. Currently, districts are required to award separate contracts, which includes electrical, plumbing, HVAC and a general contractor for the remainder of the scope of a project. Gov. David Paterson proposes to release schools from this requirement and to raise the threshold for avoiding this wasteful practice to $10 million for New York City, while leaving the suburban New York counties at $1.5 million and $500,000 for the rest of the state. The threshold is currently $500,000. Ms. Schimel advised that the latest discussion puts the threshold at $1.4 million.
The assemblywoman also spoke about the upcoming school year's state aid. She said, "Although it is still too early in budget negotiations for me to confirm specifics on school aid, it is my hope the assembly will exceed, as they did last year, the state aid requirements put forth in the Governor's budget plan. It was the assembly, most notably Speaker Sheldon Silver, that ensured Port Washington schools had its aid package, in total, restored."
As far as the federal stimulus package goes, Ms. Schimel said that it will mitigate cuts as some of it is earmarked for healthcare and education. "It should be used to keep things running," she noted, adding that "it's a one shot deal," and that "reform is crucial."
She spoke about the importance of education to the assembly, especially in preparing our youngsters for good jobs.
Regarding the property tax caps that have been bandied about for a while, Ms. Schimel informed the group that they had been vetted in conference, but at this point in time they will not be moving forward. She noted that Suffolk County wants the cap.
In the area of tax relief, she described the current STAR program as a "patchwork system."
She stressed that's it's crucial for everyone to look at the way "we fund education."
The subject of testing was discussed.
BOE member Sandy Ehrlich said teachers tend to teach to the tests because the results become the focus of the district and do have a bearing on real estate prices. She pointed out, however, that the importance of and number of tests "deflect the focus" of education, which is to give the youngsters a love of learning.
It was also noted that testing takes away from instructional time and additionally costs the district money because the teachers are required to take time from the classroom to train and score the tests, which requires paying substitute teachers.
Board members spoke about the No Child Left Behind Federal mandate, whose results are questionable in addition to being unfunded and expensive. However, they also pointed out that New York State currently requires more testing than NCLB.
Mr. Greenstein indicated he believed the reason for testing is to evaluate if the school is making yearly progress and stated that you can get the same statistical data by sampling, by testing 15 to 20 percent of the students every year.
Assemblywoman Schimel suggested getting information out by educating legislators, the state education department and maybe even the Regent. Ms. Schimel advised that the assembly does not talk about testing specifically, discussing only unfunded mandates as a whole.
Assemblywoman Schimel advised that she does not sit on the Assembly's Education Committee; consequently, her knowledge regarding district concerns may be limited. In a follow up email Ms. Schimel informed the board that the Long Island contact person from the education committee is Catherine Nolan, who chairs it. She is in Queens.
Ms. Schimel stressed that there needs to be a better dialogue with the legislators and the state education department, pointing out that information is generally conveyed to the assembly by the Regents.
Assemblywoman Schimel also addressed the Outliers Bill, which relates to the amount of state aid districts receive.
Mr. Greenstein explained that Port's state aid is determined by our wealth ratio, which is determined by the code taxpayers put on their New York State Tax return. The state then adds up all the income.
Continuing, he said that Port's median income is substantially lower than our mean income and more accurately reflects our community and our needs.
The bill would take away 1 percent of the top and bottom half of the reported income in a district, and figure out the state aid from there. Ms. Schimel advised that there are a percentage of people making a lot of money and that when you take them out of the mix, you see that the great majority of people are moderate earners.
Mr. Greenstein responded that our aid is determined by our wealth ratio, which is determined by the code you put on your New York State Tax return. The state then adds up all the income reported. When this is done, Port Washington's median income is substantially low. He thinks they should be using our median income rather than our mean income as it would much more accurately reflect our community and our needs.
He further refined his point by stating that if you arbitrarily remove the highest and lowest incomes you still may have extreme wealth concentrated in a very small number of households thereby skewing the overall wealth of the community upwards.
Ms. Schimel asked him to email her with this information.
She reported that she and Regent Roger Tilles will be discussing the Outliers Bill at a meeting soon,
Jean-Marie Posner raised the matter of the $1.3 mil. in construction aid the state owes the school district from the last decade.
Ms. Schimel replied that in 2008, she proposed a bill pertaining to legalizing actions of the Port Washington union free school district with respect to certain building aid contracts, which passed in the assembly house on June 23, 2008.
She reintroduced the bill again this year on January 7, 2009 and it was referred to the Education Committee. She said "It is my hope that the bill will be passed this year in the assembly and the state senate.
It was noted that Dr. Gordon is working with State Senator Craig Johnson to move this matter forward.