As a public school teacher with four decades of educational experience, I encourage community residents to examine the website seethroughny.net as a starting point in understanding the soaring costs of education on Long Island. One can easily view teacher and superintendent contracts which enormously impact spending. When one realizes that between 1998 and 2006, the consumer index rose 27 percent while there was a 72 percent rise in the Long Island property tax levy, soaring educator salaries were the primary cause of our budgetary largesse.
Under the current PWSD teacher contract, raises were given on February 1, 2008, July 1, 2008 and February 1, 2009. These three substantial raises tied in with yearly step increases bring yearly salary increases of over 7 percent. These increases are excessive even during a good economy. When settled, the administration praised the current teacher contract as being fair to the teachers and community.
Dr. Gordon (Port News: 3/26/09) recently praised the board of education and the staff for working so hard on fiscal prudence, while Ms. Ehrlich (Port News: 4/2/09) stated that our school budgets have been extremely lean through all the "good" years we have recently had. I strongly debate these views. In 2008, 242 employees made over $100,000 with 63 making in excess of $120,000. How can we sustain paying top administrators $290,000 and $192,000 while the governor and county executive make considerably less? How long can we sustain paying a top teacher $144,000 plus $25,000 in retirement and health benefits? How long can we sustain paying yearly salary and step increases totaling over 7 percent?
Anyone driving along Main Street, Shore Road or Manorhaven Boulevard can easily see the effects of our recession with the numerous empty storefronts. The current recession has even taken down the Knickerbocker Yacht Club after a 135-year run. Many of its older members moved away to states with less burdensome school taxes, no doubt. A popular bakery on Manorhaven Boulevard folded just two weeks ago.
State Senator Craig Johnson spoke recently of shared pain in the finalizing of the state budget. The Port Washington Library shared that pain by presenting us with a zero increase budget. Why hasn't the school district followed suit and offered the taxpayers a zero increase in school spending? Why haven't the superintendent, administrator and teacher contracts been opened for renegotiation to help share the pain? Why do administrators and school board members blame "unfunded mandates" for uncontrolled spending while the primary culprit is excessive staff salaries. A soaring achievement and fiscal prudence necessitates a zero increase in school spending. Anything less than this demands a no vote on the May 19 school budget.