I recently attended the Roslyn Board of Education meeting. The audience was packed with concerned parents and students. Also in attendance were many district employees, all wearing bright blue shirts, saying "Support the RTA."
The Superintendent, in response to a request made at a previous Board of Ed meeting, presented a zero percent increase budget - which included increasing current class size, a reduction of academic elective classes for the high school, and the elimination of nine teaching positions. These cuts show lack of effort to weed out unnecessary spending, and seem designed to inflame the community into accepting a bad budget.
I believe that proposed cuts are the wrong way to reduce the budget, and more importantly, they do not address the fundamental, underlying financial challenges we are facing and will continue to face for years to come. Some of the biggest budget problems stem from a poorly negotiated contract (on the tax payer's behalf) with the employees of this district. The Board of Ed must renegotiate this contract and put into place realistic benefits in all future contracts. The other big budget problem is the way the budget is presented. It is unclear with no way of really knowing the actual costs of programs.
Enrollment in the Roslyn School district as of January 1, 2009 is 3,417 students. Our current 2008 -2009 budget is $94,156,392 or $27,555 per student.
Three years ago, the budget was $85 million for the SAME number of students.
This represents a $10 million increase in just three years. Why did the budget increase $10 million in just three years?
It is up to the current board and board President Dani Klein (who was elected three years ago, and has served as president of the board for the past two years) to address this unacceptable increase.
Of concern is:
Our well paid Superintendent (his salary is approximately $265,000) accepted a contractual raise and retroactive performance bonus of approximately $44,000. Yet when asked, he refused to relinquish either extra payment in spite of the fact that many of his peers from other districts have willingly done so. Perhaps if he gave back his bonus, we would not have to increase class size, or reduce electives at the high school, or lay off as many teachers as proposed at the meeting.
The Roslyn teachers, supervisors and other members of the union enjoy one of the best and most expensive medical insurance plans available (NYS Empire Plan) - yet over the past five years, they have contributed incrementally only 2 percent more per year for coverage. The cost for these benefits has increased in excess of 10 percent per year during this same time period. The net result is that the Roslyn school district, and the taxpayers, has absorbed a near 50 percent increase in the net cost of health benefits in the past five years. This has had an adverse impact on the school budget. Shouldn't the board implement health insurance programs that are less costly, or at the very least, increase the employee contribution? The money saved from a less expensive health insurance plan could help maintain class size as well as retain classroom teachers.
The other big-ticket item that needs to be addressed is the funding of employee pensions. The board of ed is advised annually of the district's pension-funding obligations by NY State based on a three-year average of the invested portfolio performance. Unless you have been living under a rock, we all are aware that all pension funds now have a much lower value. In fact, the district has been advised that we will face a significant rise in our 2010, 2011, and 2012 pension-funding requirements. Where is this money going to come from? You and me - unless the board of education finds meaningful ways to save money in the current and future budgets.
If we are going to eliminate positions, perhaps they should be at the administrative level, as opposed to classroom positions. Do we need so many assistant superintendents, a Dean, so many guidance counselors at the middle school and high school, and clerical positions in the central office?
Before we eliminate class electives from the high school, shouldn't we look at expensive optional programs such as Marching Band? If you take the time to actually read the budget on line at Roslynschools.org/business/business.htm, you will find listed in many different line items that the cost for Marching Band is approximately $150,000. There may be other expenses for Marching Band included in general categories such as Supplies, which by the way, tallies almost $1.3 million dollars.
We will never break the cycle of excessive school taxes, which represent 65 percent of our real estate taxes until the teachers union is wiling to step up and make concessions that are reflective of what other unions across the country are doing. The UAW, police and fire departments are all working with their employers to find ways to reduce contract costs. We, the Roslyn taxpayers, must band together and demand that the board members represent what is in our best fiscal and educational interests without sacrificing quality education for our children. The Roslyn BOE must make structural changes to the budget, and not rely on using the rainy day funds as a quick fix to our long-term problems.
While the parents who attended Thursday night's meeting expressed concern about changes that will affect their children, it seemed that the sea of blue shirts were concerned with maintaining the status quo. The escalating costs of the union contracts must be addressed or we will not be able to afford small class sizes and enrichment programs because all of our tax dollars will contractually have to be spent on union health insurance, pensions and let's not forget bonuses.