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Letter: Roslyn Needs a Wake-Up Call

What is going to take for the Roslyn community to wake up and realize the Roslyn School District  (RSD) finances are out of control, and that the current Roslyn School Board (RSB) is following a path that is clearly not in the best interest of the so called “silent and apparently apathetic” majority of us who are considered middle income, and who are financially stretched to our limit.  What can I say when less than 20 of you (out of an excess of 16,000 eligible RSD eligible voters) even bothered to show up at the past five RSD budget hearings when your tax dollars are being spent.

Let me make it very clear. This is not about the quality of RSD education. I, like I’m sure the overwhelming majority of you, have seen my three daughters receive a wonderful Roslyn education, and want our community’s children to have a similar experience. This is all about the regrettable actions of the current RSB and Roslyn Central Administration (RCA) whose lack of transparency, whose use of financial sleight of hand tricks, whose unbridled and unjustified spending, whose selective responsiveness to a small and vocal clique of wealthy residents who want Roslyn schools to emulate private schools regardless of the cost involved, and whose failure to reach out to the community for their participation, support, and feedback will leave our community in financial handcuffs for years to come. Look at your real estate tax bill!

How many of you complain daily about the fact your real estate taxes (of which school taxes comprise approximately 70 percent of the total) are out of control and that you will never be able to sell your house at a reasonable price with that tax burden scaring away prospective Roslyn home buyers?   Has your memory faded that quickly in five years about the RSD/Tassone $12 million theft debacle because the community relied on a RSB to watch those responsible for the school district’s purse strings and that RSB failed the community miserably?  We need a RSB that feels our financial pain and hears our pleas for financial relief.

How can you complain about the impossibly high school taxes in Roslyn when your failure to attend the aforementioned meetings smacks of personal apathy and wanting to pass the buck?  Do you think it is fair to assume a few of your die hard neighbors who diligently attend these meetings, and who ask the tough questions on your behalf should carry this difficult responsibility for the remaining 16,000 of you?   Think again! Do you think it okay for these same few brave souls to get verbally berated at these meetings for their concerns about high property/school tax by a clique of affluent parents who think that saying no to financially reckless education spending is tantamount to community treason.  

Is it not a wake-up call for each of you that the current RSB is trying to push through a proposed RSD school budget, which includes a budget and tax levy increase and which computes to an average spending of $28,000 plus per student? Would you be more concerned when the official budget literature intentionally uses budget-to-budget nomenclature (because it artificially distorts the true school district budget proposed spending and revenues) when the RCA knows the community would be shocked and appalled if they knew that the proposed 2010-2011 budget is $4 million higher than the current year (2009-2010) projected actual spending.  

If that doesn’t shock or concern you then what about the fact that the 2011-2012 budget is expected to rise in excess of $4 million in additional hard cost spending (as per the RSD’s business official’s presentation made last Thursday night at the “public budget review” meeting) because of health insurance premium increases (projected 14-17 percent), significant increases in funding of teacher and non-professional pension obligations, significant payroll increases due to the recently approved teacher’s contract ratification, and the fact that the Obama Stimulus education funding package administered through New York State will likely not repeat itself after this fiscal year.

Is it not a wake-up call to you to know that successive RSD RCAs have snuck through in excess of $15 million of fluff in annual budgets and conveniently transferred those unspent fluff dollars over to reserve accounts when the public was thinking about their summer plans. The audacity of the current RSB and RCA to thump their collective chests and say look what we did when justifying this blatant separation of your tax dollars from your checkbooks as a build up for financial concerns that have recently exploded on the RSD financial budgetary scene is reprehensible.  That is your tax dollars collected under one pretense and now being used as a sleight of hand trick by the current RSB and RCA to artificially soften the financial tax below of the proposed budget.  Let me make it very clear. Instead of this RSB’s having the courage to lower the global expense of the RSD educational model this RSB is now using reserves to feather the financial freefall.  When challenged about this regrettable tactic the RSB’s response was basically, “we are in better financial shape than our peer school districts, and this community should be appreciative.” Maybe I am missing something. First they overtax us and then they want praise for using these ill-gotten funds to smooth out “meteoric school tax rate increases instead of cutting expenses and forcing the high priced RSD RCA to manage more efficiently and to demand greater employee productivity immediately.  

I understand that everyone is not a math major but that doesn’t mean you can’t attend these RSD budget review meetings and make your opinion count.  Many of you are not aware that the current RSB ratified a new contract with the RTA (the Roslyn Teacher’s Association).  The recently expired five-year contract was negotiated by Frank Tassone and the current RTA leader and put RTA members at the highest levels of compensation and benefits, and the shortest work schedule in Nassau County.  That contract ran almost two years past its expiration date.  The RTA leadership knew that they couldn’t get another “sweet heart” contract in light of the global recession and the particularly acute financial conditions on Long Island so they extended the life of the prior year contract by two years by lengthy negotiations.  

A couple of highlights from the recent RTA contract renewal that most of you are not aware of:

• The RTA received retroactive pay raises for the two years there was no contract renewal in place; and

• The RTA increased its health insurance contribution by 4 percent in each of the next two years (the final two years of this four-year contract) for a total of 8 percent increase when the Empire Plan (the RTA’s medical plan) expects its costs over the next two years to go up in excess of 24-26 percent (which means the school district will absorb an estimated net increase in benefits cost of 16-18 percent for one of the most expensive health insurance programs in NYS).  

The RSD deserves an “F” for its failure to share this information with the community – and contrary to what the RSD would like you to believe, this contract ratification was not a home run for Roslyn. The Port Washington SD recently posted on its official website a comparison of its recent teacher contract negotiation with the recent RTA contract renewal result – you judge for yourself.  

At last Thursday night’s meeting several Roslyn residents implored the RSB to be sensitive to the needs of the community, and at a minimum, to have no budget rate increase in actual dollars and to reduce proposed budget expenses commensurate with the known prospective year contract cost increases from the RTA contract renewal.  Given the fact that the RSD budget is 75-80 percent direct labor, pension contributions and benefits expense it would mean consideration by the current RSB to reduce labor-related expense through selective increase of class size. We justified our request by reminding the RSB that in 2011-2012 the budget expense has a known $4 million increase (using their information) and that to ignore that fact would make the prospective year’s budget an even more dramatic slash and burn. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. One RSB member when asked his opinion after the meeting said, “ I don’t want 2-3 more kids in my kid’s classes,” while another RSB member said, “nothing will be off the table if the financial problems get worse in the future but I am reluctant to visit class size issues at the present time.”  Do you agree?

Please wake up before it’s too late.  Unfortunately your home values are not likely to increase in the near future. The school tax level in Roslyn is an acknowledged fiasco that must be driven down. The reality is that the quality of education is wonderful and consistent with many Nassau County school districts and must not be dependent on unbridled spending without commensurate increases in productivity and accountability.  You have to be visible and vocal.  Please join me at the RSD Budget Review hearing Tuesday night, April 20.  The wake-up call and the buck both stops with each of you.

Jeff Borowick