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Letter: Teachers Contract ‘Financial Gimmickry’

The recently concluded contract with the Roslyn Teachers Association (RTA) is a highly deceptive example of financial gimmickry that over its full term will be extremely costly to the taxpayers of the Roslyn School District (RSD). In exchange for one time up front salary concessions the contract commits the district to back-loaded salary increases in excess of the current inflation rate. Furthermore, the contract doesn’t even begin to address structural problems regarding health care costs and the bewildering system of steps and lanes which guarantee teacher salary increases above and beyond any negotiated annual increases. Even worse, there is no provision to recognize individual performance and to incentivize productivity. To the extent that the current budget is based upon this contract, it is a disingenuous document that diverts attention away from future unacceptable tax increases that will be required to fund the back-loaded salary increases that will be reflected in subsequent budgets.

With this contract the RSB has set upon a course that will lead to a debasing of educational quality. Somehow certain RSB members can’t grasp the concept that financially insupportable contracts are counter to educational quality as they inevitably lead to revenue short falls. Any such shortfalls eventually must be made up by increasing class size, laying off teachers, limiting course offerings and deferring plant maintenance. One only has to look at other Long Island School districts or many New Jersey districts where hundreds of teachers have been laid off. Increases in tax revenues are finite and can only partially cover budgetary short falls.

Newsday’s April 17 cover story describing runaway government sector pension costs brings the RSB’s financial irresponsibility into sharp focus. According to the article the district’s contribution to the state pension fund will rise 40 percent on top of major past increases with still more to come. While it is true that pension reform is out of the district’s control, pension costs which are based on district-controlled salaries are clearly in the district’s control. To give salary increases without considering pension cost consequences is a clear example of financial irresponsibility.

How many times will the RSD be sold the same pig in a poke? The new contract calls for increases in employee contributions to district health care costs below any predicted rise in such costs, consequently the actual percent of district health care costs paid by employees will continue the downward spiral begun under the Tassone contract. In the real world companies are either capping or indexing their contribution so as to force participants to partner in finding more cost effective health insurance options.

Eighty percent of the budget relates to personnel costs that have increased beyond the rate of inflation. In the real world organizations faced with revenue short falls cannot always raise prices just as school districts should not always raise tax rates. Revenue short falls are met with increases in productivity in the form of people working harder, longer, more intelligently, often for less and never for more.

The extra half hour of instruction time called for in the new contract while commendable is inadequate when measured against rising personnel costs that have increased above and beyond the inflation rates of recent years. Will our children be any better educated at the $28,000/child that the new budget proposes than when we were spending $25,000/child?

At the April 20 budget meeting, some of the supporters of the RSB’s new budget and contract were either Frank Tassone’s most ardent supporters or their clones. While Tassone has left the building, the supporters of ever increasing taxes and the fiscal irresponsibility that Tassone stood for remain and continue to be an impediment to true budgetary responsibility. The concept that not everyone in Roslyn is rich never occurs to them.

The Tassone era board could plead ignorance for the lack of accounting skills needed to properly evaluate budgets, contracts and administration proposals. The current board has several members who have demonstrated intelligence, compassion and success in the real world. Unfortunately, some board members have lost touch with certain economic realities and have greatly disappointed many of the voters who elected them to provide quality cost effective education as opposed to just costly education.

L. R. Heisler