The Buck Doesn't Always Stop With District Administration
We hear the outrage over teachers' salaries, the demands for raises on top of step increases, runaway pension costs, and so on down the line.
But, when it comes to cutting costs and saving tax dollars, have we taken a look upward, at school district administration?
While teachers in several Long Island school districts have agreed to forego or curtail raises in order to save jobs and shave budgets, a survey of proposed school budgets shows that many administrators -- including Superintendents, whose average salary on Long Island tops $250,000 -- are slated to get raises in the 2010-11 school year.
True, they may be contractually entitled to raises, but just because you are due a raise doesn't mean you have to take a raise, does it?
In these times of economic upheaval, when we are asking everyone down the line to bite the bullet, shouldn't school district administrators, in their leadership roles, do likewise?
And gee whiz. If a school supe can't survive on $250,000+ a year, where does that leave the rest of us?
Traditionally, we support school budgets across the board, encouraging residents to vote YES. Where district administrators seek to fatten their wallets, however, while lightening ours, well, that gives us pause for thought.
Is your school district superintendent getting a raise? Do you know what's in your school budget?
Most school budgets as proposed for the 2010-11 school year, on which you will be called upon to cast your yea or nay votes on May 18, are posted on the school districts' websites. Be sure to check it out!
What follows are some additional thoughts, flowing from a recent meeting of the Elmont East End Civic Association.
THOUGHT #1 --Transparency
There's a problem with school districts tapping into their cash reserves to mask the actual budget to budget increases. Here's something that came up at a recent Elmont East End Civic Meeting:
The Sewanhaka School District has 10.1 million dollars in cash reserves (that number was taken from the minutes of a recent Board of Education meeting, as can be found online). At the April civic meeting, the school superintendent made his presentation to the public where he complained about 3.3 million shortfall in state aid. When the presentation ended, the superintendent was asked the question why doesn't he tap into the 10.1 million account to make up the shortfall in state aid. He responded that they, in fact, were tapping into the reserves for the upcoming budget.
Another resident asked the follow-up question as to whether the 3.7% proposed budget increase reflected the use of the cash reserves. The superintendent stated that it did not, and that the actual increase in spending from the prior year is actually somewhere between 7% and 8%. The fireworks went off after that.
While few would take issue with the school districts using the cash reserves, they are not being transparent with the use of these funds, and not stating the actual budget to budget spending increase. The public should be made aware of what the actual "budget to budget" spending increases are before they vote. Moreover, the use of these cash reserves simply raises the bar for next year's budget and every year thereafter.
THOUGHT #2 -- What's Good for the Goose...
School superintendents and their staffs are charged with negotiating contracts with the teacher's unions. Most, if not all of our superintendents took raises this year. How can they expect the teachers to make concessions or even accept a pay freeze when the superintendents themselves have not done so. If we were the negotiators for the teacher's unions, we would come out in public and say as much, destroying any leverage -- let alone credibility -- the superintendents may have had given the current economic conditions.
In addition, what were our Boards of Education thinking agreeing to give these superintendents raises? In reality, the school hierarchy much like a corporation. The taxpayers are the shareholders, the superintendent is the CEO, the school board is similar to a Board of Directors, and the teacher's are the employees of the business. At the end of the day, the superintendent (CEO) works for the taxpayers (shareholders), and should make sure the taxpayers are getting a return on their investment. The teacher's (employees) have a union to represent their interests, we need the superintendent (CEO) and Board (of Directors) to represent ours. This leads to the next thought.
THOUGHT #3 -- Did Someone say "Consolidate?"
Whatever happened to Suozzi's "consolidate all the superintendents" idea. Although it was too little too late for him, the idea has merit. There's just way too much redundancy in the system which generates terrible waste and inequity. In NY City, there's a single bureaucracy charged with negotiating contracts with teachers, purchasing supplies, and all other administration matters. In Nassau, we have 55 bureaucracies that all do the same thing, and not all that well, let alone with efficiency. If we're going to have a bureaucracy not run well, and at such great cost to the taxpayers, it might as well be 1 instead of 55.
THOUGHT #4 -- It IS The Assessment!
It would seem, from all appearances, that the school budgets are being predicated upon "rosy" assessment numbers. In Elmont they're basing their budgets on an average assessment of $417K. This number doesn't appear accurate at all as, by dint of even a cursory review of the assessment rolls, the average assessed value of a home in Elmont is not $417K. in many instances, not even close. Moreover, as assessments continue to decline, or are "frozen" at current levels, as some of our elected officials propose, the schools will have to revise their numbers upward, and the actual increase in the tax levy will be larger, perhaps much larger, than that as currently advertised.
Each "thought" can find relevancy in every Long Island school district, as we crunch the numbers and, dare we say, look behind them.
What are your "thoughts?" Anything to add to our list?
We at The Community Alliance, as well as your friends, neighbors, and fellow taxpayers here on Long Island, would like to know.
Share your thouts with us, by way of comments to this post, e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and, yes, even guest blogposts, to be published right here for all -- including our school district superintendents -- to see.
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School Budgets and School Boards are on the line on Tuesday, May 18. Know before you vote!