Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Permission To Say NO To School Budgets?

Permission DENIED!

Just weeks ago, Governor Chris Christie of the Garden State gave his blessing to voters to say NO to school budgets, and down they went in droves.

Not that voters were following Christie's lead into the darkness, but they certainly were upset enough with out-of-control property taxes to send school boards and district administrators in New Jersey back to the drawing board.

With Long Islanders set to vote on school budgets on May 18th, the perennial call has gone out to vote NO on this year's crop of school budgets, mostly under the guise that a NO vote will reduce the property tax (it won't) or send a message to both school and government officials that enough is enough (it hasn't).

To make matters worse, adding fuel to the fire, insurgent groups such as Long Islanders for Educational Reform (LIFER) have reached out to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, asking him to give voters "permission" to vote NO on school budgets.

Leaving aside that none of us should confuse "reform" with the devisive, if not insidious agenda that lurks just beneath the facade of LIFERistas and their erzats Tea Party cohorts (who would take on not only budgets and school boards, but curriculum and textbooks), and that no one with a quarter of a noggin would give a hoot as to "permission" from either the County Executive or the Pope on such matters, the real issue here is what's behind a NO vote.

-NO to high property taxes. Of course.
-NO to runaway salaries, pensions, and administrators paid to excess. Yup.
-NO to a lack of transparency and accountability.You betcha!

Will voting down school budgets -- which, by the way, does absolutely nothing to lower the tax rate, and little if anything to reduce the tax levy -- resolve any or all of these issues that prey upon our solvency?

Not a one!

Vote down the budget, and the salaries, pensions, and sky-high administrative costs are still intact.

Vote down the budget, and school boards, teachers' unions, and district superintendents are no more accountable than they were the day, or year, or decade before.

Vote down the budget, and your property taxes still go up, up, and up some more.

So, what does happen when school budgets fail? Suffer our own children, that's what.

What gets cut? Instructional programs. Academics. After school activities. Athletics. Late buses.

Who gets hurt? The students, the parents, indeed, entire communities, still burdened with the evils voters sought to slay, with a system of education, not to mention the district's reputation, now in shambles.

Why, we ask, more than rhetorically, are we so quick to vote NO on school budgets, but barely raise an eyebrow, or offer up more than a smirk, when it comes to going after the real culprits of unsustainable property taxes -- elected officials and, dare we admit it, ourselves?

Instead of voting down budgets in May, sending messages of disgust and disdain to our kids, we should, by all reason, be voting out the politicians in November -- notably, in the NYS Legislature, who refuse to say --

-NO to cutting State Aid to eduction
-NO to unfunded mandates
-NO to the inequitable funding of school districts
-NO to taking tax dollars but returning only pennies
-NO to financing education through a regressive and unfair property tax
-NO to a pension system that is literally bankrupting New York
-NO to 124 separate school districts on Long Island, each with an administration that costs us millions

The list of NOs could go on, ad infinitum, but you get the idea.

We selfishly withhold our approval of sound educational initiatives, the pride of suburbia's past and the very foundation of Long Island's future, while granting elected officials carte blanche to maintain a status quo that, by its very nature, is a formula for our own economic and social demise.

Shame on them. Shame on us!

On Tuesday, May 18th, vote YES for your school budget. Save your NO vote for when it counts -- Tuesday, November 2nd!
- - -
From the Long Island Herald:


Vote with reason, not resentment

On New Jersey’s Election Day, April 20, Gov. Chris Christie wanted voters to reject school budget proposals in any districts where the unionized teachers weren’t willing to freeze their salaries for a year.

Christie said he saw no reason that teachers should be exempt from sharing in the sacrifices that others in the state are having to make these days. It didn’t seem right to him that while many residents in private-sector jobs weren’t getting any raises — and many others were getting laid off — taxpayer-funded public-school teachers’ pay would just keep going up.

A lot of residents apparently didn’t think it was right either, and 58 percent of the state’s school budgets were rejected, the most in 35 years.

So teachers’ salaries in those districts won’t increase, right? Well, not right. There’s another reality: Teachers work under contracts, and budgets aren’t contracts. Budgets are where spending plans get harmonized with revenue expectations.

School boards in districts with failed budgets can’t unilaterally abrogate contracts. Since Christie has said that New Jersey districts can’t look to the state for more aid, they will have to cut spending by dropping more instructional programs, curtailing children’s extracurricular activities, laying off teachers and other staff, charging — or charging more — for community access to district fields and facilities, and making other reductions in the services schools provide students.

In other words, failed budgets will not affect teachers’ pay, but will affect — negatively — student learning, educational quality and community well-being.

School districts here on the South Shore could suffer the same fate if enough voters hold budgets hostage to their resentments. In most local districts, teachers’ salaries start in the $45,000 to $50,000 range and top out at $110,000 to $115,000 for those with two to three decades of experience and multiple advanced degrees.

School administrators’ salaries run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and include generous benefits packages.

Given that the nation is only starting to emerge from a deep recession — with unemployment still close to 10 percent and many of those who are employed receiving no pay increases or having to deal with reductions in salaries and hours — it’s little wonder that many folks believe teachers shouldn’t get raises next year.

While we agree that no public employees — including teachers and school administrators — should be exempt from the reality that district residents must cope with, we don’t believe that voting down budgets evens the playing field. We do believe that failed budgets will make other bad things happen, and that’s reason enough to consider approving reasonable, modest increases in school spending.

On May 18, when New Yorkers will vote on those budgets, they can also vote in school board elections. Voters need to recognize that board members are involved in contract negotiations — if not directly, then in approving or rejecting teachers’ and administrators’ contracts on taxpayers’ behalf.

Find out where the candidates stand on administrators’ and teachers’ compensation. Look into their backgrounds and find out which candidates you want on management’s side when contracts are negotiated, and which would be most likely to resist a change in the status quo where contracts are concerned.

The time to effect change in the largest category of school spending — teacher and administrator compensation — is when contracts are being negotiated, not when you have to decide whether the proposed budget meets students’ educational needs. But now is when you can let your board member candidates know your priorities.


  1. What burns my ass about my school district is the secrecy surrounding current negotiations with the teachers' unions. Nothing can be disclosed to the community until after the union has ratified and the board has approved a new contract. AT THAT POINT, the community can comment on it. No wonder people are frustrated.

    You're right, by the time budgets come up for a vote, what a district has to spend in the coming year is all but a foregone conclusion, and the only thing a no vote can accomplish is to cut back in areas that hurt the kids. That's exactly the kind of outcome school boards seek - it guarantees protection for teachers and adminstrators and it does nothing for the kids. Furthermore it makes an utter mockery of the notion that local school boards exist to promote community involvement. It's high-handed, manipulative and an outrage and that's why people are not only pissed at Albany, but they're pissed as their school districts as well.

    By the way, my school takes are now projected to go up almost 6% next year.

  2. With the State budget still out (33 days late, and counting), school districts don't even have an inkling has to how much -- or how little -- State Aid they will be getting for 2010-11.

    So, what are we really voting on in terms of school budgets? The proposed levies are meaningless without real numbers from Albany.

    Why not move the budget vote to the general election in November, or, at the very least, make such vote contingent upon the State having its budget in place?

    The way it stands now, we're voting blind on May 18.

  3. I acknowledge that Albany is mostly responsible for creating this mess. But our school boards are a joke. I can't imagine sitting on one of these boards and voting for a lot of the nonsense they regularly approve, including salary increases for the superintendent. If the school boards didn't know to deny these raises in this economic climate, when will they ever learn? Albany can't fix that behavior. I'm still voting no May 18th.

  4. Voting NO on school budgets is not a solution. Never has been. Never will be.

    Voting for school board members who will take on the bloated budgets (and against those who will not), on the other hand, is, at least in part, a step in the right direction.

    Please don't throw our children out with the school board's dirty bath water.

    Vote YES on budgets and with you heads on school boards!

  5. Remember to vote YES on Library budgets, as well. They are too often overlooked on the ballot.

  6. These school budget elections remind me of the choice we had prior to the Wall Street bailout. We could either watch the financial system collapse, or we could bail it out and sanction reckless behavior. There are some striking similarities like the feeling of entitlement between our school district employees and the employees on Wall Street. However, I don't think our school system will "collapse" with a no vote, or that our children will be permanently scarred for life. It's amazing how kids can adapt in these kinds of situations. In fact, we may be teaching our children a valuable life lesson that sometimes you can't get everything you want and occasionally you have to do more with less.

    In addition, spending more money on education does not guarantee better results. For example, of the 57 school districts in Nassau, Roosevelt is ranked 10th highest in spending per pupil. Interestingly, this is also the district that was so bad, New York State had to take it over. Should Roosevelt taxpayers continue to vote yes?

  7. Kates Gotta Go is right, we cannot be held hostage to these school boards stupid, ignorant, and reckless decisions any longer. Most employees in this economy have very little negotiating power, except if you are part of organized labor. By giving in to organized labor's extortion, the unions (by their actions) are just teaching our kids that you can get what you want if you threaten someone's child. The teacher's union members, of all people, should know better. They are teaching our children how to be economic bullies. Don't get a raise based on free market principles, do it by threating to take away school programs from the same children you say you care about. Any teacher that supports getting a raise (in a new contract), in a non-inflationary environment is a selfish hypocrite, and shouldn't being teaching our children. They need to back to school and learn economics and moral values.

  8. Kates Gotta Go is correct in that there is a problem, but the problem does not lie in the budgets, per se, but rather, in a system that allows administrators and teachers to rake in six-plus figure salaries, generous benefits, and outrageous pensions; permits the very existence of 124 school districts, sweetheart contracts, unfunded mandates, and lifetime tenure; and looks to pay for all of this through a regressive and oppressive property tax.

    Voting down budgets and voting out the school board -- whose hands are basically tied owing to the above "obligations" -- will have zero impact upon the budget.

    What will effect the bottom line? Only a fundamental change in the system.

    Look to Albany, and vote accordingly.

  9. While I agree with School Dazed, our local school boards perpetuate the problem by agreeing to these absurd contracts that give school employees annual raises in addition to step raises. Why can't our local school boards get some backbone and learn to say no?

    There's no doubt in my mind that we need systemic change in our schools which starts May 18th and hopefully carries into November. Albany needs to be turned upside down, shaken until everything falls out, and then reset. However, I don't buy the argument that a no vote will be "catastrophic" for our kids education. I respectfully submit that we will be teaching them a lesson of living within your means that will serve them well as they progress through life.

  10. My personal opinion is that many school boards have been co-opted by teachers and administrators and forget that they are actually elected by taxpayers as THEIR representatives. I agree with Kates Gotta Go - I don't necessarily think kids are at risk of being unduly victimized by budget cutbacks - at least not the ones in my district, which would include my own kids. I also think that they're learning a real negative lesson from schools and school boards, which model what can only be described as "entitlement behavior" whenever there's any pushback about budgets. I don't accept this kind of stuff from my own kids; I certainly shouldn't have to put up with it from so-called leaders in my community. Finally, I'm really sick of being cynically manipulated by these guys and hearing that my kids' future education rests on whether or not the budget passes.

    Can you tell I'm just a little peeved at these guys?

  11. Absolutely vote NO, without any hesitation! Why? Because at least it sends a message that we've had enough and reform is needed. I'm tired of hearing all the threats about our kids. Stop using them to satisfy the greed. If teachers and administrators cared for the kids like they say they do, they should take a major paycut or give up their overly generous benefits. If we vote yes, this insanity continues until you're no longer able to survive here! And, at the current state, how many of your newly graduate kids are staying here? I know of three who stayed after college working as professionals, staying in their parents' homes. VOTE NO!! Do it for all the taxpayers, for the kids, and for the future of LI!!

  12. Send a message? Like all those other messages sent when school budgets were voted down? Did your property taxes decrease by a single dime? Even on austerity?

    Look. We're all mad. Apparently, we're not mad enough. If we were, we'd vote out the entire State Legislature. Maybe then they'd get the message!

    The only message we send when we vote no on school budgets is that our children are not entitled to the programs and activities that enrich their lives, and that we, as homeowners, are willing to take a hit on our property values just to "send a message" that no one with the power to do anything will heed.

    Let's get beyond that naivete, or, in some instances, the blatant ignorance, that voting down school budgets either saves money or sends a message.

    By the way, not a single proponent of the no vote has set forth, by any measurable means, how a no vote will lower my property tax bill. Know why? Because it won't!

    Here's the message, folks. Vote YES on May 18. Vote NO on November 2nd!

  13. Vote no to both! Why sit back and just agree to something because you think nothing will change? I refuse to vote yes because how is that going to decrease your taxes? Obviously it's NOT. First step to reform is to refuse to agree to this extortion. So stop being passive and go out and vote NO on May 18 and November 2!