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.