Increase makes no sense
To the Editor:
Columnist Scott Brinton’s premise that school expenses will and should inevitably increase 3 percent every year without question makes no sense (“Comptroller: L.I. districts pushed to the fiscal brink,” Jan. 23-29).
Why should everyone else, when times are tough, pull in their belts, but the schools don’t have to? Sure, school aid has its ups and downs, but if approved by the Legislature, Governor Cuomo’s proposed aid for the coming year, at $21.9 billion, will be a record — while the number of pupils served statewide has dropped by 284,000 over the last 12 years. That’s a 10 percent reduction in pupils while aid is moving to a record high.
During that same period, the number of professional staff has decreased only 2 percent. The problems are that staff salaries and benefits have risen much faster than the inflation rate, and reductions in staff have lagged far behind reductions in the population served.
Yes, the 2 percent cap squeezed the schools fiscally. That was Cuomo’s intention and that of others who supported the bill. The cap probably wouldn’t have been necessary if not for the disastrous STAR program. Transferring billions of the property tax bill to Albany, in addition to school aid, took tax rate pressure off school districts and permitted them to raise taxes more than they would have without STAR.
Unfortunately for most of us, it takes a two-income family to afford a home on Long Island. What the school boards really need is not more money but mandate relief. They need repeal of the Taylor Law’s Triborough amendment, which requires salary increases even when union contracts are expired. This reform is proposed in Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick’s bill A-8603 which, if passed, would restore some balance to contract negotiations and permit school boards to lower personnel costs over time. The bill would also reform the pension system to create a defined contribution plan, thus stabilizing pension costs that in recent years have been a prime driver of increased school costs.
Dennis J. Duffy