Lancaster Central School District (LCSD) Superintendent Edward Myszka and School Board members are encouraging residents to attend a special meeting Jan. 5 to talk about the state budget crisis and its impact on the school district. The meeting will be held at 7 p. m. in the boardroom of the J. Norman Hayes Administration Building, 177 Central Ave.|
The meeting was scheduled before Gov. David A. Paterson released his executive budget because district officials knew the proposal would have major consequences on the 2009-10 budget. It appears there will be no State Aid cutback to the present 2008-09 budget.
"If the governor's aid figures remain unchanged, the school district would receive 6.54 percent, or $1.8 million, less in state aid next year than it is getting this year,” says Superintendent Myszka.”That would have to be made up in cuts to programs, extra fund balance utilization, or increasing revenues, like taxes.
School Board member Joseph Maciejewski recently stated in a press release that the time has come to consider alternatives to funding for education, other than the real property tax. Whatever that implies, it is the spending that is out of control and added sources of revenue do not address that issue.
"We're looking for community input," Superintendent Edward Myszka said. "We have to deal with it." Myszka said the school district has already reduced some spending this year by 10 to 20 percent, so it will have extra money at the end of the budget year. "We're also going to be looking internally at what other further cuts are necessary," he said.
Who are the "we"?
I image the "we" Mr. Myszka is referring to include the taxpayer and that is why there has been a concerted effort to get public input. Low-income, fixed income and the less fortunate that can no longer sustain more tax increases have an opportunity to comment on a system that is perceived to be out of control when it comes to spending.
In the last 4 years, LCSD spending has increased by $18.54 million (from $62.99 million to $81.53 million), 29.43%, or an average of 7.36% per year – well over twice the rate of inflation.
Since 2003-04, the vast majority of state employee salaries have increased by over 23 percent through negotiated bargaining agreements. Over the four years of the current contract alone, ending in 2010-11, salaries are projected to increase by 14 percent.
We are always told that state mandates make up approximately 85 percent of the school budget, leaving very little else for school officials to "whittle away at". However, included in the mandated portion of the budget, and the brunt of the total expenditures, are school district negotiated contracts for salary increases, health care insurance, sick and leave of absence benefits, etc.
This coming year, the school district will be negotiating contracts with the teachers and service unions. It is time these contracts are negotiated in the best interest of our children’s education needs and the taxpayer’s pocketbook as well.
There is no doubt that school administrators and staff have the best interests of the child in mind. On the other hand, we should no longer spend freely to abide by the "no child left behind" premise when our fellowman is struggling and making sacrifices to eke out an existence.
Spending out of control
Taxpayers will tell you where they believe money has been ill spent or where spending has to be cut back.
As one who is long in the tooth, I will not bore you of past parental and school expectations except to say that parents were responsible for moral upbringing and discipline and the school for providing an education.
Yes, this is a different environment, one where school systems and police enforcement have had to step in to provide, too often, the moral and discipline guidance lacking at home. That said the spending to provide such services today have gone beyond reasonable.
Taxpayers should not be expected to pay for salaries, health insurance benefits and retirement pensions that far exceed their own, and worse, in many cases they do not have.
The school district will be negotiating contracts with the teachers and service unions this year. Effective September 1, 2007, the School District contributes 93 percent of the monthly premium for the employee's coverage, single or family as the case may be. Therefore, if the health premium cost were $1,000 per month, the employee would pay $70 per month.
This is an opportune time for the BOE to consider percent salary increases, increasing employee contributions to a health insurance program that has low co-pays and dental and vision coverage and compromised reductions on entitlement programs not seen by the private sector worker.
We can no longer afford to pay the taxes we are paying to support a public sector that is over-bloated and with workers getting better benefits than many taxpayers.
Private sector workers question why they are subjected to getting pay cuts, no raises for years, dropped pension plans, and significant increases in health premiums and higher prescription co-pays, while public sector workers experience little, if any, concessions.
It becomes very annoying for taxpayers to hear school and town employees gripe and say that they are entitled to what they get and that they needeven more to keep up. As such, they expect taxpayers to give up more. Taxpayers are hurting as well. It's time for the public sector to give something up.
Teacher salaries are not an issue for this individual, except in the manner in which percent of salary increases are distributed over a teacher’s career.
According to the LCSD Teachers Union contract, it takes teachers with MA'S 10 years to increase their salary by $11,200, from $37,300 to $48,500 (an increase of 3.00%).
From the 10th year to the 21st year their salary increases by $32,300, or by 66.6%. One would have to ask whether such disparity exists because experienced teachers are that much more valuable to the education system or is the salary system set up to reward those near retirement time.
2) $37,750 – 1.2%
3) $38,500 – 1.98%
4) $39,270 - 1.96%
5) $40,500 – 3.13%
6) $42,050 – 3.83%
7) $43,120 – 2.54%
8) $45,000 – 4.36%
9) $46,700 – 3.78%
10) $48,500 – 3.85%
11) $50,900 – 4.90%
12) $52,750 – 3.63%
13) $54,540 – 3.39%
14) $56,700 – 3.96%
15) $58,800 – 3.81%
16) $60,900 – 3.57%
17) $63,100 – 3.61%
18) $68,000 – 7.77%
19) $73,200 – 7.65%
20) $77,900 – 6.42%
21) $80,800 – 3.72%
If Lancaster had an average experience staff of 14 years, like some other school districts, the average teacher salary would be $56,700. Fortunately, we have a young teaching staff – for now.
The BOE should be taking into consideration the following contractual agreements as well and were cost cutting could be had:
Cash buyout: The District will reimburse employees who do not participate in any health coverage; $1,500 annually for family plan and $500 for single coverage.
All employees eligible for District health benefits coverage will receive, at District expense, vision and dental benefits.
Although retired schoolteachers do not receive lifetime health benefits, they can accrue up to 245 sick days that can either be sold back or placed into an escrow account and used for continuing their health plan. The accumulated sick days are paid at a $146 per day rate and the same health benefits are provided to the retired worker until their escrow fund runs out.
All teachers shall be entitled to attend, free of charge, all school activities, including athletic events.
If during a fiscal year a teacher uses no sick days or personal leave days, the teacher will be paid $200. If during a fiscal year a teacher uses only one sick or personal day, he or she will be paid $100.
Each teacher is credited 13 sick days each year. If the individual does not use any of his or her allotted sick days in the fiscal year, they receive a bonus of two days to accumulate on their sick leave. Cumulative maximum sick days allowed – 245.
In case of illness in the immediate family (father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, wife, husband, grandparent or other persons with whom the teacher resides) a teacher shall be allowed absence with full pay. Such absence shall be deducted from the personal sick leave allowance and shall be limited to fifty (50) days per illness.
Teachers are required by law to contribute 3% of their salary until they have been a member for 10 years in the NYS Retirement System, or accrue 10 years of total service credit, whichever occurs first.
Tier 2, 3, or 4 members at least 55 years of age can retire without a pension reduction as long as they have 30 years of service credit. If they have less than 30 years of service credit when they retire, their pension will be reduced unless you are at least age 62.
Service Credit ----------- Pension Factor
Less than 20 years ------ 1-2/3% per year
20 to 30 years ------------- 2% per year for all service
30 or more years --------- 60% maximum pension factor
A teacher with an MA, with 30 years service will receive over $50,000 annually in pension. Regardless of stock market status, these pensions are guaranteed and we as taxpayers foot the bill, at a time when many of our pension plans have been negated and our 401-k retirement savings have been savaged.
What does this have to do with the school district anyway as it does not administer the NYS Retirement Plan? The BOE must see the outrageous cost of this program, realize the heavy stock market decline and its resulting adverse impact on the retirement funding, and the fact that those in the program only pay 3% of their salary into the plan for the first ten years of their employment. Why don’t school districts petition the State for reform? Is it perhaps that reform would adversely impact school administrators as well; that there would be a conflict of their best interest to precipitate action?
Other spending that needs addressing
Last year, the school district was removed from the New York State’s Contract for Excellence list (C4E) saving the school district approximately $1.8 million. Five reading teachers were hired to meet the C4E requirement by the State to improve performance. The school was taken off the list, yet the teachers were retained.
At a time of financial crisis taxpayers where administrators tell us all matters are open for discussion, taxpayers would like the BOE to consider:
• Whether the school district needs a school band of its current size
• Have a need to field sport teams with individuals not needed and/or used
• Perform a cost analysis to determine whether present class sizes are productive and cost effective
• Adopting a transportation system that is realistic and cost effective
• Addressing school parking issues that have become a community issue when driving at a high school age should be considered a privilege not an entitlement
• Has it been proven that the SRO officer is needed at the Middle School? Have regular scheduled progress reports supported his need?
• Has the school district been active in pursuing purchase consolidations with other school districts to lower costs?
• When the rate of school district spending over the past six years has not resulted in a Business First scholastic performance ranking improvement, property owners should be asking where our bang for the buck is. Lancaster continues to hover between 14 and 16 on the school rating list.
The individuals who serve on this school board have my highest regard for performing a difficult community service without pay or benefits. It is my belief that you have the children’s best interest in mind to provide them the best education possible.
However, in this time of crisis it is just as important to act in such manner as to “leave no taxpayer behind”.
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