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Education

Lancaster school board meeting Ė Part I: Resident addresses board
By Lee Chowaniec
Feb 10, 2011, 07:24
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At the closing public comment session, prior to the budget work session, the writer addressed the Lancaster Central School District (LCSD) Board of Education (BOE), asking several questions and making several comments.

Questions and comments:

There is a budget work session that will take place immediately after the regular meeting. To better understand my role as a member of the LCSD Budget Advisory Committee and to make my position clear on how I feel regarding budget needs, I need to have several questions answered before I make my comments.

Superintendent Myszka, considering state aid for Lancaster is forecast to be cut by $2.9 million and the District will not be receiving anymore federal stimulus money, what is our predicted shortfall for this budget year?

Superintendent Myszka: We will be getting $1.7 million this year in federal stimulus money, $1.7 million. Our shortfall in that respect will be $1.2 million.

Chowaniec: Regarding contracts for administrator salary and benefits, do you receive the same health care benefits and is your rate of pay increase based on what the teachers get?

Superintendent Myszka: Yes, as far as benefits go. My contract is for three years like the teachers and the salary increase is not indexed to other contracts. Why do you ask and want to know?

Chowaniec: Just trying to compare apples to apples. I have been accused of hating teachers. I donít hate teachers but am involved here to review a budget process as we did last year. My point here is that if the teachers were to get a certain percent of salary increase, I am asking whether that would reflect on your contract. If the teachers received a 5% salary increase would they mean you are entitled to 5%?

Superintendent Myszka: My salary is not indexed off what the teachers get.

Chowaniec: Am I correct in stating that last year the percent of salary increase for the other three unions was somewhere between 2.75 Ė 3%.

Superintendent Myszka: Thatís correct.

Chowaniec: When the other unions settled their contracts last year was it with an agreement that they would contribute more to their health insurance?

Superintendent Myszka: Yes.

Chowaniec: Regarding the Fact-Finder recommendation, is it not a nonbinding recommendation where the District does not have to follow the recommendation?

Superintendent Myszka: Yes. In my terminology it is a new beginning for the District and the teacher union to come together.

Chowaniec: Having read the fact finder report it is my understanding that the recommendation is for a 1.25% increase in salary in addition to the 3.34% step salary increase for a total of 4.59%.

Superintendent Myszka: Yes. And by NYS Triborough Law the step salary increase is indexed by formula annually. It will change by District.

Chowaniec: Is also correct that Mr. Foster recommended that the teachers contribute 1% more per year in health insurance costs over the life of the contract. Is that stated correctly?

Superintendent Myszka: You are asking myself and the BOE to negotiate the contract in public.

Chowaniec: No Iím not. I am reviewing what was in the fact finder and asking whether what I understand is correct.

With that I will make the following comments.

Last year I served on the Budget Task Force Committee and attended all but one budget work session. I watched the BOE take heat for coming up with a budget that made cuts in order to ultimately meet state CPI set standards, whereby they spent $9 million in fund balance and other reserves and advocated increased spending at a reasonable amount to save ninth period classes while saving over 20 teacher positions at the same time. I supported the ninth period process, 100%.

As a senior I am in the second year of a Social Security freeze because of a CPI that was a negative in 2010 and was recently reported as a 1.7 increase for this year. Whereas a teacher now spends but $100 for the best family plan available, I spend well over $300 a month for Medicare and supplemental health insurance coverage, have no dental or vision coverage, but do pay huge deductibles.

I know of numerous working individuals that have lost jobs, not received salary increases for years, have no retirement programs and have lost health insurance coverage or have seen their premiums skyrocket and who are expected to pay higher taxes for some to have what they do not.

At the initial Budget Advisory Committee meeting held a few weeks ago, the attendees were informed on the self health insurance program and the cost avoidance that resulted. We were informed on the numerous state mandates and on how difficult it is to make cuts.

I asked whether I was correct in assuming that approximately 85% of the budget was mandated. I was informed that was about right. I asked how much of the 85% was attributable to staff Ė salaries and benefits and was told it was probably somewhere around 40% and that I would receive the exact information in the near future.

The point here is that staff salary increases and health insurance contributions are under the control of the BOE. I dislike hearing after contract negotiations are through and budget time comes along that the District has no control over mandates. Once this contract is settled it becomes a mandated program. The BOE has input at contract negotiation time, meaning right now.

So in closing, I have to agree with what some of my colleagues commented on at the Budget Advisory Committee meeting and what many residents in the town likewise voice to me , namely, the belief that the fact finder recommendation is too generous regarding salary increase percent and that health insurance contributions need to increase; more like 20% than the increase from 8% to 11% over the life of the three-year contract.

You have a sea of (teacher) redshirts at these meetings voicing their opinions. You will see a sea of residents at budget time telling you whether you indeed acted fiscally responsible at this time of contract negotiations.

However, this is not only about the teachers. Everything should and will be on the table for consideration, because after all it should be about the kids and the taxpayers as well. And by that I mean all staff salaries, benefits and department proposed budget expenditures. We all have to work together to keeping spend in line with todayís economic climate and not spend what we donít have.

It is imperative to put together a budget that is fiscally responsible while retaining student educational programs and teacher staff; ne that will be accepted and approved by the public.


Part II: Budget work session and where your money goes


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