For the past six months, I and a small group of concerned taxpayers have spent tens of hours reviewing the proposed budget. We educated ourselves by analyzing each budget since 2002, reviewing the five current union contracts, keeping abreast of pending New York State legislation that affect school mandates, and meeting with the Board of Education to gain further understanding of various issues impacting the budget.
It has been an eye-opening experience. Here is a brief summary of what I have learned:
- Property taxes account for 90% of the revenue that pays for our school budget.
- 80% of the budget is comprised of salaries and benefits related to teachers, aides, secretaries, custodial and administration staff.
- The district plans on spending at least $5 million more in 2010/11 than projected for 2009/10 and will have 52 fewer employees.
- Our State Legislators have passed laws that require certain mandates for employees including guaranteed pensions and seniority protection.
- District health care costs for retired and active district employees are higher than the pension contributions for 2010/11 ($15.8 million vs. $12.7 million).
- The district provides several types of salary increases: “step” increases (automatic annual raises during step years), and “lane” increases (based on educational credits). In addition, all employees are provided cost of living increases and most have the opportunity to earn longevity payments (annual additional payments after a set number of years of service).
In my opinion, the problem we face as a district is not the difference between the proposed and contingency budget. It’s the long term viability of our budget.
I do not believe that defeating the proposed budget will be the best use of our efforts or resources. Taxpayers, administrators, district employees and the Board of Education need to focus on the magnitude of the situation before us and work together to make reasonable long-term compromises. We need to find a balance between retaining and attracting qualified talent and having a sustainable budget.
Our district needs to create a five year plan and commit to signing contracts only after fully vetting the long-term cost implications. (i.e. as per the Board of Education, the district has over 450 retired employees. Based on prior agreements, the district must pay between 93%-100% of their medical costs for the rest of their lives. Currently, this open ended liability is estimated to cost $3.5 million next year.)
I plan on voting for the proposed budget. We need to honor our contracts and focus on planning for the multi millions of dollars in future tax increases that may be required in the coming years.
Consider joining me in voting yes, and contact the district clerk Joanne Rice at (Jrice@mamkschools.org ) for an e-mail copy of prior budget books or copies the five contracts to become more informed.
Ask Suzi Oppenheimer (Oppenhei@senate.state.ny.us) and George Latimer (Latimerg@assembly.state.ny.us) and other candidates interested in representing us, on how they plan on ensuring the long term viability of school budgets in New York State.
We, as taxpayers, fund a district with 818 employees and $122 million in annual expenses. It’s our responsibility to be the best informed taxpayers possible.