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Letter to the Editor: Contracts, Budget and Reserves

Patch reader Robert Foster weighs in on the current school budget and teacher contract situation.

*Local and frequent speaker at Board of Education meetings Robert Foster emailed this letter to Patch discussing the new teacher contract and proposed budget for the Smithtown Central School District.

On Tuesday evening I attended the Smithtown School Board meeting with a feeling of optimism as a proposal for a new contract with the STA was on the agenda. Unfortunately that feeling was quickly dashed because, as the board has been having endless discussions on how to close the various budget gaps for not only the next school year but the following two years there was no relief to the end  included in this budget. I also was taken aback by the fact that with not having a contract for the past two school years it seemed that the board seemed to want to just push through this proposal that has only existed for a few days.

To board member Mr. Saggese’s credit he attempted to have meaningful conversation on proposal.  In a previous meeting on the budget he had asked the question of “why can’t the STA meet the community half way in closing the budget short fall." At the meeting on Tuesday he continued that thought with the idea that he was hoping the STA to come with a proposal to cut the salary expenditure for teachers in a way to get the budget in balance. That idea just fell on deaf ears.   

One issue that I find extremely odd in this whole process is at no time was there any substantive information on how much in dollars this contract would cost the taxpayers of the district over the next three years. The only information other then the proposal given was that this proposal was in line with the general percentages of increase that other school districts in Suffolk County were agreeing to. With all of the time that has been spent by all in developing budget information in a dollar cost format I have found it very odd that no one in the administration could put together information the impact this contract will have on future budgets.

With the absence of our school administration coming up with any dollars figures I decided to spent a few minutes to do a very rough calculation on how much this new contract is going to cost. What I did was to pick 10 teachers at random and look up their salaries for every year from 2008 through 2011. I then using 2008 as a base year I added up all of the increases that each teacher received to find the impact the last contract had on teacher salaries. That total was about $270,000 or about 13% more than if we just held fast at 2008 levels. Now with about 740 full time teachers on staff a quick multiplication shows that the district had to come up with an additional $20,000,000 over the past three years just to make teacher payroll not counting the retirement obligations.   We must remember the last two years of my analysis are years with no contract in place. Also remember as noted at on budget meeting 3 years ago one member acknowledged that were living in hard economic times.        

Now looking at what the new contract has to offer. I took the same sampling of teachers and projected what each one will experience in increases with the new contract. That number came to about $146,000 for the next 3 years. In doing that same calculation as before, less 40 teaching positions because of school consolidation and class size increases, I came up with $10,400,000. Please remember this is in addition to the $24,000,000 in salary obligation the STA has built into the salary budget from the previous three years. So using 2008 as the base year and looking out to the 2014 school year there will be total shift from the community’s pockets to the STA of $30,400,000.  Also please note that none of my numbers include pension or SSI contributions. On average I believe that would add about 18% to the numbers.   

So as you look at your taxes increase and the reserves that district had built up years ago shrink to almost nothing at least we know where it is going. 

– Robert Foster

One Opinion April 18, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Mr Foster, thank you for this analysis. You are you correct in that the administration did a fluff piece on the details of this contract. We know they can be very specific when they want to make a point and yet surprising vague when they choose. This contract does not help the district at all. Healthcare contributions alone should have gone straight to 20% for all employees and stepped up to 25% over the next few years. Sadly, this is the way in union controlled New York State. Look at who was the biggest lobbyist against Gov Cuomo's 2% Property Tax Cap. It was the NYSUT.
Heard Around Town April 19, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Mr. Foster is a passionate member of the community but sometimes omits facts. For one, I have been told that the STA contract settlement was not in the hands of the board for a few days as mentioned before approved. The settlement was in place for about a month pending the MOA being drafted up by the lawyers and the STA voting on the agreement. Mr. Foster mentions that the district provided no information in terms how much in dollars this contract would cost the taxpayers. Mr. Ehmann gave a presentation the night the contract was approved by the board about the terms of the settlement and followed by a budget update. He mentioned that the contract will save the district around $1.3mn in the next two years. So I applaud Mr. Foster for his passion and being informed with the current events of the school district, but when you write a letter to the the editor or stand up at BOE meetings, try stating the facts.
Robert April 19, 2012 at 09:07 PM
These are times where each individual must assess where their values lie. When I think about the Smithtown that I moved here for, it was the school district, the parks, my safe neighborhood, and a community that obviously had similar values. I gladly pay for these services. I also see clearly the problem of escalating taxes on Long Island. Aren't these problems rooted poor fiscal formulas? This 2% tax cap doesn't ameliorate the fact that Long Island pays $8.1 billion dollars in taxes to Albany and gets back $5.2 billion, it merely causes the quality of public services to depreciate. A sensible person can understand that unions don't want to lose their place in the middle class and I can relate to that, because I don't want to lose my place in the middle class. There should be a greater effort to pressure Albany to rework these formulas so that they provide real and long lasting relief.

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