In a country that has come to be defined by greed —Â it is in the nature of all republican political systems —Â public school teachers are, apparently, the chosen of the earth. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the public school enterprise of the Sag Harbor School District. The teachers receive a remuneration that is a combination of salary and wage payment. Where else, in the world, are civil servants (which public school teachers are) paid extra for overtime or for non-teaching activity incidental to the execution of their teaching duties and the mental and physical well-being of their wards, e.g. CafÃ©/lunch period supervision? (Do they also get extra pay for walking children to the park?)
Add to this free post-retirement health care for themselves and family members. Wow! Who would not want to be a public school teacher? Plus, no one inspects their classroom performance for quality of service. (Why have a state commissioner and a state department of education?) So, no one to tell whether or when their work is “garbage in, garbage out.” And, given that U.S.A. students generally rank lower than those in other industrialized countries in regard to performance, it is little comfort claiming that Sag Harbor (Pierson High) students go to the best colleges after graduation.
In the prevailing circumstances — a tanking economy, housing foreclosures, factory closures and rising unemployment —Â it is hardly surprising that Sag Harbor public school teachers stand pat for contract raises in addition to annual salary increments: completely oblivious to what is going on around them and in the rest of the country. With the New York State in deficit and cutting down on “school aid” they expect school district taxpayers —Â some with mortgage problems, loss of 401(k) retirement funds and jobs —Â to support their lifestyle without any sacrifice on their part: no suspension or deferment of annual increments or renegotiation of existing contracts.
Property taxpayers have themselves to blame for this absurd situation: dumbly (or willfully) bearing a responsibility (public school financing) that, under New York State Constitution, belongs to the legislature. The state legislators condone the violation of state law in return for election and re-election campaign funds from the public school teachers’ unions. Corruption and the rule of men, not of laws —Â even while hell freezes over.
It is pertinent to note that Albany will investigate the use of Community Preservation Funds, but not how school taxes are spent. My school taxes rose by $42 or 1 percent from 2006/07 to 2007/08, but by $472, or 20 percent, from 2007/08 to 2008/09. Thus the increase in 2008/09 is over 1100 percent of the increase in 2007/08. Good take by the public education enterprise while the economy is collapsing. Apotheosis of greed by teachers and legislators.
How Much Can Taxpayers Afford?
The co-presidents of the Sag Harbor ElementaryÂ School PTA, Kim Marcelle and Christ Tice, emotionally responded in their letter to the editor entitled, “Responsible to Support School” (Sag Harbor Express November 27, 2008) to my letter to the editor entitled, “Cut School Spending Now.” With good intentions, they attempt to defend a school district that does not need protecting. They misconstrue my objective eye and they attempt to read my mind with a crystal ball. I am not “offended” as they say by an elementary librarian with superior qualifications earning $122,000 plus an additional $36,000 for benefits. However, I am “shocked” by the $158,600 total for this one employee. I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Marcelle and Ms. Tice when they “feel a fiduciary responsibility to support a public educational system that provides the absolute best education “we can afford to offer.” The key here is what “we can afford to offer.” By equating spending with achievement, they miss my point.
I speak from experience, a nurse who’s done doctoral work in Nursing Education and Administration at Columbia University. When a hospital trims its budget, patients must be given the same care. Somehow hospitals achieve this difficult and sometimes life-threatening goal. So why can’t schools do the same? Ms. Marcelle and Ms. Tice misconstrue and distort my suggestion to cut the budget by 10 percent. Who said anything about cutting programs? Gov. Patterson and Sheldon Silver both predict the $15 billion deficit “will not be closed with only a five percent cut in health and education.” Somehow the district’s administration will attempt to meet the challenge of maintaining programs while cutting spending by evaluating the worth of the programs they offer. As governor Patterson said, “Nothing is sacred,” including education and health care.
The generous post-retirement package was given to public school teachers to compensate for salaries not commensurate with the private sector thirty or forty years ago. Likewise, tenure was instituted to protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious boards of education. Unless a teacher does something egregious, he has a job for life. Now that the public school teachers’ salaries are comparable to those in the private sector, can we still afford the unfair, unreasonable and unaffordable post-retirement benefits? No matter what happens to a district’s revenues, the teachers’ retirement system sends each district a bill to compensate for their decrease in revenue from the retirement system’s investments. The taxpayers have to make up the difference. How much can we afford? Can taxpayers still afford to pay automatic increases of 2.6% every year? This also has to be evaluated. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools, advocates an increased salary for teachers who voluntarily give up their tenure. In time, maybe this innovative idea may take hold in New York State. The teachers’ union, like the United Auto Workers, has to compromise and deal with the economic situation. There are no more entitlements. The key question is how much can taxpayers afford to offer?
Who is comparing the academic achievement of Manorville and Sag Harbor? Again, only the PTA co-presidents do that. In my letter I cite how different districts are handling the decrease in state aid. All districts have the same mandates and deal with mid-year cuts in state aid differently while still meeting New York State requirements.
Since 2004, our school population has steadily decreased and has leveled off. So where is the rise in enrollment that the co-presidents claim?
There is no enmity in my statements, only the cold, hard facts. This pain avoidance must end. The board promised academic and fiscal responsibility. The current economic situation will test their sincerity. Superintendent Gratto is moving the board in the right direction by cutting $300,000 in spending. Thank goodness he is at the helm of the Sag Harbor School District.
Safer and More Efficient
An article in theÂ December 25th Express (Making Safer Routes) discusses initial plans for Jermain Avenue to the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike. One of the three main components being studied by Dunn Engineering, the firm selected for the planning, is the intersection of Jermain Avenue and Suffolk Street. One idea Dunn has suggested is to prohibit right turns for eastbound and westbound traffic at this intersection.Â That must be a mistake!!!Â Going westward from Madison on Jermain and turning right on Suffolk presently presents no traffic problem, there is an exit lane. Prohibiting right turns when going eastward however would make it impossible for residents of Suffolk Street to get to their homes; it would be necessary to add mileage, (to an important Village official and at least fifty other residents) forced to go around Madison across Middle Line Road and then down Suffolk. The existing STOP sign at the corner is sufficient.
LEFT turns ,on the other hand, ARE a big problem. Sight lines for drivers coming out of Suffolk onto Jermain are terrible, creating a definite potential for accidents. Creative thinking will be necessary there; perhaps a traffic calming device in the center (not a roundabout); a high bump or a flag pole so the cars can move out and be seen by oncoming traffic from both directions.
There has been a lot of thought put into the revamping of that crossing for at least a decade, and at the time of the state’s upgrade of 114. There are residents who feel they do have answers to this dangerous traffic situation. Certainly Dunn Engineering should seek the opinions ofÂ informed villagers now.