Written by Melissa Argueta: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 27 April 2012 00:00
Despite a challenging school budget season, some positive news for taxpayers was announced at the most recent Garden City Board of Education on Tuesday, April l7. After the board unanimously approved a contract renegotiation with the Garden City Teacher’s Association (GCTA), School Board President Colleen Foley announced the district will save a total of approximately $675,000 and the projected tax levy will be lowered to 3.54 percent (with STAR).
At the start of the meeting, Foley read the terms of the memorandum of agreement with the GCTA, the teacher’s bargaining unit. Foley maintained that the settlement of the teachers’ contract allows the board of education to maintain its focus on the educational mission of the district instead of shifting attention to a potentially lengthy and disruptive negotiation process.
“The board appreciates the community’s long-standing support for the educational system here in Garden City. As the community’s representatives, we also understand that the economic environment has strained our community and its resources. The reopening and renegotiation of terms for the last year of the existing contract, combined with the four-year extension, provides significant savings for the district each year,” she said.
“In addition, the reduction of projected labor cost increases provides a much more stable labor cost environment and allows the district to conduct more extensive and accurate financial planning,” Foley added.
According to the board’s statement, if the existing contract were to remain in place through June 2013, GCTA members would have received a 1.25 percent salary increase next year and a guaranteed move along the salary schedule — known as a “step” increase for experience — in September 2012, as well as the remainder of the step increase delayed in 2011-12. The newly negotiated terms for the 2012-13 year include a 1 percent annual increase with a delay in step movement until April 2013.
This reduction and the delay in step movement are the equivalent of approximately $675,000 in savings for the district in the budget year 2012-2013. “As a result, we have been able to achieve a significant reduction in the projected tax increase for the coming school year,” Foley told the audience.
In school year 2013-14, the contract extension provides for a 0.5 percent annual increase, with half-year delay of incremental step. Foley said this is again a substantial savings to the district.
In school year 2014-15, the contract calls for a 1 percent salary increase with a full year freeze on step — a significant component of the contract. In school years 2015-16 and 2016-17, there is a 1 percent increase each year, and a return to movement on step each year. The new contract also includes two freezes of the auxiliary salary schedule (stipends paid to coaches and club advisors) in years 2013-14 and 2015-16, Foley said.
Additional savings are achieved by limiting the times a teacher can receive a salary increase for completing additional educational credits.
Overall, the district gained a reopening of an existing contract with significant savings that will immediately impact the 2012-13 budget proposal, according to Foley. In total, the extension includes a 3.5 percent salary increase over four years, a second delay in step movement, the loss of a full step increase – meaning the teachers will have a full year freeze on step, limits on salary increases when a teacher completes additional course work, and two freezes of auxiliary salaries.
In terms of retirement incentives, one will be offered in 2013, and an additional incentive will be offered in 2017. The district has agreed to a reduction of the annual staff development requirement by 8 hours.
The school board president also stated that the district “has confidence that GCTA members will continue their tradition of completing considerable professional development in order to remain current in their respective fields and reach the levels of effectiveness required by the new professional performance standards embodied in New York State APPR laws and regulations.
“The board also agreed that in the event it is necessary to abolish positions as a result of budgeting considerations or declining enrollment, teacher layoffs shall be determined in accord with the provisions of Education Law 2510 as said statute exists as of April 1, 2012,” she said.
Of health care, Foley reiterated that past and present boards of education have always negotiated with the intent of focusing district resources on activities that strengthen student achievement and sustain the robust programming for which the school district is known.
“Garden City was the first school district to break through the health care contribution ceiling and remains one of the leaders in this area. Teachers will continue to contribute 25 percent for their family health care premiums, the level regarded as highest among Nassau County school districts,” she said.
Foley explained that the new labor agreement also preserves the district’s control of all processes used to evaluate professional personnel, an item which has been the source of contentious negotiations in many other school districts due to the state’s new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) laws and regulations.
Prior to the adoption of the budget, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen recalled the start of the budget process that this community goes through a lengthy examination of his proposal. “With the changes that the board asked for over the past several sessions, coupled with the newly approved memorandum of agreement with the GCTA… we now have a new budget proposal,” Feirsen said.
Feirsen said the new proposed overall budget is now $104,215, 528, which represents a $3,089,470 or 3.06 percent budget-to-budget increase. The projected tax levy increase is to 3.54 percent (previous 4.25 percent). The maximum allowable tax levy is now 4.2 percent, (previously 4.3 percent).
Since the original budget presentation, the administration has proposed the following reductions: Debt service on the bond due to a very favorable interest rate ($61.419); athletics: elimination of strength and conditioning program ($9,804); transportation: elimination of one bus and two vans ($130,000); reduction of classroom furniture ($10,000); general education contract renegotiation ($569,296) and special education contract renegotiation ($110,704). The total overall reductions equal $891,223.
“Since we’ve been able to achieve reductions, it is my recommendation to the board that we take some of the money that has been saved and reinstate the proposal to buy the original recommendation for the allocation of vans (two buses and two vans overall)…so that’s $130,000 worth of restoration,” Feirsen said.
The board unanimously approved adoption of the budget and voted to restore one full-sized bus or two vans for a cost of $130,000; and to restore $180,000 to the Employee Retirement System reserve.
According to Feirsen, the adopted 2012-13 budget calls for no building closures, maintains class sizes, retains special programs such as FLES and Quest, maintains high school electives, retains full-day kindergarten/music, art and theater, does not change current bus transportation policy and preserves most co-curricular/athletics programs.
Residents have one last chance to make their voices heard at the budget hearing on Tuesday, May 8. Garden City residents will be asked to vote on the budget on Tuesday, May 15.