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Letter: May 18 School Budget Vote Matters

Roughly 55 percent of Garden City resident’s property taxes go to Garden City Schools (32 percent village; 13 percent county). While we believe there is less waste in our schools than our village, the trend of uncapped employee benefits devouring our village infrastructure (i.e. roads, buildings) is also eating our children’s education. Garden City’s roughly 7,500 households are fully responsible for any pension and healthcare cost inflation for Garden City’s roughly 1,500 active and retired unionized employees (school 1,000, village 500). We believe our school and village administrators have to make a public commitment to limit resident exposure to ever higher employee pension and healthcare benefits, or residents should continue to get out and vote otherwise. The next opportunity is the May 19 resident school budget vote, so let us explain.

In the current proposed 2010-11 Garden City School Budget, (teacher, administrator and school maintenance) pension and healthcare benefits are forecast to rise to 22.2 percent of the $98 million budget from 19.9 percent last year (see spreadsheet link on April 8 school budget post at www.gardencityresidents.org). One major planned offset to these cost increases in the 2010-11 budget, and similar to prior years albeit at an accelerated rate, is to cut nine of our 552 teacher positions (administrator and maintenance headcount are unchanged). Larger class sizes, eliminating the second- through fifth-grade science specialist, and ratcheting back the relatively small Quest program are all direct consequences of higher pension and healthcare costs. We can debate the true risk of these cuts all day, but most residents can probably agree that there should not be any curriculum cuts if the school tax levy is up the proposed 4.5 percent ($400 per resident).

Garden City School tax increases and curriculum cuts will accelerate, but this can be mitigated if the school board makes healthcare cost inflation sharing (pension is negotiated by the state) a cornerstone of this year’s labor negotiations. Franklin Square School District, for example, just recently capped the healthcare cost inflation risk for its residents. Plus, Garden City’s teachers have made concessions in the past (i.e. they already share more of their healthcare costs than any Garden City Village employee) that demonstrate their commitment to the students. So, we believe, Garden City residents should seriously consider voting against the school budget on May 18, unless the teacher positions are reinstated, at the expense of non-curriculum related items, and/or the school board commits to limiting the risk of rising healthcare costs in this year’s labor negotiations. Sending the school budget back to the drawing board may be necessary given what is at stake.

Ron Tadross

Ray Rudolph