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Letter: Island Trees School Budget for the Record Part III

Well, it is that time of year again. The April days are longer and the sun feels a little warmer on your face. Mets and Yankees fans can dream of raising an October celebratory glass and toasting their World Series victors. Young men and women are out and about shopping for tuxedos and prom dresses. Currently, your humble author is even distracted by the tip-off of the NCAA Finals. Alas, spring fever is upon us! April also brings us another important event. It’s time for the Island Trees school budget vote and board of education trustee elections. Few votes, which you cast each year, will be more important than this one. It is always best to be equipped with as many facts as possible when walking into the voting booth and pulling that lever.

I have attended each of this year’s budget hearings, which began on February 3. Very little information can be gained by simply attending these meetings. The United Teachers of Island Trees’ (UTIT) union president has addressed the board and voiced his disenchantment with 39 of his members receiving pink slips notifying them that they could be excessed. In fact, at one meeting, at the direction of the union president, the 39 stood up and put a face to those who are facing layoffs. As one board member has stated, these are extraordinary financial times. She has also stated that this district needs to be run like a $60 million business and this author concurs.

One important factor that a school board member must consider when entering into these difficult discussions and negotiations is student enrollment data. The term student enrollment has not been mentioned once by the board or the UTIT during all of these budget hearings. Teachers unions use enrollment data as a chip during collective bargaining negotiations. If enrollment spikes, union leaders request additional staffing to accommodate the influx of new students. For instance, if the district realized an increase of 200 students over a four-year period, it would be incumbent upon a union leader to seek a meeting with both the board and the administration in order to address this marked increase. In the case of the current scenario at the Island Trees School District, the converse is true. According to information available on the website of the New York State Education Department (nysed.gov), the student enrollment decreased from a high of 2,845 students in the 2005/2006 school year to 2,624 students in the 2009/2010 school year, a loss of 221 students in four years.

To put a face on this 221-student enrollment decrease similar to the 39 pink slip recipients, at 22 students per classroom, this represents ten classrooms of students who are no longer attending our schools. This is 221 kids who no longer take math, science, English, history, physical education, etc. This number represents more than half the total enrollment of J. Fred Sparke Elementary School and this decrease has occurred at the rate of 55 students per year in just a four year period. This is a negative trend. This size decrease has also led to the loss of a small fortune in New York State Aid. In a private $60 million per year business, the loss of 221 clients would trigger a board of directors meeting and immediate restructuring would occur in order to address this negative trend and fend off disaster. Simply accepting a “zero offer” will not cut it. It will simply prolong the agony.

Before the Island Trees Board of Education decides on whether to accept a “zero offer” from the UTIT, the Island Trees BOE has an absolute obligation to the taxpayer to address the enrollment issue. Apparently, the real attrition taking place in the district is student attrition. The proposed 3.98 percent tax levy increase will become a 7 percent real tax dollar increase to the taxpayer at a time when Social Security recipients received a zero percent increase.

Brian Kelty

Island Trees resident

(Brian Kelty ran unsuccessfully against Board of Education Vice President Carl Bonsignore for a trustee position for the 2007/2008 school year.)