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Letter: A Teacher’s Response

I read with great interest the letter from John Penn that appeared in the June 13 issue of the Manhasset Press. As a graduate of Manhasset High School, a long-time resident and a Manhasset teacher with 40 years’ experience, I have a rather unique perspective on the workings of the school system.

First, let us clear up some misperceptions that Mr. Penn has presented to the readers. Teachers do not retire with free health care benefits for life. We pay a percentage of the cost of health care, currently at 22%, each year, among the highest rate of contribution on Long Island. If someone retires, they bring with them the cost of their insurance. If I were to retire next year and inform the district before December 31 of my plans, I would continue to pay 22% into my insurance plan.  This amount is negotiable in contract discussions for current employees.  Mr. Penn, we do not have a guaranteed job for life as clearly indicated by the cuts in staff this year. You might argue that tenure prevents the release of staff but that is not true. While I have been a teacher, tenured staff members have been released after careful use of due process for a variety of reasons.  As for the “six figure salaries” that Mr. Penn refers to in his letter. Yes, there are teachers, myself included, who make six figure salaries. But, Mr. Penn apparently forgets one of the basic laws of economics and that is, ”It is not how much you make that counts but how much things cost that count.” When we moved to Manhasset in 1964 my Father made $40,000.00 a year and we purchased a house for $50,000.00. In 1964, virtually all of the administrators in the school system lived in Manhasset as did many of the teachers. This is because on a salary of $12,000.00 you could purchase a house in Manhasset for $30,000.00. In 2013 this house would sell for a million dollars. Today, there is no one in the school system from the superintendent, who is grossly underpaid for the job he does, to even the longest serving teachers, who could afford to buy the average house in Manhasset based on just their salaries. Finally, the major problem with Mr. Penn’s statement, “Many Manhasset residents would readily accept these “civil service “ working conditions..” is that these “residents” would not be living in Manhasset because they couldn’t afford to live here on what teachers’ make in there “civil service” jobs.

I think Mr. Penn’s statement, “Pay it forward” is a wonderful idea. The problem with his statement that “teachers should be doing this” is that teachers are already doing this. Monetarily, the teachers have paid it forward in the last 2 year contract resulting in savings to the Manhasset community of $650,000.00. This year, they paid it forward again by voluntarily contributing $325,000.00 in give backs. On a personal level, keep in mind that most teachers do not work on a clock or strictly to the contract. They are conscientious professionals who do whatever it takes to get the job done. This includes endless hours of preparation, writing college letters of recommendation, informal discussions with colleagues to share ideas, review sessions that take place before school, after school and often during a teacher’s lunch period.  I know of one math teacher who eats her lunch in the math lab during her lunch period so that students can drop by to work with her. Numerous teachers volunteer their time for various unpaid committees. We serve on the committees to hire new teachers and the MAAC committee just to name two.  Coaches spend endless extra hours working with the PAL coaches and PAL players to help them achieve success. As a coach, I missed 38 spring vacations with my family because we practiced and played games during this time. This was the right thing to do, the professional thing to do. I am not alone. This type of dedication continues throughout an extraordinary, dedicated staff. This dedication is the norm not the exception.  In large part, this attitude has made the Manhasset School District one of the outstanding districts’ in the entire nation according to virtually any study that is published.

Mr. Penn’s pontification about the “threats” that are expressed if the budget is not passed is simply stating what New York State required if the June 18th budget was not passed.  The district has to act within state guidelines should they go on an austerity budget. His statement that the school board members need to “step up here and not be bystanders” would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. I know first- hand how hard these people work and the enormous pressures they are under to balance the best education with fiscal responsibility.  Mr. Penn suggests that the Board “trim a little fat here and there.” The Board did that and more for the June 18th budget. Compare the Manhasset budget with budgets of similar districts. What other “fat” do you suggest the Board cuts?  Do not forget that the Board’s first and foremost responsibility is to educate children not to minimize the property tax bills, which are already lower than the tax bills on similarly priced homes in comparable districts.  They are the Board of Education not the Board of Lowering Taxes.

Mr. Penn, you may be trying to educate the people of Manhasset, but like some of my students, you have replaced fact based research with opinion based on rumors, gossip and incorrect facts.  I am a great believer in being in the arena, in the game, so I know first- hand what I am talking about.  I have volunteered on several committees to benefit our students, notably, the MAAC committee. You, on the other hand, according to my research, have served on no school committees, volunteered for nothing in the district.  You have not bothered to roll up your sleeves and volunteer for a committee like the finance committee to find out how the budget operates. What do you say, Mr. Penn, can we count on you joining one committee, say finance or legislative affairs? Can we count on you to do your part and “Pay if forward?”

Robert Rule