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Letter: ‘Why I Am Voting No’

If my position when I was a trustee of the Board on the Westbury Union Free School District a few short years ago were guided by the recommendation of the Westbury School District administration and some of my neighbors, especially those with children attending Westbury Schools, my support of the proposed 2012 school budget would be assured. My position, however, is not only guided by those neighbors or the school district administration.

I have considered many of the issues prior to deciding for myself whether to support the proposed budget or not, and one conclusion I have come to is that some segments of the Westbury community have a vested interest in supporting the proposed budget that are inconsistent with mine.

The school district support staff – the teaching assistants, maintenance and security staffs and educators – would all support and welcome the passage of the proposed budget for 2012. Historically, teaching assistants, maintenance and security personnel and some secretaries have been awarded the smallest contractual salary increases and are the first subject to layoffs and staffing reductions during difficult economic climates like the one we find ourselves in now.

Some reportedly were recently warned, some say “threatened,” that their jobs would be in jeopardy if the 2012 budget fails to pass on May 15. Many have been subject to mandatory reduction in their hours already.

The teachers, it is apparent, also support the proposed budget; however, in 2011 they were just awarded the largest pay increase of all the bargaining units, an increase of 5 percent. How many of you who still have a job received a 5 percent raise in the last few years?

The significant difference between the two groups is that a majority of the support staff reside in Westbury and can vote for or against the budget while 90 percent of the teachers reside elsewhere and are not eligible to cast their votes for or against the budget. This hiring practice alone gives me great pause when I consider my options regarding supporting the budget recommendations proposed by the Westbury Union Free School District Administration.

For the past 10 years, coincidentally, the tenure of the current district administration, we do not hire our own graduates. The minority of hires that are Westbury graduates or Westbury residents, because they are the most recently hired, are on the verge of being laid off.

Before I could support the proposed budget I would as well be compelled to totally disregard the failing test scores and perennial dismal rankings as compared to other Nassau County School Districts. The administration remains silent on the issues of scholastic proficiency, test scores and merit, but rather focuses only on the “special needs” of our children, the poverty levels of the community and the students ethnic backgrounds as justification for the failures of the district.

Based upon published test scores and ranking provided by the New York State Education Department, Westbury consistently places in the bottom quadrant as compared to results achieved by other school districts in Nassau County, yet school taxes and your tax levies have increased year after year doubling in the last 10 years.

As of this year, 2012, the Westbury Middle School has been cited by the New York State Department of Education as “failing to meet the basic standards in academic progress.”

The explanation given by the School Administration for this failure was to cite the New York State Department of Education for raising the standards. What is not mentioned, however, is though the State did “raise the bar,” the majority of Nassau County School Districts met or exceeded the new standards. Westbury failed.

Westbury’s SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores are as well significantly below other Nassau County School Districts’ scores. The 2010 average aggregate SAT score for Westbury students was 1,300 while the national average exceeds 1,500.

A school tax increase will not solve the SAT test score problem in Westbury. A school tax increase will not solve the scholastic ranking problem in Westbury. Take a look at the last 10 years of test scores and rankings in comparison to the tax levy increases over the same period, and the facts will become painfully apparent.

Questionable financial practices in the district as well abound.

Pre-K students were being bused to Wantagh at a startup cost of over one million dollars and a half million dollars recurring cost each subsequent year. The lease for the Wantagh property was over $60,000 per year. The “lack of available space” in Westbury was cited by the administration as the reason to send 125 5-year-olds, our youngest and most vulnerable children, to Wantagh – a seven-mile bus ride each way – twice a day. This decision increased costs across the board, including transportation costs, as more costly mini-buses were required to transport children due to parkway restrictions.

What the school board did not consider was that the former rectory at St. Brigid’s School, an entire building that could have been used to house pre-K and more than 125 children locally in Westbury. Certainly a decision to utilize the alternative St. Brigid’s property would have as well incurred costs, possible even as much as we experienced in Wantagh, the difference is the money would have been spent in Westbury but more importantly our children would be seven miles closer to home.

The Westbury School District persists in these “questionable financial practices” to this very day. For the last 10 years, we have spent $9,000 annually to host our high school graduations at sites outside Westbury.

The Westbury School Administration had deemed it appropriate to purchase over $23,000 of playground equipment for pre-K in Wantagh without the knowledge or approval of the Westbury School Board only having to remove the same equipment just a few years after it was installed, not that pre-K has been returned to Westbury.

The administration recently spent $28,000 for fencing surrounding the high school and administration buildings, and this January, the high school began construction of a Dance Studio, again without the knowledge or approval of the Board of Education or the voters who approve the tax levy increases year after year.

I submit to you, my fellow Westbury residents and taxpayers, that the financial practices employed by the administration and district, in consideration of the consistently poor academic performance year after year, will not be repaired or improved by increasing taxes even further.

I hope you will join me and vote “no” to any school tax increase on May 15.

Larry Wornum
Former Trustee,
Westbury School Board