Editor's note: This letter was contributed by Glenn Montes, a West Islip resident.
At one of the budget workshop meetings held in March, a West Islip resident asked the Board of Education if they thought the West Islip School District had a revenue problem or a spending problem. The board president replied that we have a revenue problem. As no other member of the board spoke up and objected I believe it is safe to assume that all of the board members feel the same way.
As we debate West Islip’s school tax increase, which is one of the highest on Long Island this year, therein lays our problem. The West Islip School District, as represented by the BOE, simply believes that the residents of the town do not pay enough in school taxes to support our district. They seem to have embraced the destructive economic philosophy of tax and spend. This bothered me quite a bit so I took a look at my own personal school district taxes that my family has paid over the past six years that we have lived in our current West Islip home. In that time frame my school district taxes have posted an increase of over 34 percent!
Contrary to what the BOE president says the only revenue problem I foresee is my family’s ability to continue paying tax increases such as this and still be able to continue to afford to live in this town. Lord knows that my income has not increased 34 percent in those same six years.
So then I decided to do a little more research on a website called SeeThroughNY.net. On this fantastic and eye opening site anyone can find an extraordinary amount of information in regards to where all of your hard earned tax dollars are being spent by elected officials who believe that we have “revenue problems” (all the while picking our pockets clean through high taxes). I was somewhat shocked by what I found.
For example, we had an elementary school principal who earned about $137,000 in 2009 see their compensation rise to over $154,300 in 2010. Almost a 14 percent increase.
Then there is an assistant superintendent who made about $136,000 in 2009 and saw their salary jump over 11 percent in 2010 to $151,548. There was another assistant superintendent who made almost $161,000 in 2010.
It didn’t stop there. A director in the district went from $126,000 in 2009 to over $141,000 in 2010. A 12-plus percent rise in compensation.
Another director went from almost $133,000 in 2009 to over $147,000 in 2010 for a hike of over 11 percent in pay.
I would be remiss to leave out that the former school superintendent, who earned $242,000 in 2009 was granted a 10 percent raise by the BOE to finish up at almost $266,000 in 2010. By the way, her contract as well as the teachers contract is right there on the website for all to see.
So the same BOE that says we have a revenue problem presides over a budget that granted exorbitant raises to very highly compensated district employees during a time of severe economic crisis while many families in the town are struggling to pay their own bills. Now they want even more from the taxpayers of the town. Does this make any sense? And it is not just the administrators making a lot of money off of our taxes. A look at the data on the SeeThroughNY.net website of teachers’ salaries in the district shows a very high number making $90,000 a year and more, with a large percentage who make over $100,000 a year.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the hard work and dedication that many of these administrators and educators perform for our kids and believe that they should be fairly compensated but that kind of pay for a work load that is contractually set at 184-seven hour days a year (when the average private sector American works an average of 245- eight to nine hour days a year) seems a little out of whack with reality and lends credence to the efforts that some states have made to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees.
What makes it even more frustrating for me as a taxpayer is that just this past June the teachers union contract was up for negotiation and the deal that was signed in virtually the same as the old contract. There was not any real effort put forth by either side to reduce the pressure on the overburdened taxpayers of West Islip.
The district and the teachers union lost a golden opportunity to make some real structural reforms in the part of the budget that makes up 75 percent of the total and the only ones who really will suffer are us, the taxpayers of the town. I know that teachers union made some half-year pay concessions, and it is appreciated, but quite honestly did they have a choice?
There is one simple thing we can do this year in the short term and that is to vote “No” on the current proposed school budget. In fact, vote “No” twice and let the contingency budget take effect thereby reducing our tax increase from 7.73 percent to 6.94 percent and save over $530,000.
It’s still too much of an increase but unfortunately it is the best we can do this year. And when the threats and the fear mongering start about the doomsday to come for not passing the budget make sure that the BOE understands there are more ways to find cost savings than cutting out elementary school teachers. Maybe if you want your child to play sports or join the robotics team you pay for it yourself and don’t burden the rest of the taxpayers, just for example.
The other short-term action we can take is vote out whatever incumbents on the school board we can. This Board has proven itself not to be up to the task of managing the district responsibly through these hard economic times.
In the long term, we need to make sure that we as a community are doing our part to ensure that tax and spend politicians, whether they be Democrat or Republican, get voted out of office or don’t get into office in the first place. We cannot continue along the financial path that we have been on for years here in New York any longer. It is time for all of us to come to grips with that reality. We pay all of these school taxes to educate our kids and then find them moving off of the Island and out of New York in droves once they are old enough because it is too expensive to live here. We don’t get the return we need on our extremely high school taxes. We also need to understand that every single one of us cannot get all of the things that we feel we need or want. At my job we call this separating the “nice to haves” from the “need to haves.”
The economic times we are in demand bold, unafraid and unselfish action on the part of everyone involved; the administration, the teachers union, the BOE and the taxpayers. The budget being proposed does not go far enough along that path.
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