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Op-Ed: Is Lindenhurst BOE Really Running Out of Cost-Savings Options?

John Lisi, Daniel Street Civic Association president, discusses the possibility of finding savings by analyzing the amount Lindenhurst School District pays for health insurance for its educators.

Starting the Lindenhurst Board of Education will again begin the process of developing the district’s budget for the school year.

As stated before and again recently, this will be an arduous and painful process, wherein everything will be on the table for review and to face cuts: kindergarten, clubs, sports and programming, to name just a few.

Under the new New York state two-percent , our district has to find approximately $3.6 million in savings to comply with the tax law. The reality is that there aren’t enough clubs, programing and sports to cut, to make up the required $3.6 million unless Armageddon prevails.

The budget process, along with the public , is good in that it provides transparency and a venue for community involvement. Regrettably, there is never strong participation by the community, and yet these are the property taxpayers and parents of the students in the district.

Also missing, most of the time, are the educators who collectively comprise some 80 percent of the district’s budget, (with salaries and benefits) and whose union representatives have not seen the need, to date, to make meaningful compromises to help with the budget.

There is, however, one large budget line item, that we may be able to make changes on and possibly yield big savings - that is the cost of for our educators.

Lindenhurst currently pays approximately $18 million for its Empire Health Plan. Based on the number of people covered by it (over 650), we are paying far more, in proportion, than other school districts on Long Island.

One methodology to reduce this cost is to go out and solicit proposals from competitive insurance companies for an equal to/or better than policy at a lower cost.

I cite the equal to/or better than issue because there is a clause in the current, previously board-approved, teachers’ contract that states any changes to the contract must be approved by them and that the changes must be equal to/or better than current situations.

Wow! This needs to be done immediately to see if we can accomplish the desired savings, since we have not tested our premium in years.

The other insurance possibility is to study district self-insurance which appears risky on the surface, but is successfully accomplished by many other districts. Several community insurance specialists have already offered advice to administration on the process to accomplish this. This, too, needs to be done concurrent with the bidding attempt.

Not being successful with either of these two, previously mentioned processes, it leaves the district with but a few options, and these options will have to be made to a community that has already expressed that they do not want any more large tax increases, and they do not want more things taken away from the students.

They are:

1. Deep, deep cuts to programming and extracurricular activities and clubs.

2. As always done in the private business sector, conduct a massive staff layoff.

Or

3. Attempt to convince the community, using the threat of the deep cuts to student programming and activities, to allow a budget increase in excess of the state mandated two-percent tax cap by approving that larger proposed budget, by a supermajority of at least 60 percent of the voters.

Previous, informal surveys of public opinion and previous voting results, in Lindenhurst, have shown that the support for this last option does not exist.

Additionally, the risk in trying this is that two failed budget votes will result in a sort of penalty phase in which the district would have to then find additional savings money (approximately another $3 million to $3.5 million for total of $7 million), instead of the original $3.6 million.

Do you find all of this somewhat shocking? Regrettably it is true, and these conditions will prevail for at least several more years.

Please make it your business to come to the budget meetings to listen to and express your opinions on the issues. Every opinion counts whether you are actively employed, a homemaker or a retiree.

Speak to your school board members at the meetings, call them on the phone, or provide your thoughts via the Lindenhurst School District web survey and be a well-informed voter in .

Thank you.

 

is the president of the Daniel Street Civic Association.

 

Editor's Note: Here's what residents and readers of Lindenhurst Patch had to say about Lisi's ideas:

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter, or e-mail barbara.loehr@patch.com with your own opinion piece about the .

Bruce January 27, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Its time the educators take a pay cut. Every year you say its for the children. If the teachers really feel that way. They would take a cut in pay. I had to take a 15 percent pay cut to save jobs in 2008 with 0 increase since.
LindyMom*4 January 28, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Why don't these teachers have to pay into their medical everyone else has to. I understand they teach our children but come on what makes them so special that they do not have to contribute. Each year I have to figure how to support my family with either no increase in salary but an increase in the union and medical contributions or a slight increasse in salary but a bigger increase in union and medical contributions which equalls to no increase and a bigger loss for my family. And I still have to teach my children because that's part of my job as a parent. This is what I've been told by the teachers my children have had. I think they forget that we know we pay their salary in our taxes. And most of the teachers don't even live in Lindenhurst they live in other cities on Long Island.
John Lisi January 28, 2012 at 02:27 PM
To LindyMom*4 : To be fair, it should be clarified that the educators do currently pay 15% towards their health insurance. You are on the right path however. Out there in the private sector, most of us are paying 30-50% of our health insurance, which is typical. Additionally, they only pay 15% of the premium for any of their family members that are covered by this same policy. It should also be noted that the Empire policy offered by our District is one of the Premier policies, if the not the best one around. Lastly, our current contract with the educators provides that if an educator declines the district offered policy, they get a payment called "declination pay" which today is approx. $ 7,000.00 per year. ( arguably the highest payment on L.I. ) Collectively the total come to apx. $ 900,000.00 / year for the district. You mentioned that you have not had an increase in salary---regrettably, many others out there are experiencing that same situation. Did you know that even now, while our educators are working in the absence of an agreed on contract, they are still getting some 3 - 5+ % increase per year thanks to the Taylor law and Triborough Amendment? A meaningful contract concession by the educators would certainly help us, but changes in the state laws ARE A MUST.
bubba January 30, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Unfortunately, Lindenhurst finds itself in a deplorable situation; cutbacks in state aid, a tax cap and an unwillingness from the teachers association to make desperately needed concessions. It is time for the Superintendent and the BOE to step-up and meet the challenge, without taking more from the students, or having the taxpayers pay more. Stop going to the community to fix this mess, we have done all we can. The community has sat back and watched, for years, previous boards create teacher's contracts that are so lucrative that they are literally bankrupting the district. The community has sat back and just approved the budget year after year allowing the schools to operate with "business as usual ". The community has sat back and listened to Mr. Nathan express his dismay that he must "excess" teachers after eight years of service. Unfortunately, this is happening every day in the private sector !!! The Lindenhurst community has done it's part in supporting past decisions (good or bad) to the tune of 65% of our tax bill..!!! The time has come for the administration and the board to step up, be creative and find new solutions.
Outside looking in January 30, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Amen to that!
Karen Stephan January 30, 2012 at 07:51 PM
If our superintendent and the BOE refuse to take a hard look at the teachers health benefits then maybe a special committee comprised of only tax payers (since we alone foot the bill) should be formed to choose an appropriate health benefit package. I also what to know why I didn't receive a phone call from the superintendent office. Is it because I am only a tax payer and I do not have any children currently in the system in which Mr. Nathan's crocodile tears to the parents would have no affect on me. Lindenhurst has done nothing for the children for the past 20 years except make the teachers the wealthiest people at the expense of all of us. The teachers have used the same lesson plans since the dawn of time. They have not and will not keep up with the advances in technology because it is not in their contract. I give credit to any teacher who goes above and beyond their current contract without financial gains. Even when they retire they still burn us every year. JUST LOOK AT THEIR CURRENT RETIREMENT PACKAGE -- IT WILL MAKE YOU SICK. If the teachers will not work with the community then lets go back to basics and make sure we do not go one penny over the 2%. When they realize they are putting us into bankruptcy the bad will leave and the good ones will stay. Then we start again -- the right way. We must write to the governor to get rid of the TAYLOR LAW. This is what binds us and prevents us from any bargaining table.
Richard Burke January 30, 2012 at 08:35 PM
First, reduce the number of district wide administrators - for instance, eliminate eliminate the Assistant to the Superintendent for Special Education & Pupil Personnel Services and divide his responsibilities between the two remaining Asst Supts. The, eliminate Asst Principals and Admin Assts for discipline. After that, tell TAL how many teachers will be lost if long term concessions (50% health insurance premium contribution and real wage freeze - no step raises) aren't made. Raise class sizes before eliminating programs and extra curriculars. Really focus on the kids instead of just offering lip service to support spending more money. District voters will not support exceeding the cap, so find a way to make the district work within it.
Outside looking in January 30, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Ms. Stephan, I don't think the taxpayers need to choose healthcare benefits for the teachers. Simply having them contribute more to their premiums and getting rid of the "declination" award would, in my opinion, be of great help. Also, I don't think you want to get rid of the Taylor law. What you want to get rid of is the Triborough Amendment. And, great ideas Mr. Burke. I encourage you to come to the budget workshop meetings and go a round or two with Mr. Nathan and the board. Maybe you can put them on the right track. But, correct me if I'm wrong, weren't you on the board back when those lucrative teacher contracts were signed?
Richard Burke January 30, 2012 at 09:37 PM
No, I was off the Board when the last contract was signed. In fact, my positions for that contract negotiation (reworked salary schedules to reduce steps, pay freeze, and increased contributions) was the main reason TAL waged a campaign against me. Prior to that, I was on the Board when prior contracts were settled, including those that saw step increases of zero and increased health contributions. Today's tougher times require tougher terms.
Outside looking in January 30, 2012 at 09:42 PM
I totally agree with you Mr. Burke and wish you would come to any or all of the budget workshop meetings. Unfortunately we have a superintendent who doesn't seem to realize he's running a business.
Richard Burke January 31, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Well, he's not running a business - there is no product or service created or sold. He is running a government owned and operated educational system. But he now needs to operate with a severely restricted budget, and that is outside his experience and training. In addition, it is outside the experience and training of his employees. That is why administration cannot figure out how to deal with this and TAL cannot accept givebacks without anything gotten in return. Administration's biggest problem is existing contracts, followed by the Triborough Law, followed by civil service rules and laws. Eventually, in order to provide education to its students, the District will have to fight its work rules (contractual and past practice created) in Court. That is probably another school year away.
Richard Burke January 31, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Of course, a really good question is: "Why isn't the full budget on line for the community to review?"
John Lisi January 31, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Well put Richard ! Someone may wonder why you stated that the district is a government owned and operated educational system. Correct me if I am incorrect, but I believe that you meant that even though the local property taxpayers pay for this system, due to all the operating parameters,rules and regulations set in place by Federal and State Governments, we get little, or no say, in how it is run . Regrettably, I do not expect that the district will go to court and I, like everyone else, do not expect our legislators to step up to the plate to change the archaic laws that erode the ability of the district to function properly. When some folks say "run it like a business" I believe that they are referring to the fact that the Superintendent and Board have EQUAL responsibility to the students, educators AND property taxpayers. For too many years, the fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers has been put last.
Lindy Mom February 01, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Why isn't the budget for all to review, because many things would be questions that they don't want us to know. Thats why.... Full Disclosure it is not. You know yourself.
Karen Stephan February 02, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Mr. Burke are going to bring all your concerns to the Legislative Breakfast? Are you also for taking teachers off our property tax and incorporate them into income tax just like the 5 boroughs do? This way our school budget would totally be focused on the children, ancillary personnel, and maintenance of our schools.
Karen Stephan February 02, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I stand corrected, thank you.

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