The two-percent is necessary because many local school boards can't or won't control costs themselves.
Consider these facts:
- In the last 10 years inflation has averaged less than 2.5 percent.
- The number of students enrolled in Lindenhurst School District has decreased by more than 1,000, and yet our residents have seen their school taxes double!
Does anyone see something wrong with this picture? The cost to educate each Lindenhurst student now exceeds $20,000 per year - more than the tuition of many private schools!
The Lindenhurst Board of Education and administrators would have us believe that their due to contractual rising costs of salaries, pensions and , but who agreed to those contracts in the first place?
And if the , why can't the school board? After all the Village has the same issues, albeit on a smaller scale, of employee contracts, pensions and health-insurance costs.
Some school districts do a better job than others of controlling their costs by seeking competing vendors for products and services and/or alternate funding vehicles.
Here's just one example: In the Smithtown school district the cost of health insurance is only about 10 percent of its total budget, while in Lindenhurst, it's closer to 13 percent.
That three percent difference represents more than $4 million annually in potential savings for Lindenhurst residents, and it could actually lower their tax bill by five percent!
Incredibly, the $18 million health insurance bill has not been put out for competitive bid for many years! Thankfully, after considerable urging from taxpayers, the board and administration have agreed to, at least, explore alternative health plans.
Of course, any change will require the acceptance of the various collective bargaining units. If this board is serious about cutting costs and staying within the two-percent cap, then it can meet any resistance to change, from the unions, by offering the following alternative to their leadership:
"Accept the new health plan or be prepared to lose the number of personnel positions whose salary and benefit costs will equal the unrealized savings of the proposed plan."
No one wants this outcome, but if union leadership is willing to sacrifice the jobs of its members, then the terminated employees can only blame themselves for electing those leaders in the first place.
Assuming this exercise of competitively bidding our health insurance program produces real cost savings, it begs the question: "Where else in the budget might there be room for significant improvement?"
The bottom line? If local school boards won't do the right thing and control costs, then New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is right to step in and do it for them.
But by the same token, in order for the two-percent cap to work, our legislators and governor must immediately:
- Modify, or rescind, those laws that limit the ability of municipalities and school districts to perform meaningful collective bargaining with unions.
- Change the unfunded mandates currently imposed by the state on all municipalities and school districts.
Denis Garbo is a long-time Lindenhurst civic association leader and resident.