The state School Boards Association issued a response today to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Feb. 16 online letter to New Yorkers, in which he sought support for his proposed $1.5 billion cut to education funding and said, “Throwing money at the problem is not the answer.” He said school districts should be able to absorb the reductions by using unspent reserves and federal funds, freezing wages, requiring employees to contribute more toward health insurance, and cutting top administrators’ salaries, particularly those of superintendents.
The School Boards Association responded on behalf of the state’s 5,000 elected school-board members, recommending four changes it said would help districts handle the cuts. They are:
— Amend the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law to eliminate automatic salary increases — longevity and “step” increases — when labor contracts have expired. The association estimated doing that could save school districts more than $100 million a year and would give them even footing with unions in negotiating future contracts. “The Triborough ‘safety net’ removes the bargaining unit’s incentive to reopen a contract, knowing that a wage freeze or other concessions are being sought by the school board,” the School Boards Association’s letter said.
— Propose legislation that would set a statewide mandatory minimum contribution for health insurance of 15 percent for individuals and 25 percent for families. The association said the top objective for most school boards has long been raising employee contributions. “While we have made incremental progress, the cost increases for covering employees and retirees are outpacing our efforts at the bargaining table. State-mandated minimum thresholds would bring school employee healthcare contributions closer to the national average of 19 percent for single coverage and 30 percent for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation,” its letter said.
Teachers in more than three-quarters of the state’s school districts contributed less than 15 percent for individual coverage, and those in 96 percent of districts paid less than 25 percent of the premium for family health coverage. With a mandated minimum, total savings statewide could reach $500 million a year, the group said.
— Eliminate mandates that are costly for school districts, such as special-education requirements that exceed federal requirements, “archaic” disciplinary procedures for tenured teachers, and the Wicks Law, which requires multiple contracts for public construction projects. “Addressing the main cost drivers within the school district budget – particularly pensions, special education and outdated management operations – would be a better strategy for reducing school district costs rather than implementing a proposed property tax cap,” the letter said.
— Agree to a “reasonable phase-in schedule of court-ordered state aid increases, and support a foundation aid formula that fairly reflects local economic conditions,” the association wrote. The state’s reduction in school funding means it has not complied with increases required by the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against the state. The state’s school-funding formula was found to have violated the state constitution’s guarantee of a “sound basic education” for New York City schoolchildren. The remedy was to change the formula and correct the inequities between wealthy and poor communities statewide, but the implementation has been delayed because of the state’s financial problems.