Newsday recently ran a story about “Anxiety and Kindness”, detailing the slow recovery for Lindenhurst residents after Hurricane Sandy. Over 1200 homes were flooded. As a result of the storm, over 160 Lindenhurst students have been reported as displaced and requiring bussing. The Lindenhurst School District is obligated to provide bussing for students who were displaced and have been relocated within a 50 mile radius (as long as they wish to continue to attend Lindenhurst schools). The current cost factor for this additional transportation is $80,000 a month! FEMA has indicated that they do not fund transportation nor is New York State reimbursing us. Thus, the District has another unfunded mandate.
We are in the process of conducting budget hearings and examining ways to streamline expenditures and increase revenues. In the past 4 years, Lindenhurst UFSD has changed transportation guidelines, cut over 66 teaching positions, and eliminated numerous administrative, clerical, custodial, and aides positions. In 2011-12, we closed an elementary school (E.W. Bower), cut 9th grade athletic teams and combined some varsity and junior varsity teams. We have also eliminated or reduced many electives in the Middle School and High School. The anticipated state aid in 2013-14 is still approximately $3 Million less than the 2009-10 state aid. In 2009-10 state aid represented 37% of our funding; in 2012-13 state aid is only 32% of our funding, with the difference being forced to be made up by our local taxpayers.
For 2013-14, we are faced with huge, inflated pension costs since the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) requires a district contribution of 16.25% of teacher and administrative salaries. This translates to an additional $2.8 Million as compared with 2012-13. The Employee Retirement System (ERS) requires an additional half million dollar contribution for 2013-14. The governor’s proposal to reduce the TRS rate to 12.5% with a district commitment to maintain 12.5% for as long as 20 or 25 years does not make good financial sense in the long run. We believe we would be gambling with our future.
In addition, we have been working hard to negotiate with five of our bargaining units that still have unsettled contracts. As a result of the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, we must continue to pay step and lane increments, since we cannot alter the terms and conditions of employment that were in existence prior to the expiration of a contract. For our teachers’ unit, this involves an additional $1.7 Million for step increments and another potential $300,000 for lane changes as a result of teachers completing additional course work. Our teachers have the ability to refuse to negotiate and still receive steps, which often amounts to a 3% or more raise. This is especially frustrating and disappointing to our Board of Education, to our administrative negotiators, and certainly to the hard-hit Lindenhurst taxpayers.
In addition, our district is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional development and new updated curriculum materials as a result of the new Annual Professional Performance Review and new NYS Core Curriculum Standards – all of this in a community still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. We implore our governor and our state legislators to support public education as “an engineer for economic growth.” We want to avoid educational insolvency, i.e., the inability of school districts to provide quality educational programs due to significantly reduced revenues. Where do we go next? Do we cut kindergarten to half days? Do we cut athletics, giving our 1900 athletes no outlet for after school?
I invite our governor to visit Lindenhurst schools and witness how we’ve done more with less. However, the reality is we can do much more with more. My mantra for our community since the October, 2012 storm has been “Stay safe and stay strong.” We need the help of our government to provide us with more funding to ensure that our students are provided with a quality education and are indeed college and career-ready. We want to be able to truly remain safe and strong.
Richard Nathan, Superintendent
Lindenhurst Public Schools