This month's column was originally written as a letter to the parent leaders Plainview-Old Bethpage.

While we all breathed a sigh of relief with the recent passage of our school budget, I wish having a budget in place meant we could look forward to a smooth opening of school in the fall.  Unfortunately, as we prepare for the end of this school year, a sense of foreboding darkens our thoughts of the fall and what may well be a troubled start of a new school year.  

 The members of the PCT and you  are well aware that profound mismanagement of our district gave us a less than rational budget process this year and substantial cuts in programs for our most challenged students.  Even though our members had nothing to do with our budget crisis, we did the responsible thing and offered the district a plan that would have met their financial need while keeping the district=s wages competitive and its academic programs intact.   For reasons that have never been made clear to us, our offer of partnership to solve the district=s financial problem was rebuffed.  

We are well aware that citizens of Long Island are feeling the squeeze of escalating property taxes and the general cost of living.  We live here too!  Some of our members are obligated to work several jobs to provide for their families.  Our members have worked tirelessly to change the way education is funded in New York State where we have relied increasingly on the regressive property tax to support our schools.  But for now, we have to live with the tax system we have.  

While some may think we are overpaid and indulged with a rich benefit package, the facts speak otherwise, and here are some of them derived from the last yearly BOCES study done for school boards and their administrators.  

Fact -   No matter where one looks on the POB teacher salary schedule, our salaries hover at about the 50th percentile for Nassau County.  Our beginning salaries are disturbingly lower than that and undoubtedly affect our district=s hiring competitiveness.  

Fact -   Contrary to popular opinion, POB=s staff contributes heavily towards their health insurance.  Members pay 25% of the cost of a family plan, the highest teacher contribution rate in Nassau County.  Whereas many districts contribute substantially towards health insurance for retirees, POB=s contribution is the lowest in Nassau County, providing only what the law requires.

Fact -   While we, as almost all school employees on Long Island, have other good benefits like dental and disability insurance, ours is provided through a union administered welfare fund that has historically been able to provide these benefits cheaper than school districts can.  

The simple truth is that if you compare the salaries and benefits of POB staff with similar high performing districts in Nassau County, our staff is behind all of them.  Not only are we behind them, but we usually have to struggle to maintain our position while they almost effortlessly extend their contracts from year to year.  Just the other day a contract settlement was announced in Syosset that will essentially keep their teachers abreast of inflation.  What makes Syosset different?  How come their board doesn=t look to solve their budget problems on the backs of the people who do the most important work of the school district?    What is it about the leadership of the Manhasset district that faced with a need to hold the line on their budget preserved every teaching position and program while seeking substantial economies in other areas of their budget, most notably through a reduction in their administrative table of organization.  

 We=re not even asking to be paid what our colleagues in these high performing districts make.  We know that our community can=t afford that at the moment.  We just don=t want to fall any further behind them.   

You have our pledge that in the days ahead we will continue to make every effort to find a solution to our contract issues.  In these efforts, we will try to inconvenience you and your children as little as possible.  We ask that you understand that we are struggling to be treated justly.  We ask that you understand the needs of the staff who care for your children and understand that they cannot forget their own.  

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