Ask people in Port Washington about the school budget for 2011-2012, and if they follow the issues, they'll likely say the situation looks bleak. That's because spiraling pension and benefit costs and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to slash state aid charges the with the daunting task of coming up with $3 million in order to keep its current programs and staff.
Yet in Port Washington a new legislative task force has cropped up, aiming to lobby Albany against unfunded mandates. Many residents first began hearing about it at Tuesday's School Board meeting.
"We're looking to unite with as many school districts that want to participate to repeal or modify these mandates," said Rob Seiden, who serves on the task force and also sits on the Port Washington Board of Education.
The task force, which started in December, represents a surprising mix.
Consider, for example, one of the founding members, Frank Russo. Russo is president of the Port Washington Education Assembly, whose web site features a link to a 2010 letter to the community on reasons to vote down that year's school budgets.
Yet others on this task force include current school board members Sandra Ehrlich and Larry Greenstein. So are parents, including Judy Epstein, a past-president of AGATE (Advocacy for Gifted and Talented Education), and Irene Sinconegui. There are parents of kindergarteners and parents of high schoolers.
Together, they're pushing their sleeves up and getting to work, to save the district money, while maintaining a quality education for students.
As Seiden put it, the task force “crosses all party lines.”
Parents are concerned about a variety of items, from the expense of state testing to the cost of transportation, specifically being required by law to run school buses, even when students opt to walk or are driven by parents.
In addition, the task force is now looking at recommending changes to a number of unfunded or underfunded mandates:
- Pension reform
- Eliminating Wicks Law (which requires multiple contractors for building projects, potentially bringing significant cost savings
- Eliminating part of the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law that grants raises each year
- Changing the granting of tenure
There is a protest rally being organized for March 18 in New York State Assemblyman’s Shelly Silver’s office, to include mandate relief within the legislation with a property tax cap so that districts aren’t gutted.
The task force has already had opportunity to meet with Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Leg. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn).
The task force meets once a month. For details, or to get more information, email Seiden at email@example.com.