Frank J. Russo, Jr., who heads the Port Washington Education Assembly, weighs in on school contracts, .
The current "rules" are last in-first out. This is clearly NOT in the best interest of our students. Layoffs should be based on teacher performance.
Teacher performance is increasingly going to come into play, based on changes in policies coming from Albany. Teacher performance should be based on (a) the rating awarded by the principal or asst. principal; (b) based on evaluations of peer teachers – most teachers are very fair-minded and will, I believe, give honest evaluations of their fellow teachers, whose performance they are likely to comprehend quite well; (c) student performance on key tests; (d) surveys conducted on a random basis of parents of K-8th graders and both parents and students in high school. Seniority can be given a small weighting of say 10 percent as well, so as not to penalize higher paid teachers whose performance is fairly close to lower paid ones.
The key problem is that teacher salaries in Long Island are excessive when one considers the market – we have had between 100 and 200 applicants per open teacher position for the past 35 years – I have FOILed this on six occasions. The last time (in 2005), we had 4,800 applicants for about 24 job openings for teachers. Port's median teacher salary last year, excluding extra pay for after school work, was $106,400. This year it is probably around $108,000 – that's the median, or middle, salary. Benefits for health insurance, pensions, social security, etc., is another $40,000. That's a cost of about $148,000 per teacher for an average work year, excluding average absences, of about 35 weeks, much less than the average Nassau resident.
State laws, such as the Triborough Amendment put taxpayers and their representatives (the Board of Education members) at a huge negotiating disadvantage by continuing the STEP salary increases even after the contract expires, placing all the pressure to settle on the BOE and none on the union. Teachers, of whom there are five in my family, are truly wonderful people, but the teacher unions have far too much power and are burdening Long Island taxpayers in a grossly unfair manner. School taxes account for 60 percent of total property taxes. In Port, the cost is over $25,000 per pupil.
Our organization, the Port Washington Education Assembly, PWEA, is trying to keep tax increases reasonable while keeping education quality high. If you want to get on our mailing list, send your name and address to PWEA, PO Box 203, Port Washington, NY, 11050.
Frank J. Russo, Jr