The District is facing serious financial challenges, so much so that we are compelled to adapt our approach to our programs, our staffing, and the totality of our community’s investment in our schools. We will not diverge from our goals of safety and excellence in our schools with services and programs that provide great value. But that will not happen without inevitable, necessary changes to existing structures.
As many are undoubtedly aware, the cost of running a school district is largely centered on its staff. In the average public school district, roughly three-quarters of all expenditures are typically designated for salaries and benefits to support the direct instructional program. In Blind Brook we surpass 78%.
Mandates continue to be passed down with no funding from Albany. Personnel benefit costs increase, sometimes quite sharply, as is the case with pension benefits projected to go up next year over 36%. The business of 21st Century teaching and learning rapidly evolves, and serious financial challenges have emerged. These challenges have been made particularly acute because of local revenue limitations due to the cap on the tax levy.
Last school year, the average increase for each educator in the district without a contract was 2.7%, not sustainable if the district continues to adhere to the tax cap, which last year was just under 1.77%. Next year the percentage increase paid per person on contract provisions in force will be even higher. Of note, Blind Brook is one of 4 school districts out of over 40 in Westchester, to have kept its annual budget and tax levy increase to an average of 1% or less in each of the past three years.
For the past 19 months, our teachers have worked under the terms and conditions of their expired contract, as per the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. This means that all elements of the contract including built-in increases on the salary schedule known as “steps”, health insurance contributions, stipends, and more, continue to be honored. The only difference is that additional base salary percentage increases have not been added since contract expiration.
Resolution of a new agreement with our teachers, the largest bargaining unit in the district, is at the core of Blind Brook’s future. The last contract between the Blind Brook Federation of Teachers and the Blind Brook Board of Education was negotiated before the financial crisis of 2008, and it expired on June 30th, 2011. There is currently no active negotiation on a new contract.
It’s important for our community to know this information. We also want to bring to your attention the fact that the Blind Brook Federation of Teachers has filed a grievance with the district with respect to terms and conditions of the expired contract. Specifically, the union seeks to invalidate the agreed-upon teachers’ health insurance premium contribution, which if eliminated, would increase the district’s cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
The law says that all terms and conditions of the expired contract must be honored, however, the grievance is being heard by an independent arbitrator. A determination is not expected for months.
Under our contractual agreement, this grievance is supposed to be made to the Board of Education, in a public setting, however union representatives have refused. It is our hope that at some point in the near future that these issues will be resolved to the benefit of our school community.
The world of public education is changing at a rapid pace, and a good portion of it is out of our control, especially in terms of what our government dictates must be accomplished in our schools. Ensuring that the financial inputs, or lack thereof, do not compromise our school district’s excellent outcomes has become one of our board’s key priorities. We look forward to working with all facets of our community to meet this challenge head-on.