Editor, The Spotlight:
I am writing in response to your various reports and printed editorials pertaining to the Bethlehem School Budget. With all due respect to the quality reporting and the informational editorial that Dr. Douglas penned about the tax cap and the impact this budget will have on our children, why hasn’t anyone taken a look at the big numbers, namely the $66,000,000 in salaries and benefits paid to district employees.
During the last four years they have enjoyed rather plush raises, paid minimal increases for healthcare and benefited from significant payments into retirement plans. The numbers are staggering when you consider how hard our economy has been hit. No one talks about that while hundreds of people were being laid off over the past two years, the members of the BCTA and BCUEA made minimal efforts to try and save their jobs.
Unless serious changes are made to these contracts our school is destined for destruction. After years of trimming fat, slashing the arts, athletics and even closing an elementary school, BC finds itself in a position where these next cuts will hit the core of what makes our school the special place that it is. We are all guilty of letting things get to this point. We took the aid and used it to keep pace with the escalating contracts without even considering if these increases were reasonable. We find ourselves in a position where the well has run dry. Employees must feel entitled to these increases, that what is happening with our economy shouldn’t be part of the discussion and that taking smaller raises or contributing more for their healthcare and retirements shouldn’t be asked of them. We will never know because parents and taxpayers are not allowed to participate in the negotiations.
These increases will either bankrupt us or force the Board of Education to strip every last non-instructional program from the curriculum. Payments into retirement systems have skyrocketed from $3,000,000 in 2009 to almost $6,700,000. Add in healthcare costs and salary increases and the district will spend an additional $3.5 million this year alone. To fund this, property taxes would need to increase by almost 7%.