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Letter: Contracts, perks put BC in a bind at budget time

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%.

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Comments

teachdaddy 2 years ago

I would like to challenge Mr. Bonanno to do the following: in a follow-up letter to the Spotlight, I would like him to lay out, in writing, exactly how much he feels the teachers should be paid, how much they should pay for their health insurance, and how much they should contribute to their retirement.

Next, I would like him to find out the costs of the other municipal employees of the town of Bethlehem, including the police department, and see how they compare to the teachers' salaries and benefits. Check average salaries, for example.

Then, I would like to ask him if there could be any relationship of the quality of education in the BCSD to the teachers' compensation.

Finally, I would like to point out to Mr. Malachowski that there is no way that "the average teacher pension in NYS is $82,000." In order for that to be the case, a teacher would have to retire making $120,000. My own pension, after 34 years at BC, is $59,000. That's a long way from $82K.

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ConcernedParent 2 years ago

teachdaddy, If you read my comments again you will see that nowhere did I single teachers out. The issues are not with the individuals but rather the system. I think by a vast majority we have phenomenal teachers in Bethlehem, this is why I choose to live and raise my family here. The reality is we are top heavy with salaries in part because of the last few years of cuts and the steady increases negotiated in the contracts. We cannot continue to pay these increases and also be on the hook for skyrocketing retirement and healthcare costs. To address your challenge I would make a few suggestions. Start by eliminating tenure and stop protecting those individuals that have lost the spark or are just in the wrong field. If you are honest with yourself you will admit that we have educators that fit this category. You know it, the kids know it and the administration knows it. We have had to lay off dozens of exceptional new teachers in the past few years to meet our budget numbers. Where will this leave us five or ten years from now? Where will the fresh ideas come from? How will the "tenured" teachers get these infusions of new ideas and teaching methods? Every successful organization has and needs a balance of new and experienced people, why would we want to run our school any differently? Next, institute a salary cap. Other schools have done this locally. If you hit the cap and still have the fire burning inside of you then stay on. However, if someone has lost that desire there would be less incentive to hang on to just build up their pension. Lastly, switch to 401K/profit sharing plans where the employee and employer contribute and the financial risk to the district/taxpayer is minimized. You can't argue with the numbers, more than 75% of our budget goes to pay compensation and benefits ($46 million and $20 million respectively). If the contracts continue to grow as they have we are talking $3.5 to $4 million additional dollars each year. You can only pay for that in one of two ways, raise taxes (7-8% a year to cover those numbers) or cut programming. If you followed the budget process, that means next year we would have to cut the rest of the level 2's all of the 3's and all of the 4's. Is that what we want for our children? This isn't a pretty picture, but we all had a hand in creating it. I will challenge you to gather your colleagues in an open forum so that we can go over the numbers together. The only way this works out for the betterment of our children is if we work side by side towards a solution. My ideas are radical for sure but to continue down this path and do things the way they have always been done is complete lunacy and would be an irresponsible way to plan for our children's futures. Scott Bonanno

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Answerthis 2 years ago

teachdaddy,

First, let me thank you for your career of service to the youth of Bethlehem, 34 years is a masterful achievement. Thank you for sharing that you will only receive a pension of $59,000 per year, it doesn't seem like much money for that much time in your job. How much did you actually contribute to your pension, can you answer that question for the community? When you retire you will receive almost $5,000 per month for the rest of your life. Assuming you retire at age 65, by the time you are 90 you will have collected $1.5 million dollars. Not bad for having paid nothing into the plan. Add in your social security and you will probably be one of the only individuals that will be able to afford to live in Bethlehem 25 years from now.

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teachdaddy 2 years ago

Answer this,

Fortunately for me, I didn't have to contribute anything to my pension plan. That was the deal when I "signed on". I consider it "deferred compensation" for the job I performed. That job, teaching elementary school, included the following: working an extra 10-20 hours each week over my "contract time" in order to get the job done properly; being available to parents by phone almost 24/7; taking an average of 3.2 sick days each year out of 15 available; showing up for work on time everyday, and ready to work when the bell rang; and being visible in the community to talk informally with parents in the supermarket, soccer field, church, and restaurants. So, do I feel guilty about having something I worked over half my life for? The answer is simply, "No".

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