$26,000,000 is a lot of money and it should be enough to educate 1400 students. When I was Chair of the Potsdam Board of Education's Finance Committee, I was astonished that anyone could think that we didn't have enough money to fulfill the mission of educating our students. It is all a matter of priorities and how we choose to allocate that money.
Let me give an example. Until 2008, members of the Potsdam Teacher's Association did not contribute to the cost of their health plan. From 2008-2012, they contributed 2-3% to the approximate $1.4 million dollar cost of that plan. With the most recent agreement, they will contribute 6-9% to the costs of the plan. One could argue that that is progress. But with every contract approval, there have been salary increases above and beyond the rate of inflation which offset the costs that individuals would have to pay for their health insurance. It is called "holding the employees harmless".
This level of contribution has not been the same for other members of the staff at Potsdam Central. During this same time period, administrators have been paying 10% of the costs of their health care premiums and CSEA staff have been paying an average of 15% (nothing for single coverage and up to 25% for family coverage). Don't get me started on the lowest paid employees paying the highest percentages of health insurance.
What about the quality of the health plan? Paying very little for a limited plan might be justified because there could still be many extra costs for its subscribers. However, the St. Lawrence-Lewis Health Insurance Plan is Cadillac quality in the world of health plans. Administrators and Board members for the last ten years have shaken their heads when attending workshops about bargaining issues or doing research on health care plans for school staff. They have reviewed many other plans in the state and across the nation and have yet to find one as good. This is an important issue because the Teacher's Union has often said that they are willing to change plans, if the benefits remain the same. Impossible, as it turns out. The St. Lawrence-Lewis Health Insurance Plan premium cost increases are often in the double digits, completely absorbing extra monies that the State provides to the districts in extra aid.
In ten years, the Potsdam Central School's Spending Plan has increased from $19 million dollars to $26 million dollars, a 37% increase. During the same time, healthcare costs for all employees has gone from $2.7 million dollars to over $4 million dollars, a 50% increase. Where has all of the money gone? As I said at the beginning, it is all a matter of priorities.