Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Informed Fiscal Oversight of Schools - Part 1

Board of education members are told, time and time again during professional development sessions, that they should annually review the complete compensation and benefit package paid to each employee, to each sub-group (administration, teachers, CSEA), and then examine a summary total of all.  How, board members are asked, can a Board make intelligent fiscal decisions if its members do not know the biggest costs incurred by each district – employee salaries/benefits, and retiree benefits?
 I recall that when I was first told this I was president of the BOE and I subsequently had the Superintendent develop such reports for the PCSD. The BOE should request these reports at the beginning of each year.  Additionally, the BOE would be well advised to have the cost of retirees  ($1.9 million) added to the current summary report so the costs for active employees and retired former-employees can be examined in one comprehensive report.
Aside from BOE members, employees should also receive these compensation/benefit reports (publicly available via a FOIL request) because the reports clarify, from year-to-year, the range of and change in salaries, the total compensation paid out, and the escalation of certain benefits, like pension costs [Employee Retirement System (ERS) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS)], and Health Insurance costs. (The Superintendent has provided the public with charts to show the skyrocketing increases in pension costs and health insurance costs.)
For 2011-12 the PCSD will spend approximately 62% if its budget on compensation/benefits. Approximately $13.7 million will be paid this year in salaries & benefits and extra earnings (coaching, advising, etc.). Retiree benefits (health insurance and Medicare Insurance) amount to another $1.9 million yielding a total of $15.6 million. 
The salaries this year amount to $9.3 million and the benefits (for actives employees) amount to $4.3 million. Benefits, to active employees, are now approximately 46% of the total paid in salaries. Benefits, to actives and retirees, are now approximately 67% of the total paid in salaries.  Until the runaway costs of benefits (health insurance and pensions) are gotten under control, more jobs will be lost. Will the solutions come from the local level or will NYS intervene before schools go bankrupt?  
The breakdown of these costs is illuminating and helpful for all to understand. There are big problems ahead that call for informed oversight and governance and an informed populace. 


  1. What was PCS % for employee compensation/benefits in 1980?

  2. That's a very good question, zeke! I have done some preliminary digging of online data but don't have anything yet specifically for Potsdam Central School District. I can tell you that, during the Eighties, State Aid for school districts increased by 124%! That is very intriguing and makes me want to find out how total spending was impacted. If you want to read more about the State Aid side, go to