Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Schools & Mandate Relief: What Can We Do?

Because NYS is (and has been) in the midst of a fiscal crisis, cuts have had to be made to curtail spending so the state can begin to live within its means. Government spending, in excess of revenues, is called deficit spending and is unsustainable and unwise.

Governor Cuomo has reduced spending on schools by cutting NYS aid to schools and by supporting the landmark Property Tax Cap (which requires that property taxes levied by local governments and school districts not increase by more than either 2% or the CPI [Consumer Price Index] - whichever is lower).

The significant cuts to education and the passage of the Tax Cap have left schools scrambling and cutting faculty, staff, and programs, and facing insolvency. It only makes sense that since public schools are facing NYS aid cuts (or flat aid) and taxation limitations (Property Tax Cap - unless a supermajority of voters permits exceeding the limit) that NYS legislators should give schools long-promised relief by cutting onerous and costly mandates. The Governor even formed a Mandate Relief Council to travel around NYS for a year to gather information.

Unfortunately, the Mandate Relief Council voted down all but 14 requests for relief. See:

For real mandate relief, many have suggested the following:

1. Health Insurance Costs: Potsdam Central School District officials requested of the Mandate Relief Council that there be a cap on the percentage the employer pays toward the health insurance premiums thus requiring employees and retirees pay a set percentage. District officials do deserve credit for giving voice to an issue that they have felt somewhat helpless to address in negotiations. Who will solve this problem - NYS or local districts via negotiations? Each seems to be tossing the ball to the other.

2. Triborough Amendment: This amendment to the Taylor Law mandates pay raises even when a contract expires and guarantees that all provisions of an expired contract remain in tact when a contract expires.
    The central problem is that this is a formula for union negotiators to delay agreeing on a new contract. A retired CSEA employee on the PCS CSEA negotiations' team even told me that a Teachers' union officer advised CSEA to delay in their negotiations because management would surely be asking for an increase in the employees' contributions to the skyrocketing costs of health insurance premiums.

For a list of unfunded mandates on NY's public schools, see: 

    What can the public do? Lobby the Governor and NYS politicians. The Governor's Mandate Relief Council dodged the issue of health insurance costs and the Triborough Amendment by directing the commission to omit recommendations that are under the auspices of existing State Law (i.e. Triborough) or under the obligations of contracts between schools and employees (Health Ins. contributions). See:

    The role of locally crafted contracts in the current dire financial situation facing so many North Country schools will be covered in a subsequent blog posting. The problem is not just what NYS is doing with regards to cutting school aid. An equally significant problem is the contracts superintendents are recommending and Boards are ratifying. They are agreeing to staggering and unsustainable future costs.  It is this latter issue that is all but ignored when local officials explain the source of our schools' fiscal problems.

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