Michael Dobie, an editorial writer at Long Island’s Newsday, wrote an opinion piece in which he explained with a certain amount of embarrassment why he voted against the school budget for the West Babylon public schools, where his daughters attended, graduated, and went on to outstanding colleges.
West Babylon asked voters to approve its budget because Governor Cuomo put a tax cap on every district in the state, and the cap can’t be raised unless at least 60% of voters approve. The budget in West Babylon was turned down. The assumption of the Cuomo tax cap is that schools will keep their costs down, but costs keep rising, so budget cuts are inevitable.
Dobie wrote (in a piece behind a paywall, sorry, so I can post only the beginning and I have no link):
What have I done?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot, after I did something for the first time since I moved to Long Island 24 years ago.
I voted against a school budget.
Until this year, I never had rejected a budget proposed by my district, West Babylon. Do it for the kids, right? But this time the district was pitching to pierce its 1.36 percent state tax cap by well more than double — in a year when taxpayers will receive state rebate checks for their tax increases when their districts stay within the cap.
So I said no, as did enough other voters to defeat the budget. My hope was that West Babylon would then turn to its teachers union — personnel costs are the bulk of every school budget — to get the savings needed to stay within the cap for the budget revote to take place June 17.
Instead, the district killed the high school bowling, gymnastics, swimming and golf teams, eliminated a bunch of clubs and activities at all grade levels, and fired 18 part-time hall monitors, among other things.
Officials saved $1.3 million and got within the cap, but look at the cost. Kids lost teams and clubs, and adults lost jobs.
I’m not naive — this is usually the way such things work out. But this is my first personal experience with the consequences of voting against a budget, and it’s distressing.
It turns out the administration didn’t believe it could ask teachers for concessions because two years ago, the union agreed to open its contract and spread out one 2.3 percent salary increase over three years. That helped the district in another difficult budget year.
But the teachers have continued to get step increases — essentially, annual longevity raises. West Babylon’s teachers are due an average 3.25 percent step increase next year, which, combined with the 0.75 salary increase, means they’ll get a 4 percent raise. Who gets a 4 percent raise these days?
Please understand, this is not a screed against teachers. It’s an argument against an unsustainable system…..
The rest of the article continues in that vein, inveighing against teachers’ pay.
Dobie thinks that the step increases for teachers must end. Period.
Dave Cunningham, a veteran teacher in the West Babylon schools, wrote to Dobie to explain why he was wrong. A native of Babylon and a graduate of its schools, Dave has taught elementary school and coached high school sports in West Babylon since 1990. Here is Dave’s letter:
I’m happy to see that some of your writing is appearing on Newsday’s pages again. In fact I’ve been meaning to contact you to see if Newsday had any interest in giving a full, honest analysis of the daily assaults on public education in our state and in our local communities. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I read your column this morning.
Newsday’s stance on public education can be summed up thusly: TEACHERS BAD! AND THEY GET SUMMERS OFF! You probably know that the chief purveyor of this nonsense is your education pointman/hachetman, John Hildebrand. He never pens a story without some part of his twisted agenda being validated. On the day of the recent budget vote, he did a great job of finding two aggrieved senior citizens, ages 79 and 81, who gave him statements to support his thesis. Who amongst us wouldn’t sympathize with elderly people living on fixed budgets, besieged by high taxes which according to Newsday, are fueled by the greed of public school teachers? I’m sure they’d make good use of a $98 check from the state. How are those checks not seen as a bribe, used to influence an election?
Had Mr. Hildebrand ventured inside of Santapogue School, (rather than using it for a convenient photo op) he would have found a thriving place where nearly 40% of our students receive free or reduced lunch. He would have seen an “international” school where ELL teachers perform daily miracles with children who speak one of fifteen different languages. Had he spoken with parents and teachers, he would have also discovered that due to the state’s gap elimination program, that West Babylon had lost about $4,000,000 in state aid per year over the last four years. Such facts don’t fit the narrative, so they’re not reported.
The overarching story that Newsday continues to neglect is the stealthy, insidious campaign to privatize public education , here and around the country. I’ll leave it to you to do some research for yourself, but any honest assessment of education in New York will show that NYSED is slowly and quietly outsourcing its authority, its operations, and its soul to the British conglomerate, Pearson. The truth is that the hard-working, overtaxed people of our state are seeing their money spent on tests, standards, curriculum, and materials produced by the non-educators hired by Pearson, often at minimum wage salaries. My experience has shown me that most anything that Pearson produces is either developmentally inappropriate, substandard in quality, or both. Yet the state and school districts continue to buy their products. Pearson writes the state tests, which are not “more difficult” as Newsday and other supine media outlets report. They are designed to produce failure, adding to the narrative of TEACHERS BAD! AND THEY GET SUMMERS OFF! A google search of Pearson/Campaign contributions will tell you all you need to know. Pols from both major parties have benefited from Pearson’s largesse.
Diane Ravitch’s blog, https://dianeravitch.net/ is a treasure trove of information about public education. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has an excellent blog which often features the work of Southside HS Principal, Carol Burris, who is one of the most sensible, articulate voices in the push back against the hostile takeover of our schools by corporate interests. There is a ton of excellent archived work on the site: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/ If you still have anyone at Newsday who is interested in some honest, investigative reporting, (and maybe earning a Pulitizer, to boot!) please share these links with them. FOIA requests should yield information about how much school districts have been mandated and forced to spend on the implementation of Common Core and its attendant exams and assessments. In my 39 years in education I’ve never seen anything as onerous and threatening to education in this country. It’s costly, it’s wrong, and our people deserve better.
I assume that you struggled with your decision to throw the children of WB under the metaphoric bus. I’m sure today’s column wasn’t easy to write. So your takeaway that step increases are the big villain, while popular with the trolls who inhabit Newsday’s comment pages, misses the larger point. You state that the WB district was reluctant to ask the teachers for help because we probably wouldn’t be receptive. We as a faculty have “given back” on numerous occasions during the last ten years. You asked, “Who gets a 4% increase now?” Easy answer: the wealthiest. Since 2011, more than 90% of the income gains in this country have gone to the 1 %. Yet our feckless politicians, their corporate enablers, and an AWOL media rig the game against the working and middle class families who populate our communities.
On a personal note, you should know that I haven’t received a step increase in years. Since I haven’t maxed out my graduate credits, I’m nowhere near the top of the pay scale. So you and the other aggrieved taxpayers of WB are getting a bargain with me; a teacher with nearly 40 years experience at a salary of a 25th year teacher. Silly me, I should have been in grad school when I was coaching WB kids 24/7, 365 days a year. I have no regrets, my former players and students visit every now and then to say thanks and to let me know how they’re doing. Those moments represent the true rewards that a teacher receives. Those are things that nobody at Newsday will understand any time soon, apparently. Enjoy your reading assignments! I look forward to hearing from you. Pay it forward!
All the Best,