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Frank Russo, School reform

October 21, 2005 @ 12:00 am EDT


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Members and friends

This morning’s speaker, Frank Russo, who is affiliated with a group called Long Islanders for School Reform (LIFER) website, lischooltax.com was a font of information.


Long Islanders have complained about the high school taxes for many years. We appear to have thrown up our arms in surrender. Now this group emerges and they are showing us that there are ways of making our school taxes lower without the prospect of compromising the quality of education.


Mr. Russo pointed out to us that the school boards have powers that they simply do not exercise. For example the board has a lot of say over salaries. Each district maintains they must keep salaries high to be competitive in hiring able teachers. This argument loses credibility when each job opening in almost any school district on Long Island has between 100 and 130 applicants. Surely there are capable candidates among a pool that large.

Mandates are often cited as constraints on board decisions, however building budgets and salaries are the largest part of the budgets and school boards have control of that. Of course there are mandates that have to be met, and they comprise about 15% of the budget, but state aid always more than covers that portion.


One of the factors in personnel cost is the pensions. Overtime and extra assignments in the final years of employment are used to calculate the pension amounts. This results in pensions that nearly as high as their working status pay. Only in government employment will you find this, and no where in industry is this done, according to Russo.


Contingent school budgets are allowed to be 120% higher than the CPI. Than negates the meaning of Consumer Price Index.


There were several other anomalies cites by Mr. Russo that keep these school costs spiraling upward. One of them being, the Wicks Law which makes new construction more costly.


Mr. Russo was asked about school consolidation, and he did not think that was as big a factor. I found that interesting because one of our up coming speakers will be making consolidation his central point.


This was not a fire and brimstone speech, but rather a reasoned argument for change.


Next week our speaker will be our newly elected assemblyman Mark Allessi. More on that next week. Meanwhile have nice weekend.

Ernie Fazio