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Gary Besemer, Long Islanders for Educational Reform

May 30, 2008 @ 12:00 am EDT


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This past Friday our speaker was Gary Bessemer. Mr Bessemer represents a group called Long Islanders for Educational Reform.  Mr Bessemer’s message pointed out some problems that are costing the taxpayers a lot more than our educational system should. His contention is that good stewardship has not been practiced. This was borne out by some of the things that we learned at the meeting. 

When comparing the administration costs of similar upscale areas such as, Montgomery County in Virginia we are very top heavy. Administration staffs are excessive and continue to grow. Several school superintendents earn more than the US president, and there are well over 100 of these positions on Long Island, whereas there is only one in Montgomery County. Newsday reporter, John Hildebrand wrote about this earlier this year.

While not bashing unions, he did say that the educational unions call all the shots, and politicians are fearful of bucking the tide. The result is whatever they want, they get.  Including 4 to 6% COLA increases while many of the taxpayers are losing wages. Salaries of $100,000 for teachers are commonplace, but that’s not the whole problem. There is no correlation between salaries and teacher competence. In order to fire an obviously bad teacher we must be prepared to spend $300,000 in legal fees. Any citizen that comes to a school board meeting to challenge anything, is ignored and marginalized.

School administrations have no fear, because they know that only 14% of the eligible school district voters actually vote. When a school budget is voted down, the school will take something away from the children, such as band funding, but scheduled increases in salaries happen despite a failed  budget. School budgets are often passed by people who have a direct relationship to the school, that is; teachers administrators, and other staff that live in the district

Gary also took on the costs of teaching autistic children, $50,000 per child. He did not object to the program’ but insisted that the local district should not be totally responsible its funding. He noted that autistic group homes set up in a district can stress a  budget and should be paid for by the state.

Near the end of the Q&A period we discussed the reason for such low bvudget voting turnout. Most people agreed that they simply did not know when the budget was being voted. There was a suggestion that the school budget should be voted on in November. It would then be just another item to vote on while you were at the ballot box anyway. The audience seemed to like that idea, but someone threw out the fact that the school budget comes up earlier in the year. So….? Change it! Change the budgets so they co-incides with the November election. Bessemer liked the idea.