It’s a rule of business and government that your chances of solving a problem are a lot better if you understand the problem. Early in the movie Moneyball, general manager Billy Beane tries unsuccessfully to get his chief scout, Grady Fuson, to articulate the problem facing the Oakland Athletics.
Billy: You’re just talking, like this is business as usual. It’s not.
Grady: Look, we’re trying to solve the problem here, Billy.
Billy: Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem.
Grady: We’re very aware of the problem.
Billy: OK, good. What’s the problem?
Grady: (pause) Look, Billy, we all understand what the problem is.
An article in last week’s Ledger on the Jan. 24 school board meeting shows that, like Billy Beane, the school board is now “very aware of the problem” we have here in KLSD—a problem, by the way, that we’ve been writing about for nearly 10 years. In contrast, the teachers’ union, like Grady Fuson, doesn’t understand the problem or, more likely, doesn’t think it’s a problem. More on that in a minute.
The problem is that over the next 10 years, even with the 2% tax cap, the district will experience higher spending and declining enrollment—in other words, more spending and fewer kids. There are some adults who are mature enough to be able to refrain from saying, “We told you so!” Fortunately, they don’t work at Briefing Book — “We told you so!”
According to projections compiled by BOE vice president Charles Day, the district’s budget is projected to increase from $113 million in 2012 to $142 million in 2022. Coupled with declining enrollment, the Katonah-Lewisboro school district will go from spending $32,677 per pupil in 2012 to spending more than $48,000 per pupil in 2022. That spending problem caught the attention of the school superintendent, Dr. Paul Kreutzer.
“These numbers are conservative,” Dr. Kreutzer told the board. “You could freeze the levy and we’d still see an increase. We’re not recapturing costs from a declining enrollment.”
What costs are those? According to the Finance Committee, KLSD’s per-pupil spending far exceeds per-pupil spending in districts with higher incomes, like Scarsdale, Chappaqua and Bedford. Almost all of the difference between what we spend up here compared to what they spend down there is in one area—teacher salaries and benefits. “It’s for the children” has been replaced by “It’s for the salaries and benefits.”
And that’s where the teachers’ union comes in. Or more specifically, the shadowy group called the “Executive Board” of the teachers’ union, which has waged the politics of personal destruction against Dr. Kreutzer ever since his arrival.
We’d like to introduce you to two more members of this mysterious group. Warren Arbiter is an instrumental music teacher at Meadow Pond Elementary School and band director at John Jay Middle School. And we can just imagine the tunes he’s whistling at an annual salary of $124,435 (as of 2010), along with a guaranteed pension and lifetime health care. Mr. Arbiter’s salary is 2.5 times the average salary for New York state employees ($49,897) and 2.76 times the average salary for New York’s public school employees ($45,043).
Similarly, Executive Board member and seventh grade math teacher Diane Mineo earns $136,350, which is 2.73 times the average salary for New York state employees and three times the average salary for New York state public school employees. As for her guaranteed pension and lifetime health care benefits compared to yours—well, you do the math.
With what we’re spending, Mr. Day told his colleagues, it will be difficult to come up with the money that’s needed to institute new programs. Full-day kindergarten? Not likely with these numbers, Mr. Day told the board.
“Think differently,” Billy tells his staff. “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” The school board needs to think differently as well, or the taxpayers will end up the losers.