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Briefing Book: Understanding the problem

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 “It’s for the children” has been replaced by “It’s for the salaries and benefits.”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.

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  • L Brooks

    Since the Briefing Book has a habit of referring to itself in the first person plural, maybe it should consider adopting “We distort, you decide” as its tagline. It certainly fits this piece.

    Of course KLSD teachers’ salaries are higher than the average salary for “New York state employees.” That’s because the list of “NY state employees” includes income earned by state highway crew workers, DMV clerks, custodians, mechanics, court stenographers, and other positions that, in some cases, do not require a college degree for employment or, as in the case of teachers, a masters degree.

    Of course the salaries of KLSD teachers are higher than “the New York State average.” Comparing Westchester County/New York City metropolitan area economic data with data from the rest of the state is bound to produce skewed results. They don’t work in Cayuga County, Otsego County, Yates County, or Herkimer County. Their numbers and the other numbers from “upstate” districts are irrelevant.

    Considering that, your comparison of KLSD teachers’ salaries to those of “New York’s public school employees” is doubly disingenuous, since that figure is calculated using the salaries of secretaries, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, groundskeepers, cafeteria workers, teacher’s aides, security guards, etc. from Potsdam, Cazenovia, French Creek, Halfmoon, Moriah, and every other town in the state.

    If you were a journalist, the Briefing Book would be obligated to avoid these deliberate distortions. Of course you’re a columnist, so professional ethics don’t apply. In the future, maybe personal ethics will compel you to show some respect for your readers’ intelligence.

    • Glenn DeFaber

      Look who’s talking about ethics. The more the union’s mouthpieces talk the bigger the hole they dig.

  • Brutus

    Assuming the union leaders are comprehending at grade level, they should read the FACE report. While per-pupil expenditures is to some extent an artificial number, we are not talking about overpaid secretaries. Pure and simple, we pay significantly higher salaries to our teachers than comparable districts .

    The BOE shares some responsibility for this since many of us have mentioned for years that given our geographic location, closer to Putnam and Dutchess and towns like New Fairfield and Brookfield,we could attract the same level of teacher as those other districts while paying a little less.

    How ironic that those leaders, including our $154,000 per year health teacher most often live in communities that choose to pay the teachers of their own children significantly less than they are demanding of us.

  • Reeve1

    LB, when you find you are digging yourself into a hole, just drop the shovel.

  • ewing33

    I truly love living in this area but the tax increases are becoming unbearable. Fortunately, my business is portable and if things do not change within a few years I am going to move my family to another part of the country. For the amount we pay in taxes I could buy a very high quality private school education elsewhere. Many, many people in the district are beginning to think this way. I could accept the costs if the quality remained high but we all know that every year we are paying more and receiving less. So, as far as I am concerned, the teachers union could accept the inevitable 100% increase in their health care costs, along with a 5 year salary freeze. The alternative is that we will remain stuck in the cycle of increasing costs and decreasng quality which will lead to an exodus of residents and a mass firing of quality teachers.

  • mundtt

    It’s probably worse than you think. Unclear why this is not on the website, but on page 8 of the print version, there is an article on school attendance audits. Inter alia, the audits recommend “the district should also formalize what constitutes excessive employee absences and consider negotiating changes to contracts with employee associations to encourage positive attendance and minimize the use of leave, especially by the teaching staff…..”

    Taking those words at face value, it’s hard to come up with a better caricature of union contract nonsense: in the “real world”, ‘positive’ attendance is ‘encouraged’ by the ever-present risk of job loss. You can’t make this stuff up – it’s stranger than fiction.

    Meanwhile, the FACE report has salaries and benefits at over 80% of the total budget, with certainly the benefits portion rising up, up, up! in coming years. We know what the unions are getting. What exactly are taxpayers getting when “positive attendance” has to be negotiated with people already very well compensated?

  • Tom

    I’ve seen it written often that Katonah-Lewisboro teacher salaries are higher than other, wealthier districts. KL teacher salaries rank around 8th to 12th in Westchester depending on how you measure it. I’ve seen the data. Perhaps KL has more senior teachers, or more teachers in total but the general salary structure is in line with the rest of the county.

    You can complain about teacher salaries and benefits in general but The KL union has simply managed to keep it’s membership in the middle of the pack of comparable districts.

    I don’t doubt the high per pupil number but it’s not because the teacher salary schedule is high relative to others in Westchester.

    • margarita man

      Tom: Please share the data you have seen and tell us the seven to eleven Westchester school districts that have higher teacher salaries and benefits than John Jay. This could be very useful information in resolving this contentious issue.

      • Tom

        I will. I viewed the document off of a friend’s computer at work. He is a union official in another district who has access to these reports. They are not online. I will post on Monday.

        • margarita man

          Tom: Fair deal. If your contention is correct, then everyone can look for another culprit that makes JJ’s overall spending out-of-line. Perhaps, as you suggest, comparable districts employ fewer teachers (implying those teachers have either larger or more classes than at JJ).

  • Robert T Dixon

    Hi All,

    Unfortunately, the problem for K-L is the educational program it has traditionally offered is fast becoming too costly and because of contractual obligations, governmental meddling, regulations and unfunded mandates, the major costs cannot be reduced to the level WHERE THE PRESENT PROGRAM can be maintained much longer.

    The program must be changed. Thinking the unions and governmental policies will change is a Pipe Dream. Detroit’s Big Three and many municipalities thought they would and we know what happened.

    It is time for someone to have to the courage to say we must look how to significantly change the program at K-L. (Hopefully without hurting the kids).

    Necessity is the mother of invention. Time for the folks on the Board to get brave and creative. THE PARTY IS OVER.

    Signed: I told you so.

  • Michael Gordon

    Folks, go back and look again at the Finance Committee Reports that were submitted and discused publicly, at length, in 2011 and 2012. KL’s compensation levels are significantly higher than those at the 5 peer districts that the Finance Committee — which consists mostly of a group of pretty smart finance professionals — studied. The information that the Finance Committee used was from audited financials of those other Districts. And seniority was factored out by overlaying our professionals on the other Districts’ pay scales. Argue all you want, but there is no denying that our professionals are compensated at levels far above those of peer school districts (Bedford, Byram Hills, Harrison, Chap, and Scarsdale). From the comments posted, it almost seems as if the BOE needs to repeat these findings at every board meeting until it sinks in.

  • Tom

    Mr. Gordon, Are you talking total payroll, per pupil, or are you comparing top salary with top salary and MA + 30 with MA + 30 etc. If its the latter then the data presented to me is in complete conflict with yours at least currently. The data I saw was part of a binder of information that this union is using to prepare for their next negotiations. I’m sure a lot of smart people created this binder, too. This data shows that this particular district’s salary structure is one of many ahead of KL. I’m sure they wouldn’t contrive that. I’m not suggesting KL are unfairly compensated but the “far above” characterization as it pertains to the salary grid is not true. I will post whatever information I can when I get it.

  • Tom

    OK, My friend was able to email me one study. This is for the 2011/2012 school year.

    It’s called 25 year cumulative salary. The total amount a teacher would earn if he or she worked under their current salary grid for 25 years.

    37 schools in Westchester and Putnam were ranked. The schools leading up to Katonah are as follows.

    1) Scarsdale
    2) Chappaqua
    3) Edgemont
    4) Carmel
    5) Harrison
    6) Pelham
    7) Byram Hills
    8) Katonah

    Some additional points of reference.

    According to this report, a KL teacher’s average salary (the 25 year total divided by 25) is right around the 3rd quartile – halfway between the top and the median. If Putnam districts are removed from the list then KL is at about the one-third mark. So to say that KL pays it’s teachers significantly higher than its “wealthier neighbors like Scarsdale and Chappaqua” is wildly inaccurate. Actually no schools on the list are “far above” any others. The typical difference between districts as you go down the list is minimal.

    I have seen salary data presented by KL officials that adds on the cost of benefits. For instance a teacher making x dollars from the salary schedule is shown to be making x + the cost by the district of his or her health benefits. I’ve not known other districts to do that. If the KL BOE presented the salaries in this manner and other districts did not then I’m sure KL would come out as number one. Any district would. Maybe that’s what is happening. But it’s not apples to apples.

    • Glenn DeFaber

      Tom the big question is whose data do we believe, a teacher’s union official or a group of taxpayers with impeccable credentials. No matter what you or I believe the cold hard facts are K-L cannot continue at its present rate of spending thanks to the tax cap.

  • Jonathan Hansonbrook

    The 25 year cumulative numbers are based on the salary schedules of the Districts. These are public documents. If you don’t trust the data Tom presented, do the math yourself and see for yourself. If the numbers don’t add up when you run them, say so. Dismissing data for no reason other than that it doesn’t conform to your current point of view is not a a legitimate reason to do so.

    • Glenn DeFaber

      Jonathan are you dismissing the FACE report because it is inaccurate or because you are in the teacher’s union?. If public employee compensation was sustainable at its present level why would Gov. Andrew Cuomo institute the tax cap? You cannot simply dismiss his action as some right wing conservative ploy. NYSUT did not support Carl Palladino in the last gubernatorial election. Your own candidate sees what your membership won’t. Maybe you should ask for a refund.

      • Jonathan Hansonbrook

        Again, run the math yourself. If you won’t take the time to do that, don’t just sit back and dismiss Tom’s data because it doesn’t fit with your view. Trying to change the subject by suggesting I have made statements that I have not made is inappropriate.

        • Glenn DeFaber

          Changing the subject has been the Union’s modus operandi for quite some time. If I gave you the impression that the other set of figures were false than I apologize. Numbers can be manipulated to justify or prove any point you want to make. That does not mean they are incorrect. I hope you teach your students at Edgemont that the source of information can be as important as the information itself.

  • Michael Gordon

    Tom, I sugget you re-read the 2011 and 2012 Finance Committee report. Those reports concluded, in pertinent part, that, on a per pupil basis, KLSD is at the top of the list in terms of instructions and benefits spending. In order to determine the source of that spending level, the Committee did a salary analysis and utilized data from See Through New York, the Putnam Northern Westchester Contract Analysis, and the actual salary schedules of the six districts under study. I have no idea what is in the binder of information that you saw, but I tend to doubt that it would undercut numbers that come from actual contracts and actual salary schedules (don’t forget that the last time a politician talked about binders of things, he got into a heap of trouble). But I’m open to being persuaded that the committee somehow mis-read the numbers. So just let us all have have a look at your binder of information and we’ll figure out what’s going on.

  • Tom

    I went back and looked at the Finance Committee report from 2011. This report deals with per pupil expenditures only. I am not arguing the accuracy of those comparisons nor the validity of the data. I however cannot find a document from the committee that states KL teachers are individually compensated at a rate which puts them at the top. An assertion I often hear and read. The use of salary schedules by the committee was for total compensation in order to determine per pupil compensation.

    The facts are that KL teachers earn a salary in line with other districts. If a teacher worked at any of the other 7 districts on the above list he or she would be making more money. The reasons the total budget of KL on a per pupil basis exceeds the 5 districts the report compared them to is not related to excessive individual compensation. KL teachers earn less.

    Maybe class size is lower in KL. Maybe KL offers a more varied program that requires more staff. More technology, more arts, more special education… I don’t know.

    Comparatively KL teachers are not overpaid. Folks may think teachers in general earn too much money but that is a different argument.

    And no Mr. DeFaber, these figures weren’t fabricated by some vile sneaky union. In the age of information certainly no official on either side could sit across a negotiating table with made up data.

    • Glenn DeFaber

      Tom never used vile to describe union officials. I used despicable in describing their tactics in pressuring the community for higher compensation. Which figures are used is irrelevant, affordability is the problem. Sustaining a quality education the residents can pay for is the key. A union no matter what trade or organization it represents has ONLY one goal, to get better pay and /or working conditions for ITS members. The ability for the company or resident to pay is not their problem.

  • Michael Gordon

    Tom, you have to look at the 2012 report. The 2011 reoport was Part I. it covered the basics of per pupil expense. Part II was done in 2012. it examined teacher comp as well as affordability. That’s the report you need to find.

  • Tom

    I have read what I believe is the FACE report. The link states so and the month matches. Let me know if I have the right one I copied the link below. What I read was a 19-page presentation that basically states that if cost increases continue at their recent historical rate then tax increases will have to be higher than the tax cap.

    However, in no place in this report does it rank teacher salaries. No place does it compare the salary grid of a KL to other districts. The only salary information is total KL compensation and what it is projected to be. Not one reference to KL being relatively high, low or in between. Let me know if I am looking at the correct document or have missed something.

    By the way, the report projects continued annual funding of the teacher retirement system due to required mandated levels. This is undoubtedly because of the stock market crashes we saw in the last decade. Hopefully with the recent recovery those big checks wont have to be written each year and that aspect of the projected increases will not happen. These are included in benefits increases which is accounting for the entire projected budget increase (3%). It is my understanding that the TRS was self-sustaining before these market events. This cost may actually disappear in coming years.

    Again, I’m not hear to argue anything except the notion that KL teachers are grossly overpaid when compared to peers in surrounding districts. I have not data from the finance committee that supports this.

    www.lewisboroledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/FACEpresentation12-13.pdf

  • margarita man

    One of the most frustrating aspects of this discussion is that Mr. Gordon seems to have become interested in controlling the overblown budget at K-L only after leaving the board. When he first ran for the board in 2005, there was a strong and growing opposition to the inefficient, irresponsible, and unsustainable policies (budgetary and otherwise) of Lichtenfeld, Scott, Walsh, and Breslin, cheered on by their dupes at V.O.T.E. and other concerned but uninformed parent groups. Mr. Gordon and his running mate, W. Schloat (who has had the good grace to withdraw from public discourse) promised change without confrontation, the latter of which K-L voters seemed to fear more than the highest tax bills in the nation. But that campaign strategy was a sham, beginning with Mr. Gordon’s law school gimmick of turning his speaking podium away from the incumbent board so he to speak directly to the audience when he announced his candidacy at a school board meeting. Running at a time when the district had a real opportunity to slip the shackles of Bob Lichtenfeld, Ed.D., Mr. Gordon embraced him as a “great administrator,” who had gotten some bad advice. He marginalized and ridiculed opponents and critics of the district, and for six years he maintained the status quo that he know purports to attack. There may be an explanation (as opposed to a rationalization) for such behavior, but I can’t figure out what it might be.

    • margarita man

      ERRATA:
      for “so he to speak,” please read “so he could speak”;

      for “status quo that he know purports to attack,” please read “status quo that he now purports to attack.”

      Apologies for the hasty typing.

  • Bill S

    We can sit here and argue until the cows come home as to whose numbers are more accurate. Until the compensation structure for teachers is changed, their payroll expense will continue to rise. Under the current structure teachers get step increases every year, on top of that they get the negotiated percentage increase on the anniversary of each contract’s effective date. Then there are the lane increases, which gives them an increase for getting additional educational credits. The end result of these 3 increases can easily run between 10 to 15% increase per year. In private industry there a typically levels with a minimum and a maximum, which may be increased annually. Employees get a percentage increase based on their performance, with their salary remaining within the pre-established range. Once they reach the maximum of their level, no more increases.

    • Tom

      Bill, a typical teacher will earn x dollars per year for their careers. Do you want that number changed or do you want to spread the money out differently? A younger teacher will get higher percentage increases as you say but once the top of the grid is achieved midway in a career, teachers get what is basically a cost of living increase. While those in the private sector have the ability to advance up the ladder during the prime of their careers, during the same period of time a teacher’s salary increases by the rate of inflation. Those anniversary increases you call them.

      I knew a NYC teacher about 20 years ago who taught by day and ran a business on the side. He told me teaching was just a place where he hang his hat during the day. Totally uninvested. If society wants teachers to be like this guy then they can de-professionalize the job. Lesson the requirements, lesson the salary. You will attract different types of people and most will have to work on the side but it will definitely be less expensive.

  • Bill S.

    Then there is the issue of the stipends. These payments are also increased by the annual negotiated % increase. While some stipends are clearly earned (i.e. coaches), others are not. Many teachers perform their “additional responsibilities” during the regular work day. Stipends were designed to compensate teachers for work performed beyond their regular scheduled workday. Some stipend eligible tasks could easily be made part of somebody else’s daily responsibilities.

  • Bill

    Then there is the issue of the stipends. These payments are also increased by the annual negotiated % increase. While some stipends are clearly earned (i.e. coaches), others are not. Many teachers perform their “additional responsibilities” during the regular work day. Stipends were designed to compensate teachers for work performed beyond their regular scheduled workday. Some stipend eligible tasks could easily be made part of somebody else’s daily responsibilities.

  • Reeve1

    MM, can’t we give Mr. Gordon credit for seeing the issues now?

    Tom, your comments are selfish, cynical and wrong.

    We want teachers to be paid well, at a scale that is competitive and fair. But it must be sustainable. The “go go days” of living on national debt and home equity loans are over.

    I am from a family of teachers. Great teaching comes from within. The teacher you mentioned “phoning-in” his performance was plain and simple, a bad teacher. Will you trade a higher salary for tenure?

    There are great teachers being paid less not just in neighboring “comparable” school districts, but also at colleges, elite private schools, Catholic schools and districts like New Fairfield, Ridgefield and Brookfield where many of our teachers choose to raise their own children. No amount of dirty tricks and histrionics on the part of Sandy Grebinar and her minions will change these facts.

    • Tom

      Yes, there are teachers who in our area that are paid less and teachers in our area that are paid more. There are accountants, doctors, salespeople, lawyers and plumbers who are paid more or less in surrounding areas too. My GE repairman just charged me $150 for 15 minutes. Is he “selfish” too? And If you call the “go-go” days of 1-4% teacher scale raises per year a boom time that’s fine.

      I do not have CT data but I’m not sure how differently CT teachers are paid. You make it sound like it’s significantly less. I doubt it.

      As for private schools and Catholic schools I agree. Those teachers make less than their public school counterparts. Many are terribly paid and I know a few in their mid-40s who still can’t afford a house. I guess you are saying that if Catholic schools can get teachers dirt cheap then we should too. Who needs a house if your’e a teacher… you have your students!

      KL salaries rank 8th in Westchester/Putnam. Getting to this place was as you know a very hard and contentious struggle for both sides. i’m sure the current administration will try to knock this down. I’m sure the union will try to maintain. Hopefully dirty tricks and histrionics on both sides will be replaced by cooler heads this time around. And that includes misinformation.

      Yes, the rising cost of health care all over the country is non sustainable. The recent pension contributions have been very burdensome but I believe will be gone next year as the stock market has improved dramatically.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that poorly paid teachers wherever they are do bad work. The guy I referred to 20 years ago was awful but he clearly knew he couldn’t make it on his salary alone.

      I agree that great teaching comes from within but many of these talented people will be drawn away from the profession if those like the author of this article had there way. I come across many people who believe teachers are beneath them and balk at the idea that a teacher’s salary would ever be comparable to that of it’s residents. Regardless of the economics, regardless of their taxes, these people do not view teachers as professionals and would be just as happy if classrooms were led by a guy or gal off the street for half the price. Many like yourself, from a family of teachers hopefully have a more balanced viewpoint. Sorry if I was too cynical.

      It’s probably true that teacher’s salaries across our area will grow slowly or not at all in the coming years. Maybe that’s what it takes to calm this debate down. But I wonder when the economy perks up, unemployment abates, housing recovers, private sector salaries, bonuses and stock options get rolling again will teachers then be permitted to resume their “go-go” 1-4% cost of living salary increases? Or will they have to sit in the corner again?

  • Mic

    Tom, the link you have is not the one to which I was referring. Here’s the link to a Patch article that has the report attached.

    bedford.patch.com/articles/committee-k-l-teacher-pay#pdf-10124219

  • Michael Gordon

    Sorry, my name somehow got cut off in my last post. That was me that put up the link to the Patch article. The report is worth reading. And if you can go back to the Board meeting where it was discussed, you’ll get even more information. The board meetings are all on line, as was the one where this report was given.
    Mike Gordon

    • Tom

      Ok, I read through it and i saw one measure called contract analysis that ranked KL 8th which is what my data shows too. That is what the union and board negotiate. That’s where the grid falls.

      I also saw two others that had them 2nd. I believe those two other measures rank the districts based on the current staff for each of these 6 districts on a per teacher average basis. I saw per teacher salary numbers on the slides and the database cited lists individual teacher salaries of those currently employed. Wouldn’t that suggest KL ranks higher by these measures because it’s current faculty is more senior than the other districts?

      The bottom line is a faculty made up of exactly the same people would be ranked 8th if they worked in KL. However, currently, KL per teacher salary is 2nd because they have a higher percentage of teachers at the upper end of the salary grid, correct?

      Either way, I’m sure taxpayers only see the total compensation and how it affects their taxes. I do understand that. But hopefully they realize that this is happening not just in their town because of a greedy union and that the agreements made in the past between the union and the BOE did not send the KL salary grid out of line with the going rate, as has been stated often.

  • Bill S

    Ridgefield 1,622 more students than KLSD
    Staff 40 more than KLSD
    Salaries $8.5 million less than KLSD
    Benefits $4.4 less than KLSD

    These numbers compare Ridgefield’s 2013/14 budget to KLSD’s budget 2012/13

  • Bill S

    That is $4.4 million

  • Robert T Dixon

    Talk until the cows come home, but the problem is you can no longer afford the costs and the costs can not be changed.
    The only alternative is to change the educational program.

    Get with it!

    Good luck!

  • mundtt

    A secret, hypothetical study assuming steady-state for 25 yrs? Perhaps more cockamamie BS from the no-goodniks at local 12 of the Villains, Thieves and Scoundrels Union?

    Recently, in the dead of night, a friend showed me a very hush-hush analysis based on decoded data from the NYS Ed Dept. [Decoding occurs magically when one opens a spreadsheet or pdf]. He pointed out the following:

    1) The 6 Westchester districts in the 25 yr agit-prop have an average combined wealth ratio of ~3.4, or a mere 40% higher than KLSD.
    2) Now of that CWR, the income portion – ie, the stuff one pays taxes with — was even worse, with the other 6 averaging an eye-popping 67% higher than KLSD
    3) Moreover the latest [ie, through 2011] 5-yr trends in income ratios were not favorable for KLSD compared to the others. 5 districts were positive, 1 district negative; KLSD was flat. So somehow the whole income thing/ relative tax burden is brushed aside in the 25 year “study”, as if income doesn’t matter.
    4) Unsure how Carmel makes it into the mix, but given that its budget rose ~60% from 2001 to 2009, it is analogous to the taxpayer fleecing that occurred in KLSD at the same time.
    5) Looking at classroom teacher salary rankings for the latest year was quite useful: versus the 6 districts, KLSD salary was #2 for 1st Quartile, #2 for 2nd Quartile, and tied for #2 for the 3rd quartile.
    6) More broadly, Westchester is the probably the highest spending county in the state, easily exceeding those other spendthrifts, Nassau and Suffolk. KLSD teacher salary rank in Westchester:
    5th percentile = #3
    25th percentile = #2
    50th percentile = #3
    75th percentile = #5
    95th percentile = #2

    Dealing with the here and now, not what may or may not be correct over a 25-year guesstimate, KLSD is not close being #8, especially CWR-adjusted.

    Yes, this is no longer affordable, but the union’s 4-corner offense continues to score.

    • Tom

      Mundtt, Can you post the link to the NYS Ed Dept data you are using?

  • Kat Resident

    Argue all you want, but realistically K-L teacher salary and benefit costs are not going down anytime soon. You want to cut costs — do the realistic things you can do right now. Cut programs and raise class room sizes. If the teachers dont like it, maybe they’ll make some concessions at the next negotiating session to save some jobs. Thats how supply and demand works. Dont want to cut programs? Then implement “pay to play” for sports and some other extra-curriculars — of course with safety nets built in for those who can prove inability to pay. The real big problem is the declining enrollment — that’s the major reason per student costs in K-L look much too high compared to other districts. I know some of you will immediately jump in with the charge that declining enrollment is because our property taxes are too high. I will concede that property taxes are a factor — but not the primary factor. Primary factors — general demographics, the overall economy, the aging population in our area moving out, the number of people in our area negatively impacted by Wall street jobs, etc

  • Tom

    Published salary rankings take into account current salaries not the salary schedule itself. A district with more senior teachers will rank higher. If your rankings are correct then it appears KL is such a district since it ranks higher than the strength of its salary schedule. When teachers retire and are replaced by younger, cheaper teachers then KL actual payroll will rank below their salary schedule rank. Which is an irrefutable 8th.

    And one more time, ranking a salary schedule is much fairer than comparing current payrolls even if a current payroll stings. It’s not the union’s fault that a disproportionate number of teachers just happen to be hitting maximum at the same time. They negotiate a schedule thats in line with the area. How a faculty spreads out across the schedule is cyclical.

    What’s been hurting districts these past few years is large contributions to the retirement system based on a 5-year rolling average that has included the horrible 2008. Once 2008 is off the books, those contributions will fade. Without this, the projected budget increase next year would be next to nothing.

    I looked at the Combined Wealth Ratio data. KL CWR is 12th out of 46 Westchester Putnam schools districts. Well done. The teacher salary grid is 8th. In line. And comparing them only to 5 districts including some of the wealthiest in the country is pretty narrow. Of course these top earning communities have an easier time paying for everything. If its newsworthy to point out that these communities pay their teachers similar to KL then it should be likewise relevant that less wealthy districts do too. And while the differences between the median incomes in KL and poorer districts are significant, the difference in average teacher grid salary is a few percentage points. KL’s ability to pay its teachers, whether strong or not, is better than most. But yes, not as strong as the well known affluent Scarsdale, Chappaqua and others in the small skewed sample the FACE report authors chose.

  • KatResident

    Tom — All very good points, well researched and analyzed.. I have been arguing for years in these posts that K-L teacher compensation, while relatively high, are not out of line with reasonably comparable districts in Westchester and other middle to upper income districts in Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk and even northern New Jersey. Some people here just want to demonize our teachers and point a finger at both public sector and private sector union employees as the cause of all the nation’s economic problems. Their anger should rightfully be directed at government officials who lowered taxes at the same time waging two wars that were not paid for, those who looked away while greedy bankers approved ridiculously risky mortgages, while Wall street created derivatives of these bundled mortgages and sold them recklessly to investors who had no idea of the risks. We’re all still paying for Wall Street greed and regulatory negligence now 5 years after the financial collapse — yet bank executives continue paying themselves tens of millions in bonuses, no Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, and many of the general public choose to demonize teachers and other public sector employees! Amazing to me.

    • margarita man

      Yep, greedy bankers are the ones to blame, not Clinton’s Community Reinvestment Act, the strong-arm tactics of HUD, or Dodd-Frank. Fortunately the problem was not compounded by borrowers falsifying their ability to repay the mortgages.

  • Glenn DeFaber

    Does it matter whether K-L teachers are paid more or less than Scarsdale? What does matter is whether the average K-L resident can pay the bill. I know it is a difficult concept for many residents of the western side of the district to grasp.

  • KatResident

    No its not difficult to grasp the concept of how much can we afford. But the issue just simply is not that simple. Presumably most people moved here and continue to live here because they were and remain well informed about both the quality of the local schools and the costs. At the margin, both quality and costs can change over time — relative to other comparable choices — but I suggest that those have not changed dramatically over the recent few years — especially on a relative basis. People also consider the beauty of the land and parks, the access to transportation and shopping, the relative safety of the neighborhood, the quality of their neighbors and about a million other factors that go into the choice of where to live and whether to remain or leave the neighborhood. If the combination of all those factors goes negative over a prolonged period of time, then people will move out — and we’ll see a much larger decrease in our home values relative to other comparable areas. And again — while housing values remain weak across the board — I’ve seen no evidence to prove housing values in K-L are significantly weaker (again on a relative basis) to housing values in other parts of Northern Westchester.. And even if anyone could prove otherwise, they certainly could not prove it is due mostly to the average amount we pay our teachers!

    • Glenn DeFaber

      You prove my point.

  • KatResident

    Just one more tidbit from the Western side of the school district. If you know anything about Katonah, you would know that there are many houses on the southern border with Katonah addresses but are in the Bedford school district. And on the western border there are plenty of houses with Katonah mailboxes but are in the Somers school district. Guess which houses are significantly higher in both property taxes and market value of the houses — even when trying to make them comparable for size and property of the houses? Ask anyone in Katonah and they will tell you the houses in K-L are much more valuable? Why? The quality of the schools? Its got to be a major factor because a lot of the other factors are pretty much equivalent on those borders. I know you in the Eastern part of the district always want to compare us to Ridgefield. I say — go ahead and compare but the states of CT and NY are much bigger differences than Katonah resident in Somers schools vs Katonah residents in K-L schools. Maybe that’s why Katonah residents traditionally are more supportive of school budgets?

    • Glenn DeFaber

      “A lawyer’s primer: If you don’t have the law, you argue the facts; if you don’t have the facts, you argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, then you argue the Constitution”
      That sums you up in just a few words. Another concept you don’t grasp.

  • KatResident

    What I don’t grasp is what relevance some catchy phrase about lawyers has in the discussion of teacher compensation, property taxes, and home values — but hey that’s just me.

    • Glenn DeFaber

      Yes you do

  • KatResident

    ok then, I’m glad you think I’m smarter than I actually am.

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