(Republished with permission from the New York State School Boards Association).
Asserting that state law forces school districts across the state to operate inefficiently, NYSSBA unveiled a legislative reform package last month to tackle runaway costs in seven key areas.
The 2011 NYSSBA Essential Fiscal Reform Playbook includes draft legislation to curtail rising health care and pension costs, level the playing field during contract negotiations, impose tighter controls on the teacher disciplinary process, and bring special education costs into line with other states.
“As school districts continue to grapple with the worst fiscal crisis in a generation, they need a new set of rules going forward,” said NYSSBA President Florence Johnson, a member of the Buffalo, N.Y. school board. “Several years of frozen or diminished state aid coupled with the prospect of a local property tax cap call for a new way of doing business.”
“School boards want to optimize resources to more efficiently serve taxpayers and support new practices to improve teaching and learning,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves up against outdated state mandates, inflexible rules and expensive procedures that are out of place in today’s world.”
Taxpayers will benefit if these rules are changed, Kremer said. “Taxes are high because school boards are forced to operate inefficiently. Removing barriers to cost-savings is a critical ingredient to reducing school district spending and, by extension, property taxes.”
NYSSBA is looking to reform a provision of a state law to allow school districts to freeze salaries upon the expiration of a contract. The so-called Triborough Amendment would remain intact with the exception of the current provision that guarantees teachers receive step increases under expired contracts.
The Association is also looking to eliminate seniority as the sole factor in layoff determinations. NYSSBA’s proposal establishes new criteria to be considered when making these difficult decisions. In addition to using the “last in, first out” rules, a board of education would be able to consider other criteria under the proposal, such as annual professional performance reviews, the needs of a particular school, and a teacher’s credentials. NYSSBA is continuing its call to streamline the teacher disciplinary process to make it less time-consuming and less expensive.
“School boards are pro-children and pro-jobs,” Kremer said during the news conference. “We want every school to provide a high-quality affordable program, within a safe learning environment, where every employee or volunteer in every school district is the best person for that particular job.”
The 2011 Fiscal Reform Playbook also calls for capping the maximum amount school districts would contribute to a health insurance policy at 85 percent for individual coverage and 75 percent for family coverage. This would bring public employers in New York more in line with the national average across all industries of 81 percent for single coverage and 70 percent for family coverage.
Hoping to cap another rapidly rising expense, NYSSBA has endorsed the Empire Center proposal for New York State to create a Tier VI to the state pension system.
The Empire Center has submitted legislation that would provide new public employees with the option of choosing a pure defined contribution retirement plan or a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan.
And, following the lead of the state Board of Regents, NYSSBA officials said any talk about reducing school spending needs to include a frank discussion about curtailing the costs associated with special education. Special education spending in New York has increased $3.1 billion in just five years, according to the most recent data. There are more than 200 state laws and regulations layered on top of federal requirements. NYSSBA believes an advisory committee should be created to recommend which of those should be continued.
The final piece of the proposal was one that Kremer admitted was a bit “mundane,” but could save schools a significant amount of money – purchasing reform.
NYSSBA wants to see schools given the ability to leverage the purchasing power of large, national procurement cooperatives and contracts entered into by other states and local governments. A national analysis of cooperative purchasing found that “piggy-backing” resulted in 7 percent savings for large agencies and 30 percent for smaller entities. New York is currently one of only two states that do not allow schools to use out-of-state or national cooperative contracts.
“If the governor and the Legislature truly want to make public education more affordable and effective, they should look to enact these reforms as soon as possible,” added Kremer.
The entire playbook can be found on NYSSBA’s homepage at www.nyssba.org.