I’m writing to urge that a community-wide committee should now be formed to plan for celebrating a historic event that will soon be upon us, probably in about six short years. What’s the event?
The event will be our Port Washington School District reaching an annual spending budget of $200 million. That will be a momentous event, since very few school districts on Long Island can claim to spend as much as $200 million a year, exclusive of construction bond spending. To put that great spending achievement into prospective, let me tell you this.
Do you remember Dr. Geoffrey Gordon? He was our effective and very well liked superintendent of schools, before Kathleen Mooney, our current superintendent. Gordon served as our superintendent for 10 years, from 2002 until 2012, when he was forced out of our school district.
When Gordon crossed the river from New Jersey to join us in 2002, our school budget for that year was $85 million.
Mary Callahan was already our assistant superintendent for business at that time and she advised Gordon that our school district’s reserves were exceedingly low and were desperately in need of replenishment. He agreed with her about that and he also agreed that our annual proposed budgets should always be the maximum allowed by law.
Ever since that time, Callahan has artfully guided the growth of spending in our school district so that for next year, the 2019-2020 school year, the budget will be $161 million. Ever since 2002, we have never had a reduction in any budget, nor has any budget ever been the same as last year’s budget.
Our school officials, led by Callahan, worship at the altar of school budget growth, because that God tells them that the money spent is all for the children. (Although, since 80 percent of every school budget pays for generous salaries and for generous fringe benefits for our school district’s more than 1,000 employees, how can the budgets be “all for the children?”).
Our school budget has grown by $76 million since 2002, or by 89 percent. That’s an average annual growth rate of 5.24 percent over the 17 years, a rate that’s far greater than the average annual inflation rate for those years. And, you must bear in mind that since 2012, annual school budget increases have been tempered by the state’s tax levy cap law.
Of course, $200 million will only be a stop on the way to $250 million, then it’s on to $300 million and then it’s on to, beyond that. But, you and I probably won’t still be living in Port Washington when the budget levels of $250 million and then $300 million are reached. I’m not even sure that Callahan, as indispensable as she is, will still be with our school district when the budget reaches $200 million, in a handful of years.
If the event celebration committee that I’ve suggested above decides that someone must be honored when the budget reaches $200 million, then certainly Callahan should be the honoree.
Our education law prohibits the payment of bonuses to educators, but educators can be given “incentive” payments. I would suggest that a substantial “incentive” payment should be given to Callahan, perhaps at least $100,000, when she puts in her retirement papers, and also that our school district’s now unnamed administration building on Campus Drive, where her office is, should be named for her.
I think that Callahan has certainly earned those honors. I’m sure that the event celebration committee will also arrange for parades, fireworks displays, picnics and other celebratory events, to commemorate our school district’s budget reaching that historic $200 million height.
I’m told that as our school budgets grow and that as our school taxes skyrocket along with them, that more and more families in Port Washington are having difficulty paying their school taxes. I’m told that more and more of those families are being forced to sell their homes because of school taxes and then they have to relocate away from here, sometimes very far away.
Some of those families have been living in Port Washington for many generations.
That families are sometimes forced out of their homes by school taxes is an unfortunate consequence of the archaic way that we fund public schools in this state.
But, as members of our school board and our school administration will tell you, if you can’t afford to pay your school taxes to support our wonderful schools here in Port Washington, then you shouldn’t be living here.
I urge that our school district should now create a guidance center for families having difficulties paying their school taxes, so that those families can be made aware of their options and, if need be, advised where it’s most likely that they should relocate to.
I would recommend that, if possible, representatives from our town councilman’s office, from the Parent’s Council, from The Ed Foundation, from Residents Forward, from our Chamber of Commerce, from our BID and from the various churches and synagogues in town, should participate as advisors in that guidance center.
Certainly, being forced out of your home and having to relocate, sometimes very far away, can never be easy tasks to deal with, for anyone.