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Surviving In Suffolk County

Written by fatherfrank  |  25. June 2004

For the first time in a long time, a record number of school budgets were defeated. For many taxpayers, the increases in personal homeowner taxes were alarming. Everything is going up; nothing is being decreased in cost. To make matters worse, our state government is reducing aid to education across the board.
Let's face it, how much more can the average taxpayer with a family endure, not to mention the "wisdom" of our community who are on fixed incomes?
The financial scandal in the Roslyn school district and the publishing of teachers' salaries probably did not help some communities feel good about their school districts spending plan.
Obviously, financing a school district today is a very complex and complicated enterprise. Clearly, all school districts need to revisit their spending plans and re-evaluate their spending priorities. Hopefully, always keeping the needs of their students as their top concern.
Every school budget has the obvious fat as a cushion that can be reduced. Then there is the hidden fat that is often masked to protect what school leadership feels is important. The danger in evaluating school spending plans is that we often don't do our homework and have all the data we need to vote deliberately.
As community members, we have the right to question and scrutinize all expenditures. However, we must be willing to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Teachers' salaries and benefits are constantly under the microscope. Many people feel that they are overpaid. Candidly, a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. Think of the good teachers that have enriched your lives.
The average, dedicated teacher deserves to earn enough to support his or her family and live in our larger community. He or she should not be forced to live a great distance away because he or she cannot afford to live in his or her respective school district.
For those who have been teaching over thirty years, our four-year degree and possible doctorate did not cost what it costs for one year of university education today. Many of our new teachers are beginning their teaching careers a hundred thousand dollars in debt.
We want the best of the best to work with our children. We need to create attractive packages so that the young and the brightest will want to settle in our communities and educate our children.
As a school community, we need to cut the fat from our budgets. But one needs to know what the real fat is first. Teachers' salaries are not fat. Support staff and mental health staff are not the fat.
The special programs, like athletics, the fine arts and performing arts, are vital to the life of our schools. The perks, excessive administrative staff and waste that inevitably goes unchecked each year, need to be reviewed and possibly eliminated.
Tenure is job security for teachers. It needs to be revisited but not eliminated. As professionals, we all need to be held accountable, but not threatened or politically exploited. The tenure process gives one legitimate job security, but could be amended to hold teachers more professionally accountable without jeopardizing their jobs.
Human service is another area that is under intense scrutiny these days. A civil service position in Suffolk County with a basic college education can assure an employee a wonderful benefit package with regular wage increases. This makes working for the government a career path that enables a person to raise a family.
Unfortunately, those who work in the not-for-profit sector, doing many of the same things people do in human services for the government, get a fraction of the wages. These employees rarely have unions to protect them or mediators to advocate for them.
Child Care workers who work with very troubled teenagers in non-secure detention make, at top pay, twelve dollars per hour. Many start at little more than ten dollars per hour. In a given year, they make a little more than twenty thousand dollars. How does one survive in Suffolk County on that kind of wage? That is the scale for working with the homeless and other troubled youth programs.
Suffolk County wants your blood. They pay spit, but want everything you can give and then some. They scrutinize your budget and never support people with the same credentials as county workers, even though they are getting a fraction of what a county employee gets. And we wonder why quality employees are refusing to apply for the growing number of positions in the not-for-profit community.
There are some homeless programs where administrators are threatened with closure because no one with the appropriate credentials is willing to work for insulting wages.
It is a vicious cycle. We want quality work, but are not willing to pay for it. It is almost expected that the well-educated professionals in the not-for-profit sector should work for less and be content. They should work longer hours without extra compensation and be grateful.
That line of thinking is nonsense. It is true that many in the not-for-profit arena are driven by a different energy. However, in the name of justice, they deserve to live and raise a family like anyone else.
In the final analysis, what we save in the short term will probably cost us double in the long term. People in need will not be serviced effectively and completely if human service programs are not appropriately staffed with competently educated and trained professionals.

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