When it becomes necessary for school district officials to make significant budget cuts, they will do it — as they have already — by laying off teachers and other staff.
They won’t choose layoffs out of antipathy for teachers or desire to harm the quality of education in their districts, but because they have no alternative.
The work of the state’s Mandate Relief Council, which recently released a report suggesting the abolishment of a few, minor state education mandates, shows how tight the corner is that school districts have been backed into.
After months of work, the council came up with a handful of recommendations, which, even if they are made, will do little to ease the pressure on school district budgets.
On the issues that cost districts a lot of money, like teacher pension payments and health benefits, the council retreated.
On the big contract negotiation issues — like the “last in, first out” mandate on layoffs; and the Triborough amendment, which keeps teacher longevity increases in place even after a contract
expires — the council surrendered.
The legal and political hurdles are too high, the council reported, to eliminate or change those mandates that are doing the most to drive up costs in school districts.
James Dexter, district superintendent of Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, said he’s glad the council was created, but its recommendations wouldn’t provide much relief.
Thanks for nothing, in other words.
School district superintendents are left with no choice but to cut programs and staff.
Some schools have already cut some of their sports programs and we expect to see more of that in coming years.
Many schools have laid off teachers, with consequent cuts to and consolidation of academic programs, and we expect to see much more of that in coming years.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, as property values rose and the stock market boomed, schools had money. They raised their standards and swelled their staffs. They built new ballfields and classroom buildings.
In the recent years of the Great Recession, districts have cut back. They’ve eliminated low-participation sports and consolidated programs. They’ve laid off teachers.
But some bad decisions made during flush times continue to make it difficult for districts to meet their budgets. In particular, the state made an already attractive teacher pension system even more generous, allowing teachers to stop making contributions into the system after 10 years.
That change cannot be undone without a constitutional amendment, which will not happen in the state’s current political climate.
As the pension system falls short, school districts have to make up the difference.
The retrenchment required to balance local school budgets is painful and lacks an easy solution. Teacher concessions and givebacks may work once or twice, but cannot be repeatedly requested. No group of workers would negotiate away their own job protections, reduce their own salaries and lessen their own benefits year after year.
Without reductions in the largest mandated costs, such as pension payments, financial hardship among school districts is guaranteed and more layoffs are inevitable.
The members of the Mandate Relief Council meant well, but all their work has done is highlight New York’s bleak political realities. Upstate school districts face a choice between bankruptcy and cuts that will harm the quality of education they offer. Downstate politicians are unwilling to make the reforms necessary to put districts back on solid fiscal ground. So we continue each year with less and less, doing the best we can.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Robert Sledd.