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What Our Readers Think: Pay Freezes at Commack Schools [POLL]

Commack superintendent's announcement of a pay freeze, pressure on teacher's union sparks debate.

Patch readers have had a lot to say and an article posted Friday about , and was hoping district teachers would be willing to do the same. 

James made the announcement at the Commack Union-Free School District's March 15, Board of Education meeting, shortly before the district discussed severe proposed cuts to the areas of special education, athletic sports teams and co-curricular activities. 

Under the district's proposed $170 million 2012-13 budget, school officials are considering laying off 40 to 60 teachers, one administrator, two secretaries, six custodians with an additional $700,000 in cuts or savings. Further program cuts could include the elimination of assistant coaches for 16 sports teams, elimination of the varsity swim team, and elimination of a list of co-curricular clubs and honor societies. 

The superintendent and Board of Education both said the option of renegotiating contracts and potential pay freeze have been put to the teacher's union for consideration. James claimed a teacher's pay freeze, would save the district nearly $4 million and eliminate the need for many cuts. 

Patch readers had plenty to say about the issues looming over the 2012-13 school budget. 

Patch commented  said, "This is a ploy. This is a way for the top brass to say we are leading by example, and everyone else should follow suit and turn them into the bad guys when they don't accept a freeze." 

However, others applauded the superintendent's decision to take a pay freeze. 

"Amen!! Any salary freeze must be unilateral and unconditional. Last time around, the school board gave the teachers union a contract extention to 2014 in exchange for a lower raise. All it did was put off last year's problem to this year and now we see the result of that poor planning,"  wrote. 

Throughout the proposed 2012-13 budget, the district is recommending to eliminate many co-curricular clubs initially on the cutting block for this year, but were saved for a one-year period only after public outcry. 

Many decried James for having a high salary, questioning his salary and benefits given the district's $4.7 million shortfall for 2012-13. Some district residents spoke in support of the teacher's union, who just renegotiated their contract with the district last spring. 

said, "... It is our responsibility to pay for the education of the children here. How many of us would be willing to pay part of OUR salary to pay for Kings Park Schools? So then why do we always seem to expect the teachers' to cut their salary to pay for ours? Fair is fair. Let's take our responsibility as our own and pay for Commack's schools. Isn't that why we all moved here?" 

A comment made by Board of Education trustee Peter Wunsch that "We have ways of making nearly all of those district employees who received pink slips ineligible for unemployment" drew fire from the community. 

"What the board suggested regarding unemployment is not even legal. It's bad enough we're laying off teachers but to threaten them like is disgusting and unprofessional," commented . 

Concerned Commackian followed up with, "I agree. I'm as passionate about school tax reform and fiscal responsibility as anyone, but that comment should be censured by the Board if they want to retain any sort of credibility." 

One resident, , tried to offer a few different solutions for consideration.

"Why was there no early retirement incentive offered? If they knew that teachers were going to be let go, why not offer an early retirement incentive, where the higher salaried teachers and administrators could retire, which in turn would allow more teachers to stay, keep smaller class sizes and less cuts to programs," said Weiss. 

He also said that he would be willing to pay more for his child's education provided all other options and avenues were exhausted, rather than lose 40 - 60 teachers. 

Patch commenters began calling for those in the heated discussion to send the article to Commack's Board of Education members, to open the floor for discussions at future board meetings. 

Dan March 23, 2012 at 04:14 PM
You dont want to spend money on books? But your OK with giving someone making $130k a 5% raise this year - $6,500 Total for raises for step and % will be approx $4mil. I do agree with you on waste, but those are pennies in the scheme of things 75% of a $165mil budget went to salaries and benefits. Heat is like 3% for 24/7
Richie March 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Do you really think because you have your masters plus or doctrate ( which I believe is 1 in Burr, and not a teacher I would ever want again) it makes you a good teacher worthy of getting automatic pay raises every year regardless of economics. The real world operates under economic restraints. EVERYONE needs to pitch in including teachers that have gotten used to atuomatic raises, very nice annual ones as well as all the perks. Do lesson plans during some of the enourmous vacation time if it is stressful doing it at 3:30. Multiply these salary increases by how many teachers??
No Name March 23, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Dan - Not discounting the effect of steps at all - just putting the public percentages out there. The steps obviously are built-in raises where the experience level provides the teacher with his guaranteed increase designed to provide the employee with a cost of living allowance which I believe is common practice in other municipal type contracts. The raises I cited are union negotiated to reflect the bargaining unit's value / performance in addition to the step. In looking at the contract it appears to vary year to year (2 - 3+% - quick calcualtion) with some steps being frozen for a number of years at the top end. Not weighing in one way or the other - just adding some info to the discussion.
No Name March 23, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Richie - equating degree status pay raises or salary levels with being a good teacher is always going to be decided on an individual level. There are some real idiots with PhDs running around! There are some great teachers who could only afford to invest in themselves to the point of getting only their Masters - which is what all districts mandate as a minimum requirement these days given the glut of teachers out there. This automatically puts them at the higher pay scale. The landscape is laid out there for them - they know what they will earn based on their degree level - do you blame them for getting the higher degree if they can afford the cost of the schooling?
Michael March 23, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Steps, no steps, general increase, no general increase, its all BS. If you want to boil it down to numbers that are easy to digest, just look at the total salary expenditures in the budget. Just salaries. Code 2110 of the budget is "Teaching-Regular School" Just look at the salary expenditures and how they are going up. Grades K-6 are rising more than 10% and grades 7-12 are up over 6%. Dont believe me, just see for yourself. http://www.commack.k12.ny.us/budget11/ProposedBudget2011-12.pdf
Gigi March 23, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Dan I think you misconstrued what I said. In my opinion teachers are not overpaid for the work they do. I'm also fine with giving someone a raise IF and only IF the money is there. I do not begrudge people earning what they do especially if they're providing my children with a fine education. (I also don't begrudge my doctor for charging what he does as long as he gives us good treatment, I don't begrudge my accountant for charging what he does to do our taxes as long as it is correct, I don't begrudge my hairstylist charging me what she does to style my hair as long as she does a good job, etc etc). I'm all for freezing wages for a bit if there's no money for raises but I don't resent people for making the salaries they do. As far as the books are concerned - it was merely an example of one of the very obvious misuses of money. If they serve no relevance to what is being taught then there is really no purpose for them.
Dan March 23, 2012 at 07:08 PM
GIgi- The problem with some of your statements is "giving someone a raise IF and only IF the money is there" - the money will always be there because it is an endless supply of tax money. If you are told your taxes are going up 100% you HAVE TO pay them, if the board agrees to a 500% raise for the teachers you HAVE TO pay it. Where as using your examples if your accountant raises his fee to you 1000% you will use someone else who is just as competent - if your stylist raises her fee to $1,000 you will find a new stylist-and if your doctor charged you 10 times the going rate your insurance co. wouldn't pay him and you would probably find another one. That is the difference between the PRIVATE sector and the PUBLIC sector. Scroll up and read the post by Chels - she gets it & so do the thousands of other teachers from catholic schools and others off LI. Do you think those other teachers are bad teachers or that Commack is the only place you can get your kid a good education? Its not about good or bad teachers, its about what is the pay that is fair to the teacher and the taxpayer.
Gigi March 23, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Dan you're still not getting me....but thanks for the economics lesson. I'll spell it out - right now I think that the teachers should take a pay freeze - it's economically unfeasible at this time to raise their salaries - we the taxpayers are maxed out. That said - I do not believe we overpay our teachers.
Dan March 24, 2012 at 04:08 AM
The supt. took his raise at the beginning of the year, the teachers got a raise at the beginning of the year. He says he will freeze his pay for next year and wants the teachers to freeze their pay for next year as well. Why is that so hard to follow? Pay freezes and givebacks from everyone!!
Dan March 24, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Kelly- brilliant idea, if the teachers take a pay freeze and then give back just $50 a week each they won't even miss it!! No lump sum giveback!! And then anyone that feels that the teachers and Admins are doing a great job can donate all the money they saved from giant tax increases to a bonus program
Taxpayer March 24, 2012 at 09:25 AM
Dan, are you that ignorant? EVERYONE in HUBBS tooks HUGE board approved raises, right down to the last personal secretary for each Asst. Super who also took HUGE raises when they knew about the tax cap looming for three months!! They took money and knew what was going to happen...LOOK IT UP! DUH!!!!
CommackDaddy March 24, 2012 at 11:43 AM
We have a broken system, it is not salaries alone that are part of the problem. It is the custodians of our school that are the main problem. Our Board of Education is out of touch and incompetent. during the boom boom years, these guys 'gave and gave'; and, in the process, 'took and took'. Now they want everyone else to pay for their greed and stupidity. Dr. James and the board DID ask the administrators for a freeze. This was AFTER the board gave Dr. James the 2nd of two increases in less than 18 months. Does the word disingenuous ring a bell? As Commack residents, we should demand a full accounting by an impartial accounting firm for the last 5-7 years. We should set term limits for our board members; and Superintendents should have the same probationary period that other administrators (NOT 5 YEAR CONTRACTS) or teachers are held to. When a business fails, it is just the economy or the workers... sometimes it's the ones running the show.
Dan March 24, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Yes, I am ignorant but that is besides the point! You make it sound like you think I approve of raises for anyone. Start from the top of the thread and read all my posts and then go read the posts from the other story on this topic where I was berated by a former school board member- I have been advocating pay freezes, give backs, etc. The fact that these people accepted raises during a fiscal crisis and a with the knowledge of a much larger pending fiscal crisis only shows the true moral character of these people and the board , something I have stated many times. The rally call is it is always"it is for the kids" but it is really whats in it for the adults.
C. Erik Smith March 24, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I hope everybody here is planning to attend the "Special Budget Community Input Meeting - all welcome! Monday, March 26, 2012 - 7pm Burr Intermediate School". Please spread the word. It would be nice to see more representation than the same 50 community members.
Shan17817 March 25, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Thank you C. Erik Smith! I was just about to say the same thing!! I would hope all these wonderful opinions will come to the budget meetings and speak out. There is also another meeting on Thurs. March 29th, 8pm at Commack High School, if you can't make the meeting on Monday. Please come!! Your imput is so important!! C. Erick is right, it would be nice to see some new faces at these meetings and to get some new information.
Terry March 25, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Maybe it is time to have new board of education members. The ones that are there put through all these raises. Just remember it was the bankers, politicians, and lawyers who are the cause of all this. Bankers are still getting bonuses of $10,000,000 and more. Wall street is not hurting. Cuomo has their best interests at heart. That's why he put a 2% tax levy on Long Island schools, not NYC schools. He is doing a good job of destroying our school system - which is supposed to help the middle class and the poor compete. Watch the PBS video - First to Worst - It is about the tax cap enacted in California during the 1980's. That is our future unless we get honest people in office.
Ivan March 26, 2012 at 10:33 AM
The schools need to be run like a business. Most corporations have been in pay freezes since the economy turndown. If people are not earning higher salary how can they support tax increases every year.
ann March 26, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Perfectly stated!!
Michael March 26, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Only problem is that our "CEO" operates under the assumption that revenues will constantly increase regardless of economic conditions, has no plan or even a desire to contain costs, and expects a taxpayer "bailout" every year to balance his budget. I cant think of too many CEO's that are allowed to operate their business that way. politicians yes, but CEO's no.
Michael March 26, 2012 at 05:52 PM
FYI...Note the mention of "misinformation" As we prepare the final proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year, we are facing many difficult decisions. The Board and Superintendent have heard from many community groups and individuals regarding the information we have discussed to date at our Budget Workshops. There are still more opportunities for community members to be a part of the planning process and hear the facts related to the 2012-2013 budget development process. On Monday, March 26, there will be a Special Community Input session at Burr Intermediate School at 7pm. Our third Budget Workshop will take place on Thursday, March 29, at the high school at 8pm. Discussion topics will include Transportation, Technology, and Undistributed Costs. On Thursday, April 5, there will be an Informal Budget Hearing on the Overall Budget, at the high school at 8pm. On Monday, April 16, at 10am, another Special Community Input meeting will be held at Mandracchia- Sawmill Intermediate School. There has been a good deal of misinformation circulating in the community. In that regard, we urge people to base their conclusions and decisions on the facts, not rumors. The facts can be heard at any of the above-mentioned budget meetings or you can ask questions by sending an email to budget@commackschools.org. Every budget topic and presentation from the meetings to date can be viewed on the Commack Budget Facts page: http://www.commack.k12.ny.us/budget12/budgetfacts.asp
James March 26, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Who is the new administrator at CHS??? His name is Dr. Sher or Shear. I hear his just walks around doing nothing. I can't find any Board minutes that tell us how much he is getting paid. Where can we find out about how he was hired? Another administrator taking money away from my kids' teachers. Get rid of him and save a teacher!
Taxpayer March 27, 2012 at 10:47 AM
How is the fact that approx. 40 non-contractual employees at Hubbs took HUGE raises in July 2011, three months after they knew the tax cap was looming and expect freezes from everyone else MISINFORMATION? Wake up everyone...
CommackHack March 27, 2012 at 01:43 PM
The easy answer is: We believe that the school year ends in June. Our kids and teachers have summer vacation. The school board exploits this misconception and makes a majority of spending decisions without having to answer to the public. It is disingenuous of Superintendent James to offer up a voluntary pay cut, when his pay has increased twice since he start less than two years ago. This whole process is a HUGE wake up call. Dr. James sure sounds pretty when he talks, but there is little substance in his words. I can not believe he used the phrase "I don't have those details," at least eleven times last night. Well, Dr. James, if students are expected to be prepared and teachers to be prepared (or else), why are you never ever prepared? Is that Commack's secret weapon of success - If you don't say anything, then you can't be caught in a lie and then you can get a special one time raise.
Jim Tampellini March 27, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Where is the data to support the fact that 74 cents of every dollar is spent on staff salaries and benefits? Also, does anyone know how much of the 74 cents goes to salaries? and how much to benefits? is that info based on the last budget? if so, what is the breakdown for the upcoming budget?
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING March 27, 2012 at 05:58 PM
John. The Commack website gives that figure. You could get a breakdown if you had a copy of last years budget, which unfortunately has been removed from the website. If you email Laura Newman you can get a copy. Here is the link to the page: http://www.commack.k12.ny.us/budget12/budgetfacts.asp And here is the language youre looking for: What percentage of the entire District budget is comprised of salary and benefits, and how much in total dollars? Approximately 74 percent of the District’s budget is in employee salaries and benefits: Salaries: $93.6 million (54 percent) Benefits: $37.4 million (20 percent)
Jim Tampellini March 27, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Thanks...but is that info. for the upcoming Budget or last years budget? if it's for this year, do you know how much the breakdown was for last year's budget?
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING March 27, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Its last years numbers, but this year will be essentially the same.
MOM23 March 28, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Can we bring another question into all of this? How many of us parents are really for the IB Program? The district denies (hides) the amount of money that is going into the program by certifying the teachers. Is there any benefit? I don't see it other than the additional stress put on to our students. Bring back the college credit classes and get rid of IB. I bet we can save some teachers!
susan r March 30, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Honestly, the IB program is very good in giving a lot of students something extra when they try to get into colleges. Getting in to college these day (when I went all you needed was a pulse) can be difficult and there are times when just an extra challenging course CAN make the difference between acceptance and not being acceptance. There is a fee for the IB exams that the parents have to pay for and it is not cheap - so at least the parents do contribute. The IB programs is only available in a 10 other schools so it is pretty exclusive and all kids can patricipate in it, they can take one course or receive an IB diploma. You do receive college credit for the courses depending on where you go to school. I have to say that the teachers who teach IB are some of the best teachers we have.
Sara April 26, 2012 at 01:13 AM
To all, Special Olympics was in Huntington this year!!! How are you saying Commack Teachers were paid to volunteer at CHS! Please get your facts straight and don't put out misinformation that gets repeated!

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