Key Issues

- Improve communications with the community

- Stop waste and mismanagement

- Eliminate conflicts of interest

- Effective school budget spending

- Transparency of public information

- Holding the line on property taxes

- Evaluation and restoration of programs

- Implement a "pay as you go" technology vision

- Establish a District-wide multi year plan

Quote of the Day

Great Quotes

There's a way to do it better - find it.
Thomasi Edison

"The problem is not that America doesn't spend enough money on education -- we spend enormous amounts, far more than any other nation. But we're not getting a sufficient return on our investment. The fact is, our education system looks a lot like the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s -- stuck in a flabby, inefficient, outdated production model driven by the needs of employees rather than consumers." -- Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor NYC

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something." -- Woodrow Wilson

“Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake” --
Napolean Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else. ~ Yogi Berra

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." -- Ronald Reagan

"The only thing you take with you when you're gone is what you leave behind." -John Allston



Up in Albany, they are at it again. Escalating school taxes are eating us alive, but the politicians are afraid to address the real problem. The STAR program was only a Band-Aid that gave some of us temporary relief, and now our legislators are trying to invent another one ["Income-based cap on school taxes praised," News, April 24]. This time a "circuit breaker" law is proposed. It would give some tax relief to those with lower incomes, but it would also reduce school revenue. They want the state of New York to make up the difference. All of this tinkering is strictly with the funding side of the equation. The real problem however, is with school spending. It has been going up three times faster than the rate of inflation, but this is the political third rail. Politicians are afraid to touch it. Few people want to serve on our school boards; it's a no-pay job. As a consequence, board after board is packed with teachers, the spouses of teachers and their best friends in the PTA. In their hands, school spending is out of control. The teachers union, the most powerful lobby in the state, likes things just the way they are. What legislator who wants to be re-elected would attempt to limit school spending?

James E. Stubenrauch

SchoolWatch Calls For Boycott of Law Firms Involved in Pension Scandal,0,4562080.story

DiNapoli suspends $106,700 lawyer pension


4:58 PM EDT, April 25, 2008

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has suspended the $106,700 a year pension of a Valley Stream attorney who had received 21 years of retroactive pension credits from Nassau County and Hempstead town, even though he had been paid as an independent contractor and not as an employee, officials said Friday.Albert D'Agostino, 64, would have to pay back most, if not all, of the roughly $791,359 he's collected since retiring in October 2000, if DiNapoli's office determines he was not a legitimate employee, officials said. In addition, he would have to pay back $83,015 in health benefits he has received."We suspended his pension while we look at all the entities that reported him as an employee, to see if any were eligible," said DiNapoli spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

She added that the comptroller would recalculate D'Agostino's pension and "most likely reduce his benefit."Newsday, which wrote about D'Agostino's retroactive pension credits two weeks ago, has reported on a number of attorneys who, while working as independent contractors for school districts, also received state pension credits as if they were employees.Yesterday, DiNapoli said more pensions could be suspended. "We'll continue to dig until we're confident that state pensions are only going to those people that rightly earned them," he said.D'Agostino was also reported as an employee by three school districts – Lawrence, Valley Stream 30 and North Merrick – and the Village of Valley Stream, while being paid additional fees as a contractor. He accumulated a total of 28 years credit in the state retirement system.D'Agostino declined comment Friday.

Meanwhile, SchoolWatch, a Long Island advocacy group, posted a statement on its Web site urging a boycott of law firms "involved in the pension scandal.""We as taxpayers simply cannot sit back and continue to feed these 'fat cat' lawyers and their firms. . ." the group said. "Millions of dollars have been stuffed in the pockets of these firms and attorneys, and it must stop."

In deciding in 2000 to give D'Agostino the retroactive credits, the state relied on letters from two prominent people connected to the Nassau County Planning Commission, an advisory board where D'Agostino served as part-time counsel. The state also considered his 1099 payments – tax forms used to pay independent contractors, not employees.Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said D'Agostino was placed on the county payroll in 1999. When he retired in 2000 and secured the retroactive credits, he also got lifetime health benefits.Weitzman said the county has paid $83,015 so far for D'Agostino's family health coverage. If DiNapoli determines that D'Agostino is not entitled to the pension, the county would end his benefits and seek to recover the $83,015.Weitzman has asked the state to refund the $102,246 the county paid to fund D'Agostino's pension.

Last month, DiNapoli froze the pension of attorney Lawrence Reich, who Newsday found was reported as a full-time employee by five school districts simultaneously. DiNapoli determined that Reich was not an employee and said Reich would have to pay back money he wasn't entitled to. Reich, who retired in 2006 with a $61,459 pension, has about 10 years of eligible service with the state.

The FBI, the state Attorney General, the IRS and the Nassau District Attorney have launched investigations.Last week, DiNapoli revoked pension memberships of four Albany attorneys who were reported as employees by an upstate BOCES and reduced service credit for a fifth attorney. Earlier this month, he announced new regulations for local governments to determine who is an employee.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.


NEWS FLASH: E.I. Capital Fund Farce is rescinded!

At the last BOE meeting, Tuesday, April 8, 2008 - The East Islip Board of Education voted to rescind a proposed proposition that would have allowed the formation of a $4M capital fund for technology upgrades.
This about face was spearheaded and brought about by SchoolWatch officials, who, in one fell swoop, have just saved the community over $4M!

The outcry began with SchoolWatch President Frank Gerace, at the numerous Budget Advisory Committee meetings that have been held since October 2007. His doubts about the creation of the fund picked up momentum throughout the committee(the Budget Advisory Committee voted unanimously to not support the formation of the Capital Fund!) and in the community as more details were released and it became apparent that there had been an ulterior motive for setting up the fund.
They wanted a place to funnel your hard earned money into! After all, how did we go from Austerity to having a $5M surplus!

Even Glenn Reed (a member of the Technology Committee), who had been a proponent of this fund, sent a last minute e-mail to the BOE indicating, he too now agreed, that the technology upgrade could be implemented on a "pay as you go" basis with funds that the district already had available!

Congratulations SchoolWatchers!

Note: A Schoolwatch member wrote and distributed a document entitled, ‘The Truth About the Technology Vote in East Islip" which pointed out the faults with the proposition and the proper way to fund technology. It's readily apparent that the BOE read this document and adopted our suggestions! (See below - It is posted in its entirety)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Transparent means transparent

Out from under another scandal, school districts need—really need— to be open and transparent so their constituencies (hard working taxpayers that cannot raise capital by raising someone else’s taxes) can know where the money is going.

Toward this goal, SchoolWatch, a growing nationwide grassroots organization that has trained its eyes on school districts, is calling for New York State school districts to do what 163 districts in 14 states have already done: Putting district documents online for the whole world to see.

Yes, a novel idea. Open up the ivory tower and create a looking glass kind of feel, where what the school districts are doing with taxpayer money is open for complete inspection.

Faxes and e-mails have begun to be delivered to local districts and elected representatives letting them know that the ball is now in their court, but the public needs to know.

Some may say this could be a legal disaster waiting to happen, but the fourth largest school district in the nation—Miami-Dade—did it in February and placed its check register online; more than 6,500 pages of payments in alphabetical order by vendor for all the world to see.

This is what transparency is. Not that one day a district allows people to see a crack in the keyhole. But the entire inventory laid bare for taxpayers to review and question.

Too many questions. But think about it. If the system is open then the questions should be easy to answer and explain. It is all there in black and white and binary numbers.

Doing this would be an easy stroke toward transparency as it permits school districts the luxury of accountability if all their “t”s are crossed and “i”s dotted. If the punctuation is improper, then finding the rotten apple should not be that difficult either.

SchoolWatch is calling for a legislative mandate from the New York State Legislature for all public school transactions to put online. Why should the districts wait for that?

School districts should be smart and get ahead of the curve and show their constituencies that they know the meaning of transparency: clearness, lucidity, simplicity and intelligibility■

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Stop Union Influence Now!

The teacher unions have more influence on the public schools than any other group in American society. They shape the schools from the bottom up, through collective-bargaining activities so broad in scope that virtually every aspect of the schools is somehow affected. They also shape the schools from the top down, through political activities that give them unrivaled influence over the laws and regulations imposed on public education by government.

As the unions put their distinctive stamp on the nation’s schools, the objectives they pursue are reflections of their own interests, which are often incompatible with what is best for children, schools, and society. This presents an obvious problem—and a serious one—for a nation that wants to improve the quality of its education system.

In recent years, certain scholars and even a few union leaders have argued the need for “reform unionism” and claimed that, with enough enlightened thinking, the unions can voluntarily dedicate themselves to education reforms that promote the greater good. This is a fanciful notion, based on a fatal misconception: that the unions can be counted on not to pursue their own interests. No such thing is going to happen.

My purpose here is to provide a simple overview of the pivotal roles that teacher unions actually play in public education—and to suggest why, if Americans want to improve their schools, something needs to be done about the unions and their extraordinary power.

The Rise of Teacher Unions

Until the early 1960s, only a tiny percentage of teachers were unionized. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was the only teacher union to speak of, and it organized no more than 5 percent of the nation’s teachers clustered in a few urban areas. The leading force in public education was the National Education Association (NEA). It attracted about half of the nation’s teachers, but it functioned as a professional association and was controlled by school administrators.

The watershed event came in 1961, when the AFT won a representation election in New York City. This victory set off an aggressive AFT campaign to organize teachers in other cities, forcing the NEA to compete as a union or risk losing its constituency. The early years of NEA-AFT competition brought thousands of districts under union control, with the NEA winning the lion’s share and maintaining its position of leadership—but now as a union rather than a professional association.

By the early 1980s, dramatic increases in union membership began to level off at a new equilibrium. As of 2001, this equilibrium still prevails and is quite stable, with the vast majority of teachers (outside the South) covered by collective bargaining. The NEA, which claimed a membership of 766,000 in 1961, now claims to have some 2.5 million members, about 2 million of whom are K–12 teachers. It has affiliates in all 50 states and is politically active throughout the country. The AFT has expanded by its own count from 70,821 members in 1961 to roughly one million members today, although only about half are teachers. As in the past, the AFT’s strength is in big cities.

Any effort to understand why the teacher unions succeeded as they did must begin by recognizing that their emergence was not an isolated development in the American labor movement. It happened during a time of spectacular growth among public-employee unions generally.

Several factors were responsible for this phenomenon, but a critical one is simply that the laws changed. Before the 1960s, states did not authorize public employees to engage in collective bargaining. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to enact a collective-bargaining law for public-sector workers, and over the next two decades most states followed suit. These laws created rights, duties, and procedures that made it easier for unions to organize and bargain. By the early 1980s, the percentage of unionized workers in government had skyrocketed from trivial levels two decades earlier to a robust 37 percent—where, as with teachers, it stabilized at a new equilibrium.

At the very time unions were succeeding dramatically in the public sector, they were stumbling badly in the private sector, in what was nothing short of a catastrophe for the labor movement. Why did teacher unions and other public sector unions do so well when private-sector unions—which had long benefited from union-promoting legal frameworks—fared so poorly?

There seem to be various causes at work. In the private sector, most employers know they will lose business to competitors if their costs increase, and this prompts them to resist unionization. Similarly, unions cannot make costly demands without losing jobs to nonunion firms, and this too limits their ability to organize and bargain. As a general matter, competition breeds trouble for unions; and over the past few decades, the private sector has become much more competitive.

The government environment is very different. Public agencies usually have no competition and are not threatened by loss of business if their costs go up, while unions know they are not putting jobs at risk by pressuring for all they can get. Government decisions on labor matters, moreover, are heavily influenced by politics rather than simple efficiency. In jurisdictions where unions are powerful, therefore, many public officials have incentives to submit to union demands even if they know the result will be higher costs and inefficiencies.

Given the lack of competition, and given the dominance of politics over efficiency, unions simply find it much easier to prosper in the public sector. It is no accident that the American labor movement has been kept afloat by the success of public-sector unions—and that the largest, most powerful union in the country is not the Teamsters or the United Auto Workers, but the National Education Association.

Collective Bargaining

When it comes to the fundamentals of organization, the teacher unions are like all other unions: collective bargaining is their core function and the base of their economic and political power. It is through collective bargaining that they attract and hold members, get most of their resources, and gain the capacity for political action.

The teacher unions bargain with school boards, which play the role of management. As the above discussion implies, however, school boards cannot be expected to behave like the managers of private firms in resisting union demands. School boards face little competition and needn’t worry that they will lose business by agreeing to union demands that raise costs, promote inefficiencies, or lower school performance. The kids and the tax money will still be there. In addition, school boards are composed of elected officials, whose incentives are explicitly political and less tied to efficiency and costs than those of private managers. Moreover, the unions, by participating in local elections, are in a position to determine who the management will be, and to give it incentives to bargain sympathetically—a stunning advantage that, for private-sector unions, would be a dream come true.

Union influence usually takes the form of rules that specify (in excruciating detail) what must or must not be done. In a typical union contract, there are so many rules about so many subjects that it may take more than a hundred pages to spell them all out. In many urban districts, where the unions are strongest, contracts may run to two or three hundred pages or longer.

There are rules, of course, about pay and fringe benefits. But there are also rules about hiring, firing, layoffs, and promotion. Rules about how teachers are evaluated. Rules about the assignment of teachers to classrooms and their (non)assignment to yard duty, lunch duty, and after school activities. Rules about how much time teachers may be asked to work and how much time they must get to prepare for class. Rules about class schedules. Rules about class size. Rules about the numbers and uses of teacher aides. Rules about teacher involvement in school policy decisions. Rules about how grievances are to be handled. Rules about numbers of faculty meetings. Rules about how often teachers can be required to meet with parents. Rules about who has to join the union. Rules about whether dues will be deducted automatically from paychecks. Rules about union use of school facilities. And more.

Union demands on these and other scores are not random or frivolous. Fundamental interests motivate their behavior and determine the kinds of rules they find desirable. These interests arise from the primordial fact that, in order to prosper as organizations, unions need to attract members and money. Most of what they do can be understood in terms of these simple goals—which entail, among other things, securing benefits and protections for members, increasing the demand for teachers, supporting higher taxes, regularizing the flow of resources into union coffers, minimizing competition, and seeking political power.

Note that these interests and the behaviors they entail need have nothing to do with what is best for children, schools, or the public interest; indeed, they may clearly conflict with them. For this reason, collective bargaining often leads to contracts that make little sense as blueprints for effective organization.

By way of illustration, here are some common themes that give substance to the typical contract:

• Unions are dedicated to protecting the jobs of all members. The rules they insist upon make it virtually impossible for schools to get rid of even the worst teachers, not to mention those who are merely mediocre.

• Unions don’t want decisions about pay, promotions, assignments, or transfers to be based on performance. As they see it, performance evaluations create uncertainty for their members, force members to compete with one another, and put discretion in the hands of superiors. The unions want personnel decisions to be based on seniority and formal education, which offer advancement to all teachers regardless of their competence.

• Unions seek to expand teachers’ rights by severely restricting the discretion available to administrators. For principals and district officials, discretion means the ability to lead and manage. For unions, however, it means that administrators make decisions about where, when, and how teachers do their work and how incentives are structured—which is unacceptable. Discretion is to be driven out, replaced by rules that define realms of teacher autonomy.

• Unions tend to oppose anything that induces competition or differentiation among teachers. This applies to performance-based assessments, but also to many other policies. They are opposed, for example, to differential pay in response to market conditions (which might mean paying math and science teachers a premium to attract and hold them). Unions want teachers to have the same interests, because this promotes solidarity. The notion that some teachers are better than others, or worth more than others, is stridently resisted.

• Unions tend to oppose anything that induces competition among schools. Most fundamentally, they want all schools in a district to be covered by the same contract, because the schools not covered (and free of the costs and rigidities it imposes) would have an advantage. This would be especially true if the noncovered schools were allowed to be different in other ways too, and if parents were free to choose, for then the noncovered schools might attract kids, jobs, and resources away from the union schools. The union ideal is that all schools be regulated the same and that all be guaranteed their “fair share” of students and money.

• Unions tend to oppose any contracting-out of educational functions that involves a shift of jobs and resources from public to private. This is true even if privatization may provide better services at lower cost. The goal is to keep public employment and spending as high as possible.

• Unions want contract provisions that require all teachers to become members and that force nonmembers to pay “agency fees.” They also want dues and fees automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks, as this guarantees unions a regular flow of money and shifts administrative costs onto the districts.

The unions put the best public face on their collective-bargaining demands, arguing that what is good for teachers is good for kids and that they are just fighting for quality public schools. It is obvious, however, that many aspects of union influence (not all) have negative consequences for kids and schools. How can it be socially beneficial that schools can’t get rid of bad teachers? Or that teachers can’t be tested for competence? Or that teachers can’t be evaluated based on how much their students learn? Or that principals are so heavily constrained they can’t exercise leadership of their own schools?

It is also clear that union-generated rules add tremendously to the bureaucratization of schools. The unions are responsible for making the system much more formal, complex, and impersonal than it would otherwise be. These characteristics tend to undermine school performance. Schools tend to do best when they function in an informal, cooperative, flexible, and nurturing way—which is precisely the opposite of bureaucracy.

Little research specifically links teacher unions to school performance, so it is impossible to make an ironclad, fully documented case about the direction of union effects. The few existing studies have produced mixed results, some showing negative effects and some showing positive effects. But many of these findings are probably spurious, arising because the data are very poor and hard to get and the methodological difficulties are formidable.

The most recent addition to this literature, an article by Lala Carr Steelman, Brian Powell, and Robert M. Carini in the Winter 2000 issue of the Harvard Educational Review, claims that unions have positive effects on performance, and its findings are being touted by union enthusiasts. This analysis, too, needs to be regarded with care. Its measures of school performance, for example, are SAT and ACT scores, which clearly do not measure the actual performance of the schools (as the unions are usually the first to point out). And because these and other variables are aggregated to the state level for analysis, there are dangers in drawing inferences about causal processes (like union influence) at the school level. An analysis that minimizes these sorts of problems, and is the most sophisticated of the tests of union impact, was carried out a few years ago by Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby and published in the August 1996 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Hoxby found that unions have negative effects on school performance.

The unions are responsible for making the education system much more formal, complex, and impersonal than it would otherwise be. These characteristics tend to undermine school performance.

The most confident conclusion that can be drawn from this literature is that unions increase the costs of education, apparently by an average of 8 to 15 percent—and without (as far as can be determined) a corresponding increase, or any increase at all, in school quality. This tends to support the argument that, for a given level of spending, unions make the production of quality education more difficult.

Local Politics

Collective bargaining is the bread-and-butter activity of teacher unions. The key to their preeminence in American education, however, is their ability to combine collective bargaining and politics into an integrated strategy for promoting union objectives.

Teacher unions are active in politics at all levels: local, state, and national. In local politics the teacher unions are in the astounding position of being able to determine who sits on local school boards, and thus with whom they will be bargaining. Needless to say, the unions have strong incentives to mobilize for political purposes, to participate actively in electoral campaigns, and to identify and recruit sympathetic candidates. These incentives are all the stronger because districts make decisions on a wide range of policy, taxing, and funding issues of great relevance to union interests.

The details of local politics can vary across districts, due to their individual histories, demographics, and problems. But certain characteristics are common to most of them—and give teacher unions great advantages in the struggle for influence.

• School-board elections usually occur in off years or times and thus tend to attract very low turnout, often in the range of 10 to 20 percent. By getting their own members and supporters to the polls, unions are well positioned to prevail.

• These elections are typically nonpartisan: candidates are not identified by party affiliation. Voters are thus denied the key information that running under a party banner conveys, and this enhances the ability of unions to control how candidates are perceived and who is elected.

• Local politics is not very pluralistic. Teacher unions tend to be the only organized force in school politics. They almost always overshadow business and civic groups, and they always overshadow parents, who are not organized (outside the PTA, which has long been under union control in politics) and who vote in low numbers.

• Teacher unions are flush with political resources. They have money for campaign contributions, and they control an army of political workers (teachers) who are educated, informed, have a direct stake in the issues, and are organized for political action.

• Most candidates run for school board on a shoestring. This being so, candidates endorsed by the unions and boosted by their money, manpower, and organization are very likely to win.

For these and other reasons, unions are formidable powers in local politics. The upshot is that, when school boards make decisions about policy or money or about the myriad rules governing school operations, they tend to give heavy weight to the interests of unions—and may often depart, as a result, from what is best for children and effective education.

State and National Politics

Important as local politics is, the teacher unions have good reason to think more broadly about the exercise of political power. Increasingly, the big decisions on education are being made by state and (to a lesser extent) national governments, and many of these decisions have a direct bearing on union interests. Active involvement in state and national politics is more than an attractive option for the unions. It is a necessity.

The great value of higher-level politics is that state governments, especially, are in a position to adopt virtually any requirements, programs, and funding arrangements they want for the public schools. Whatever policies they adopt, moreover, are typically applied to all the districts and schools in their jurisdictions. When unions use their political power at these higher levels, then, they can achieve many objectives they might be unable to achieve through local collective bargaining, from more money to smaller classes to stricter credentialing requirements. One political victory can accomplish what hundreds of decentralized negotiations cannot.

Over the past few decades, the NEA and the AFT have acted aggressively on these incentives, and they have emerged as extraordinarily powerful players in state and national politics. A recent study at the state level asked experts to rank interest groups according to political influence, and the teacher unions came out number one, outdistancing business organizations, trial lawyers, doctors, insurance companies, environmentalists, and even the state AFL-CIO affiliates.

One reason for the unions’ success is that they spend tremendous amounts of money on political campaigns and lobbying. They regularly rank among the top-spending interest groups at both the state and national levels, and in many states they are number one. Probably the key to their political firepower, however, is that they have literally millions of members, and these members are a looming presence in every electoral district in the country. Candidates are keenly aware that the unions invest heavily in mobilizing their local activists and have considerable clout in seeing friends elected and enemies defeated.

The teacher unions are in the astounding position of being able to determine who sits on local school boards, and thus with whom they will be bargaining.

Almost all of this firepower is employed to the benefit of Democrats, whose constituencies already incline them to favor policies the teacher unions want—more spending, higher taxes, higher public employment, more regulations, more job protections, more restrictions on competition, more collective bargaining—and who, with union backing and pressure, can usually be counted on for support.

Within Congress and the state legislatures, the teacher unions are aggressive, omnipresent participants. This is often true even in right-to-work states. They monitor all relevant legislation, propose bills, carry out background research on issues, attend committee hearings, keep scorecards on legislators, and bring their formidable power to bear in getting legislators to vote their way. On education, teacher unions are the 500-pound gorillas of legislative politics.

On occasion, they also use the initiative process to put their own bills on the ballot for a direct popular vote. Here, they can use their financial resources to bankroll signature-gathering and media blitzes, and they can unleash an army of volunteers during the campaign. No other organizations are so well suited to initiative politics, and the unions have gone this route when legislatures have failed to give them what they wanted. A good example: California’s Proposition 98, which was successfully promoted by the California Teachers Association in 1989, and since then has required the state to spend at least 40 percent of its annual budget on the public schools.

The teacher unions also exercise their power in administrative arenas. The national and state departments of education, in particular, oversee countless education programs, distribute billions of dollars, and have substantial discretion in deciding what the details of education policy will be and how the money will be spent. Within these departments, officials regard the unions as key “stakeholders” who have legitimate, ongoing roles to play in shaping public decisions. The opportunities for union influence are everywhere and virtually unobservable to outsiders unfamiliar with the byzantine world of government bureaucracy.

Often the unions pursue their policy objectives by combining legislative and administrative power. An important example can be found in their recent drive for teacher “professionalism.” This is a goal with obvious political appeal. Who could be against professionalism? The reality, however, is that they are active on this issue because their fundamental interests are at stake. By pushing for stricter licensing, credentialing, and certification requirements and for regulatory boards controlled or influenced by the unions themselves, they are attempting to control entry into their field and thus to limit supply and put upward pressure on salaries. This is a classic political strategy that other occupations, from doctors and lawyers to cosmetologists and plumbers, have long used with great success. The teacher unions just want to do the same.

The Politics of Blocking

Much of what the teacher unions do in politics is not about winning the policies they want. It is about blocking the policies they don’t want—a strategy that the American political system, built around multiple checks and balances, is designed to facilitate. Because blocking is relatively easy, the unions are usually powerful enough to stop reforms they consider a threat to their interests, and thus to protect a status quo that benefits them. In a time of widespread pressure for improvement in public education, this is the way the teacher unions put their power to most effective use. They use it to prevent change.

Consider the movement for school choice, which represents the most far-reaching movement for change in American education. From the unions’ standpoint, it is irrelevant whether choice is a promising reform. The overriding fact is that choice-based reforms naturally generate changes that are threatening to the unions’ interests—and the unions, quite predictably, oppose them. Much of their political activity over the past decade has been dedicated to the simple goal of blocking school choice.

The unions see vouchers as a survival issue. Vouchers would allow money and children to flow from public to private: threatening a drop in public employment and in union membership; dispersing teachers to private schools, where it is much harder for unions to organize; promoting competition among schools, which puts union schools at a disadvantage; and creating a less regulated system in which the unions have less power. Small wonder, then, that the unions have done everything they can to defeat vouchers—even when vouchers are proposed solely for the neediest of children.

The teacher unions are also battling against charter schools—which, while public, need not be unionized, and which draw students and money away from the regular public schools where union members teach. Unions sometimes claim to “support” charter proposals, but these are strategic moves designed to head off something much worse: vouchers. Moreover, they are typically accompanied by demands for strict ceilings on the number of charters, requirements that charters be unionized, and extensive district controls. Charters are on the rise nationwide, but for now most are constrained by laws that have been heavily influenced by the unions.

The teacher unions are also fighting privatization. In the 1990s, for-profit companies sought contracts with districts to run entire schools, typically those regarded as failing. The unions recognize that they have less control over private contractors than over the districts, and that the success of private contractors could well promote the flow of jobs, money, and control from public to private schools. They have done what they can, accordingly, to prevent school boards from entering into such agreements and to sabotage those that get past them.

The bottom line is that the teacher unions’ greatest power is not the ability to get what they want, but rather the ability to stifle reforms that threaten their interests. School choice is not the only reform they oppose—for union interests are deeply rooted in the status quo, and most changes of any consequence create problems for them. The result is that, as our nation has struggled to improve its public schools, the teacher unions have emerged as the fiercest, most powerful defenders of the status quo, and the single greatest obstacle to the reform of American education.

Introducing Competition

For reform to succeed, something concrete must be done to remove the education system from the unions’ grip. This won’t be easy, because the unions can (and regularly do) use their power to “persuade” reformers to turn their sights elsewhere. Most Democrats, in particular, would be committing political suicide by trying to alter the unions’ current role in public education, and they will resist any efforts to do so. In a political system of checks and balances, this alone will be enough to block most reform proposals most of the time.

If the future holds a solution to the problem of union power, it will probably develop as a by-product of the school-choice movement. The best bet is that, despite union opposition, school choice in various forms will gradually spread. As it does, the unions will be faced with an increasingly competitive environment. Children and resources will begin to flow to nonunion schools, and unions will find themselves with fewer members, less money, and a growing number of schools and teachers that are outside the traditional system and difficult to organize. Competition spells trouble for unions. It undermines their organizational strength—and with it, their political power.

Whether choice and competition will ultimately win out remains to be seen. In the meantime, the teacher unions will reign as the preeminent power in American education, and they will continue to give us public schools in their own image.

The Truth About The Technology Vote

The East Islip School District is trying to create a 1.3 million dollar technology fund by proposing a referendum to the community to be voted upon on May 20th, the same day as the budget vote. What do you know about this referendum? Is this a good idea? Is this good for the community?
Yes, the technology in the district needs to be upgraded. We need new computers with up to date Microsoft operating systems (some of the computers that the children are learning on still use windows 95). The question is, is setting up this fund the best way for the district to fund the acquisition of new technology. You may decide for yourself.
The 2006-2007 school year in East Islip was conducted on a contingency budget as the result of the community rejecting two different budgets proposed by the district. The community banded together and rolled up their sleeves to raise enough money to fund Sports in the High School and to retain a number of after school clubs. The children lost a great deal academically, especially in the High School and the Elementary Schools. The Teaching staff was reduced. Children on all levels had to go without. Everyone was affected because on contingency, money was tight.
At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, after denying our children critical programs and being more than willing to deny them athletic and social experiences, The East Islip School District ended the year with a 4 million dollar surplus, which was used to create an Unreserved Fund Balance. An Unreserved Fund Balance is a type of emergency account, money that can be kept by a school district that is over and above the actual budget, and can be saved and used in the event of an unforeseen fiscal need, a type of rainy day savings account. New York State law states that an Unreserved Fund balance cannot be more than 3% of the schools fiscal year budget (the law is increasing the amount to 4% of the budget for the 2008-2009 school year).
The following is taken from the NYSED Budgeting Handbook:
“Year-end fund balances of school districts are the result of the recognition of revenues in excess of amounts estimated and expenditures that are less than the total amount of appropriations. It should be noted that there is no provision in the law or regulations for deficit or negative fund balances.
The total fund balance of a school district's general fund is made up of two parts: Reserved Fund Balance and Unreserved Fund Balance.
The reserved portion of the fund balance is made up of moneys that may be used only for very specific purposes and is, therefore, not available to be used for tax reduction in the next subsequent fiscal year.
The unreserved portion of the fund balance is the amount which is uncommitted and is, therefore, available to be used to reduce real property taxes in the next fiscal year. It should be noted, however, that a part of this unreserved fund balance may be retained by the district and not used for tax reduction in the next upcoming year. This retained portion is called the unappropriated fund balance and is limited by §1318 of the Real Property Tax Law to an amount equal to 2% of the upcoming year's budget ( increased to 3% in 2007-2008 and 4% in 2008-2009). The remaining portion of the unreserved fund balance that is used for tax reduction, is known as the appropriated fund balance.
The legally retained unappropriated fund balance provides cash flow and could be available to meet unanticipated ordinary contingent expenditures without voter approval. This fund balance may also be appropriated, with voter approval, for unanticipated non-contingent expenditures or the funding of certain reserve funds.
Since the term fund balance could apply to the total fund balance or any part of it, school district officials should be certain that any discussion of disposition of balances begins with a clear statement as to the nature of the balance being discussed.”
The budget for the East Islip School District for the 2007-2008 school year is $93,931,066. The maximum amount allowed in the unreserved fund balance, by law, for the East Islip School District at the end of the 2006-2007 school year is 2.8 million dollars. The total unreserved fund balance, as of 6/30/07 was $4,155,136. The district was 1.3 million dollars over the fund balance limit.
Now the district wants to designate this 1.3 million dollars for technology, 1.3 million of the over 4 million dollars that they have already overtaxed you, instead of returning it to the taxpayers by applying it to the new tax levy. The district has been padding various line items in the budget for years, overinflating the actual needs for covering expenses and moving money around from code to code in a virtual shell game. They are doing this to hide the fact that they are budgeting more money than they need to cover various expenses, hiding it from the public in the complexity of a school budget.
Do you know that if this Technology fund is approved, the money cannot be used for any other purpose? Do you know that if this Technology fund is approved, the money cannot be used for at least a year? The money cannot be used without ANOTHER vote of the community approving the expenditure. We will have to wait until May 19, 2009 to vote on them spending this money. Even if the community approves the expenditure, the children will not see any benefit from this referendum until the 2009-2010 school year, at the earliest. What happens to that money if the community votes no on the expenditure? Does this sound like the best route towards addressing our immediate technology needs? Do you know that the district can add up to 1 million a year to this fund, over 10 years, as long as the technology fund balance does not exceed 4 million? Do you know that this fund will be supported by money in excess of future unreserved fund balances, money you are supplying them through inflated taxes, the result of artificially high budgets? We are inviting the district to pad future budgets, knowing full well that they will be able to transfer money into the Technology fund that they would otherwise be legally obligated to return to the taxpayers by applying it to the following years tax levy. This method for funding our technology is fraught with pitfalls and will exacerbate distrust between the district and the community.
No one is denying that the district needs to upgrade its technology, and soon. The district should fund this by creating a line item for technology in this and future budgets so we will have better idea going forward as to what our expenses are and how our needs are being addressed. If the 1.3 million were applied to reduce the 2008-2009-tax levy and 1.3 million were added to the budget as a line item, the budget-to-budget increase would not change at all, and the district could start spending the money to improve our technology in September. The district is working on a five-year technology plan. The Beacon of hope states,” Once the Technology Reserve is approved and funded, the district can begin planning in earnest to meet the goals of its five-year plan for instructional technology.” How can they meet the goals when the funding is uncertain and is attained through chicanery, padding of budgets and clever accounting? This plan to improve our technology is, at best, a poorly planned endeavor, and at worst, an attempt to fool the community into thinking it is providing improved technology to the students of East Islip with absolutely no property tax implications to the tax paying public. Vote no on the Technology referendum and ask the district to fund our technology needs through conventional methods.
Please email this to all your friends and ask them to do the same. We need to get the truth out to as many people as possible. Thank you.

My Position

"I support new policies, which would eventually allocate a fair share of educational tax dollars for each child to be “portable” to the school of their parents’ choosing. It would mean that you the parent, regardless of income, would decide where your child would attend school. Through school programs that would allow choice, all families would be treated equally, and while competition among schools would be fierce, the quality of education would improve dramatically."

Frank M. Gerace

School Competition

The lack of progress in educational reform at the K-12 level is a serious threat to the health of the economy and to the future prosperity of American children. School reforms thus far have focused on increasing funding to public schools. However, the increased spending has not improved quality, suggesting that more money is not the answer to school reform.

Instead, effective school reform must address the structure of public education. Public schools monopolize the market for affordable education and, therefore, are not held accountable for their performance. Consequently, they have little incentive to improve quality or control costs because even the worst public schools are protected by the system.

Schools can be effectively reformed through parental choice programs that empower parents rather than school bureaucracies. Parental choice embodies two principles. First, any system which provides more parents with more choices will be superior to one that assigns children to certain schools based on zoning rules. Second, competition ensures that customers receive the highest quality product at the lowest price. If parents are given the financial ability to remove their children from failing schools, these schools will be forced to improve their quality if they want to remain viable. Competition essentially takes away the guarantee that classrooms will remain full regardless of a school's performance or quality.

Competition in education is not a radical policy. The market for higher education is competitive, and this competition has helped make American colleges and universities among the best in the world. Private and religious schools at the K-12 level also compete for students as do pre-schools. Therefore, the lack of competition in public K-12 education is the exception.

Several proposals have been introduced in Congress that would allow parents more choices in K-12 education. One proposal with bipartisan support would allow parents to establish tax-free saving accounts to encourage them to save for their children's K-12 education. Such accounts already exist under current law for higher education. Parents who contribute to these accounts could use their savings to send their children to public, private, or religious schools. Alternatively, the savings could be used to pay for a home computer, tutor, educational therapy, college tuition, or other educational expenses.

Saving incentives can be utilized by all low- and middle-income families in all communities. Their widespread use can provide the competitive pressures needed to generate broad-based reform in the K-12 school system. In addition, low- and middle-income families can receive substantial benefits.

Promoting parental choice through saving incentives would not advance private and religious schools at the expense of public schools. It would simply make more options available to more parents and provide new opportunities for school children both inside and outside the public school system.

Experience and Family

23+ year professional financially orientated career
-Government contracting (Grumman Aerospace)
-Academic Health Center (NYU Medical Center)
-Retail Industry (Barnes and Noble)
-High Technology (Symbol Technologies/Motorola)

Volunteer and leadership experience

East Islip School District activities
- Safety Committee
- Budget Committee
- Regularly attend District meetings

Home and Family
-District alumni (Class of 1980)
-District resident for over 40 years
-Married for 18+ years
-Three children in East Islip School District

Graduate of
-Dowling College BS (1984) MBA (1987)