We have been in tough times, and it’s clear we are facing more. Kingston’s tax base continues to shrink, as does our student population. Our budget and tax levy continue to grow. We have just passed another bond for essential repairs and improvements. In the recent past, we have cut programs, services, schools, and jobs. The job cuts have been considered, by some, draconian. Facing mounting costs and dwindling choices, newly hired Superintendent Paul Padalino has come to the jarring conclusion that we need to eliminate another 89 jobs. The school board we elected, considering the budget we passed, has agreed. We are running out of options.
What is left to cut? I don’t think we can take anything else away from the students. As of this writing, the Kingston Teachers’ Federation and the Kingston School District have not reached agreement on a new contract to replace the last one, which expired almost one year ago. Transportation contracts will need to be re-worked with new district lines, and we may have other closings, but little savings can be realized from those in the near or long terms. The Superintendent’s contract just began in January, so nothing can be done there until that one is up.
If the teachers want to save jobs within their own union, their negotiators could agree, for the benefit of their members, to require participants pay for 15%-20% of their health insurance premiums on a sliding scale based on income. Employees making up to $50,000 annually would pay 15%, $50,001-$70,000 contribute 17.5%, and earners $70,001 and up pay the top rate of 20% of the premium to the KTF Trust. Also, eliminate the $2500 annual opt-out payment to those that don’t take the health insurance benefit. Like any benefit, it should be a “use-it-or-lose-it” proposition. These two measures alone would save well over $5,000,000 based on the current budget.
It is axiomatic that increasing the number of members in an insurance class increases the income and decreases the risk, so opening up the KTF self-insured Trust to all administrative employees of the district at the same rates should benefit both the Trust and the District.
Pensions are great, and for those hired already, they are in the contract. We have made that deal with the teachers and administrative staff, and any decent society should honor that agreement. The problem here is that future pension obligations are rapidly outpacing our ability to pay for them, and the whole system will collapse on itself. For new administrative and union hires, however, we could phase out straight pensions, and move to a more affordable 403b plan, say, TIAA/CREF. Pre-tax contributions by the employee, and a matching contribution of up to 10% of base salary would supplement retirement incomes nicely, and the employees of the district could do very well over a working lifetime. Once you have a 403b, you can always contribute to it, even if you are not in the same business.
Obviously, we would not realize vast pension liability savings immediately, but over time, this would add up as people leave the system, and others are hired in.
In the current contract, sick days can be “saved”, accruing up to 215 days. Upon separation, the employee is allowed to cash out those remaining accrued days at $60 per day. If the maximum number of days were cut to 50, we could save a potential of over $9,000 per employee.
We can eliminate vacation carry-overs, replace car allowances with mileage reimbursements at IRS rates, and cut longevity pay. Time on the job is already covered under step increases.
Except for extreme or extraordinary circumstances, any employee resigning before the expiration of his or her contract should be considered in breach of that contract, and all pay and benefits should cease immediately. While we cannot recoup past losses, we can prevent some of them in the future
Finally, for all contracts; freeze them upon expiration. If pay or benefits are not increased until a new contract is in place, negotiating parties will be much more motivated to meet at the table and work out a new agreement.
Superintendent Padalino is trying to make the tough cuts where he can, but now is not the time to put even more of our friends and neighbors out of work. That is very bad for the students, the teachers, and for all of Kingston. If we can avoid future job cuts, I say we make the moves.
These are some of my thoughts for positive, possible moves forward. What are yours?
*All KTF and Superintendent contract information was found at SeeThroughNY