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UPDATE: Teachers Could Prevent Layoffs, Save Kindergarten With Benefits Concession

A proposal would streamline health benefits for teachers to help close a $2.3 million school budget gap.

Port Chester's teachers could close the district's budget gap if they agree to cap salary increases and settle on one insurance carrier instead of three currently offered to union members, according to several people familiar with ongoing negotiations.

If the Port Chester Teachers Association agreed to the proposed concessions, about 30 jobs could be saved and the school district would not have to to half a day, sources say. The concession could also save the Early Learning Center.

Currently, teachers can choose between Oxford, Aetna and the State-Wide Schools Cooperative Health Plan, or SWSCHP. If the teachers union agrees to go with one provider, and to a one percent salary increase each year for the next three years, the school district would save enough money to close the remaining budget gap, according to several people with knowledge of the proposals.

The teachers union contract expired on June 30, 2011.

After an increase in state aid, Port Chester's budget gap remains at more than $2.1 million.

The insurance proposal from the Board of Education was met with resistance from the teacher's union because it could force some teachers to switch physicians. Leaders from both sides agreed to bring in a mediator, but talks have stalled and mediation hasn't begun yet, according to a party familiar with the discussions.

Several people who provided information for this story requested anonymity because they are restricted from discussing the negotiations publicly.

This year's school budget is . Pension and healthcare mandates, combined with the new two percent tax levy increase cap, originally put the school district in a $4 million hole. The district recently received , and at the urging of school leaders, parents and taxpayers have conducted an to flood state representatives with appeals for more assistance.

Members of the community have also given state representatives an earful at a series of on school budget woes, such as a held by Assemblyman George Latimer in New Rochelle City Hall.

Over the past five years, the school district has cut student programs, like the , while positions considered non-essential have been slashed or reduced to part-time hours.

But this year's budget sacrifices cut deep into programs many parents and members of the school community consider essential. The JFK Early Learning Center houses a dozen kindergarten and first-grade classes in leased space at Holy Rosary School. It was established in 2008 to alleviate overcrowding in the district's elementary schools.

A report last week in the Westmore News quotes quotes Board of Education member Bob Johnson saying the program is on the chopping block.

Talk of eliminating the Early Learning Center means some teachers and staff "are in a panic," one school employee said.

The Board of Education will present its initial budget to the public at a scheduled meeting tonight. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and has been shifted to the auditorium at Port Chester Middle School to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd of parents, teachers and taxpayers.

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JJ March 08, 2012 at 11:35 AM
I can't wait to hear the responses on this article! I'm hoping that BOTH sides of the issue will respond with facts and NOT emotion. If you really want to help children learn and promote the community there has to be an answer out there. I don't blame anyone for the situation we're in. People will always take as much as you're willing to give them and Teachers are an important part of our society. The ONLY question that I have is what percentage of the Teachers in the PC School System live within the community? It's NOT meant to be a "point" just a question. Can anyone out there answer that question?
Concerned View March 08, 2012 at 12:20 PM
When is the current teacher's contract up for renewal? That's when this insurance carrier reduction topic will be sorted out. Also, if the school system has a 2% tax cap, the School Board cannot turn around and agree to more than a 2% annual increase to the teacher's union. In the meantime, teachers will have to get fired and non-critical programs eliminated. I wonder if the School Board will now implement a comprehensive registration process?
George Datino March 08, 2012 at 12:39 PM
You know, every year we go through this process and every year we are threatened with this 1/2 day kindergarten. I think back to when I was a kid and I had only 1/2 a day of kindergarten, as I believe most of my generation did. As I look around, there are many in my generation that have been deprived of this other 1/2 a day of schooling for 1 year and yet we have managed to go onto get High School Diplomas, College Degrees, Masters Degrees, and Doctorates. There has been a great deal of success. Do today's children really need to have this in order to succeed in today's world? Are we condemning them to a life of complete failure, lucky to get a High School diploma if they only go to school for a 1/2 a day when they are 5?
Nik Bonopartis March 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
This story has been updated with new information: - Currently, about 30 teacher positions are at stake. - The budget gap has been reduced to $2.1 million - The benefits concession alone would not close the budget gap. Teachers must also consent to a 1 percent salary increase each year for the next three years. - The current contract expired last year.
PC Lover March 08, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Concerned View I do not disagree with some of your comments, but what do you think a comprehensive registration process will do for us when (I believe) the schools are required to accept all students regardless of legal status? Unless you think kids are sneaking in to Port Chester Schools from Blind Brook or Greenwich. I doubt that whole heartedly! If you are thinking that a comprehensive registration process will ferret out illegal immigrants, it's a nice thought but the school district doesn't seem to share that information with anyone...including the building dept (over crowding) or police/immigration. So more money and man power will be spent on a comprehensive registration process with no net positive benefit to anyone. I guess you might scare some people into keeping their kids home, but I am not sure who that serves either...
Greg Tart March 08, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Are there other reasons for insisting on a full day kindergarten? Are the parents working during the day?
Aidan March 08, 2012 at 10:42 PM
For those of you who think that Port Chester's teachers are poorly compensated, you can visit http://seethroughny.net/ and view the salary of any district employee. See if your impressions jive with reality. The site should also provide you with the last three years of compensation ... so you can get a solid idea of how the contractual raises and the step raises impact personnel costs.
Aidan March 08, 2012 at 11:51 PM
First, the teacher salary schedule should be included as a main feature of negotiations. It is the one area that the board of ed had some clout. This policy of giving generous raises to almost all teachers for simply re-appearing each fall ... on top of any contractual raise! ... is absurd. And unless it's curtailed and redesigned you can look forward to years of this sort of thing. Some district have tinkered with salary schedules ... but none had had the moxie to look at a full-blown overhaul. Now is the time. Second, it's time to put the union "It's for the children!" rant to the test. These adjustments are for the children ... and for the unions newest members, too. Let's see what the union's made of. I wouldn't get your hopes too high. There's not a great track record to work with. See local teacher salaries at http://seethroughny.net/ ... see if your teachers are undercompensated.
JJ March 09, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Aidan..........Excellent coments. I'm also tired of the "It's for the children". I hope the issue moves forward with facts.
Blogger March 09, 2012 at 05:28 AM
@Aidan, I agree with your comments about the teacher salary schedule but it seems you are forgetting to factor in the Triborough Ammendment. @Greg, There are reams of data out there about the benefits of full day Kindergarten. The bulk of PC residents work for a living - often multiple jobs. Port Chester isn't some trust fund town full of ladies in tennis skirts. A half day Kindergarten program is going to create childcare nightmares for parents of youngsters, both in terms of logistics and cost.
Aidan March 09, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Triborough is an issue, but not in the stand I suggest. Triborough keeps the EXISTING contact conditions in play UNTIL there is a new contract. That new contract can include changes to the salary step schedule. Is this a bargaining advantage for the unions? Of course. But that is for the state to fix. Unfortunately, under these circumstances about the only chip the BOE has is to threaten layoffs. But unions often choose to protect their situations and sacrifice their members. So, in the end, it is the children who are held hostage. And the taxpayer. The entire situation needs a more realistic reset. If salaries continue at their current pace the school tax will bankrupt homeowners. Who ever imagined that monthly school taxes would exceed one's mortgage payment? Well, that's where we are now. Fixed income folks are being driven from their community; they have no means to adjust other than to slash necessities. This entire institution is structurally flawed ... and the growth rate of personnel has to be curtailed. See for yourself ... look at Port Chester salaries at http://seethroughny.net/. You'll find it hard to have much sympathy for those who have very fine employment on the taxpayer's dime.
JJ March 09, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Respectfully; here's my question again: The ONLY question that I have is what percentage of the Teachers in the PC School System live within the community? It's NOT meant to be a "point" just a question. Can anyone out there answer that question?
Greg Tart March 09, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I did not argue cutting kindergarten in half- I asked a question. The problem in Port Chester is the inability of homeowners to pay in property taxes as they are middle class and mature, and the natural reluctance of the teachers to take cuts in their contracts. The solution is make the federal government, instead of looking for cases of "institutionalized" racism , as in the voting issue- to cover the additional costs that their immigration policies have caused towns like Port Chester in terms of immigration.
Aidan March 10, 2012 at 01:42 PM
For those truly interested ... Measuring average public pensions http://www.empirecenter.org/pb/2012/03/lifetimepensions030912.cfm

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