UTN President Antoinette Blanck’s Statement to the Board of Education
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Members of the United Teachers of Northport are present at this evening’s meeting of the Board of Education, again in a show of unity—unity not only within our association, but unity with the Northport-East Northport community. We are also here as a show of RESPECT for the community in which many of us live, and in which all of us work as dedicated professionals.
Several years ago, as we were negotiating our last contract, the community was repeatedly told, “If the teachers would only take a freeze, there would be no cuts to program. If the teachers would only take a freeze, there would be no harm to children.” We, the United Teachers of Northport, represent the largest group of employees in the district—our teachers, teaching assistants and registered nurses. We bargained in good faith and, at the end of an over two year negotiation process, in a show of respect for the community, ratified a contract which included a hard freeze and four years of 0% salary increases. We also increased our contribution to health insurance to 21%, one of the highest teacher contribution rates in the county. Why did we do this? Because we RESPECT the community in which we work, and we RESPECT the children whom we educate.
We are also taxpayers, whether here in Northport-East Northport, or in other communities on Long Island and we fully understand the financial challenges faced by Long Islanders.
A few short weeks after our last contract was settled, the Superintendent and Board of Education announced that there was a $1.97 million surplus as a result of the settlement with the UTN. Nearly 2 million taxpayer dollars were collected for the purpose of UTN salaries, yet not a penny of it was used for that purpose. It was disheartening then, and even more disturbing now—disturbing that there has been consistent over-budgeting and underspending without full disclosure to the community. Our community’s taxpayers have repeatedly voted on and passed, in good faith, school budgets which, unbeknownst to many included millions of dollars intended to fund hefty reserves, while at the same time, reducing programs, staff and services.
The Office of the State Comptroller has recently released the Draft Audit Report which confirms what was suspected by many, that the District has indeed consistently over-budgeted and underspent, essentially collecting taxpayer money for undisclosed, or falsely-identified, purposes.
It is also disheartening that the District, in its response to the OSC, used teacher contract negotiations as an excuse for what some may call a “bait and switch” tactic. Budget for salaries, tax the community, and then after the union agrees to a wage freeze because of continued district assertions about a lack of financial resources, transfer those funds into already healthy reserves.
I urge this Board and Administration to RESPECT the community—the taxpayers, the families and the employees.