May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

An Insider’s Perspective on the Teaneck Board of Education Election

Three years ago I was elected to the Board of Education as a Trustee. The Teaneck BOE is responsible for the K-12 education of nearly 4,000 students and a budget of $95-100 million, accounting for 60-65 percent of property taxes. Residents can obtain a good education via the Teaneck public schools, though test scores may suggest otherwise. Due to socioeconomic and other factors, a significant percentage of students contribute to an “achievement gap,” resulting in lower average test scores.

As an elected Trustee, I am committed to academic achievement, as well as fiduciary responsibility. In this article, I address three key issues: busing, taxes and a need for “better” employee contracts.

Busing is a state mandate and should not be singled out!

NJ State law (NJSA 18A:39-1/NJAC 6A:27-1.2) mandates transportation for grades K-8 living 2.0 miles from school, pupils in grades 9-12 who live more than 2.5 miles from school, and the physically handicapped and special education children, as needed.

Four years ago, an attempt to eliminate private school busing was deemed not feasible. The March-April 2015 busing “crisis” was avoidable and resulted from a non-sanctioned e-mail from the Teaneck BOE busing coordinator. The proposal to consolidate bus stops was deemed unsafe and rejected by the BOE.

It’s important to recognize that non-public busing represented only 2.2 percent of a $91.9 million budget in 2014-15. Non-public school students account for 38 percent of the $5.3 million busing budget as follows: regular busing $1.6 million for 2,140 students and aid-in-lieu $360k for 408 students.

Teaneck taxes are too high!

Teaneck taxpayers are among the most highly taxed residents in the nation. Federal, state and property taxes have contributed to financial hardship, decreased the likelihood that senior citizens can remain in their homes during their “golden years,” and reduced home resale values.

High property taxes are driven by excessive staffing levels in specific areas, relatively high salaries and benefits of public employees, and an inability or unwillingness by many of our elected officials to foster fiscal responsibility, i.e., manage costs, increase worker productivity and negotiate “fair” compensation, inclusive of health benefits.

Since 1991, BOE spending has increased by 148 percent, surpassing the rise in the Consumer Price Index of 77 percent. High salaries, combined with rising healthcare costs and other generous benefits, has resulted in the need for “belt tightening.” Since 2003-04, average daily enrollment has declined from <4,500 to 3,865, -14.1 percent.

High taxes are also the responsibility of the Township Council. Since 1991, Teaneck Township municipal spending has increased by 203 percent, far surpassing the rise in the Consumer Price Index of 77 percent. High baseline salaries, combined with rising healthcare costs and other generous benefits, combined with a lack of focus on managing costs remains an unmet need.

A need for “better” employee contracts exists.

There was a time where unions were a necessity to improve work conditions, to facilitate higher wages and gain benefits for employees. At its peak in the mid-1950s, union membership reached 36 percent of all workers. In 2011, the rate was 11.9 percent—6.9 percent of private sector and 36.2 percent of public sector workers.

Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far, resulting in union contracts that are overly generous and rules (grievance, tenure, seniority, etc.) that prevent administrators from better managing the schools, as needed.

The Teaneck Teachers Education Association includes not only teachers, but school nurses, special education personnel and others. It is, by far, the largest union in Teaneck.

On average, TTEA members earn 20-30 percent more than their peers in other districts. Pay increases of 4.1 percent to 7.0 percent for teachers with 5-13 years of experience are embedded within the contract. The salary guide includes a MA + 32 credits category that provide a 15 percent salary increment (despite the lack of evidence that an additional 32 credits enhances teaching proficiency or student outcomes). TTEA member family health insurance cost $28-30,000 (with $10 co-pays), exceeding the NJ average ($18,949) and the Cadillac Tax of 2018! Benefits, as a percentage of salary, have increased from 15.6 percent to 30.6 percent during the past 15 years. Teaneck residents, as NJ taxpayers, are also responsible for an unfunded $90B pension and health benefit liability.

In closing, much still needs to be done. Since joining the BOE in 2012, I have voted against the proposed budget. Unfortunately, I was a minority being out-voted 8-1 or 7-2 in each of the last three years. Nevertheless, progress is being made. Attitudes are changing, and the BOE is now fully cognizant of the importance of employee salaries and benefits (i.e., contract negotiations) as the primary driver of spending. They also recognize that the rise in taxes is not sustainable. Resource allocation decisions are required.

The byline of my campaign is ACT: Academic Achievement, Collaboration and Taxes. Your support is requested. Vote on Tuesday, November 3, for David Gruber, Board of Education Trustee, Line 1.

By David Gruber

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