Three weeks after residents approved a $153.9 million budget and the UTN approved a four-year contract, Superintendent Marylou McDermott announced an additional $1.97 million is available.
McDermott said that that the money had been set aside for potential settlement costs with the teachers union. On May 15, the rank-and-file approved a new four-year deal, agreeing to a hard freeze in 2010-2011, and a zero percent increase through June 30, 2014. McDermott disagreed with Trustee Joe Sabia's description of the additional funds as "found money" due to "overbudgeting."
The announcement didn't sit well with UTN (United Teachers of Northport) President Antoinette Blanck, who read the following statement:
"For over two years, the United Teachers of Northport negotiated in good faith with the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, fully committed to reaching a settlement which would be fair and reasonable to all.
We were repeatedly told, as was the community, that the District needed a "Hard Freeze" in the 2010-2011 school year. This demand was made of the UTN, along with other bargaining units, in late winter of 2010, just as negotiations with the UTN were commencing. Members of the 2009-2010 Board of Education, as well as administrators, repeatedly and publicly stated, "If the teachers would only take a freeze..."
Unbeknownst to the UTN, the Board had budgeted over $1.9 million for the purpose of settling the teachers' contract that year.
The taxpayers of the community, in good faith, approved the 2010-2011 budget - a budget which included $1.9 million which the District had no intention to spend on settling the teachers' contract.
Just last month, the UTN rank and file agreed to a settlement which included the hard freeze in 2010-2011 and three additional years with zero percent salary increases, as well as increased contributions to health insurance.
We have made sacrifices and the taxpayers have made sacrifices. The question that begs is just who has benefited from these sacrifices?"
McDermott responded that negotiations could have gone either way at the time, and that future new Board members might not have wanted a hard freeze. "The decision was made in good faith. We had to have the money in there in case a different decision was made."
During the meeting, Blanck told Patch that she had learned of the additional money on Wednesday, May 30. "It would be fiscally irresponsible not to set aside money for negotiations. But to set aside nearly $2 million and then say you need a hard freeze seems unfair."
Blanck said she had suggested a contract extension but McDermott had concerns and wanted to get feedback from legal. Blanck said she hadn't heard anything since then.
Board members debated possible use of the funds until nearly 2 a.m. Sabia thought it would be fair to put some toward capital projects and return the rest to taxpayers. "I think it would be fair and equitable to the taxpayer." At one point in the discussion he suggested $300,000 as a starting point, which Assistant Superintendent of Business Kathleen Molander said amounted to $14.00 for the average taxpayer.
Board President Stephen Waldenburg said use of the money for capital projects would require voter approval via a referendum. If it were defeated, the money would go back to the taxpayer. "We're giving the public full choice."
Waldenburg said another referendum might be to increase the limits on annual increases to the capital reserve from the current $600,000. If voters didn't approve it, then the money could go toward both the reserve and taxpayers.
McDermott noted that $1 million could go toward finishing projects in the that had been suggested by the Operations and Maintenance Committee for 2012-2013, including replacement of the boilers at the Dickinson Avenue School, replacement of heating and ventilation units at Bellerose and Ocean Avenue, and replacement of univents at Pulaski and Ocean.
Waldenburg suggested that the balance could then be put toward capital projects recommended for 2014-2015: replacement of the auditorium seating and floors at Northport and East Northport Middle School. "This is a perfect opportunity to get a tremendous headstart."
Trustee Andrew Rapiejko said he understood Sabia's concerns but that taxpayers would feel the relief in the future if capital projects were taken care of now.
Trustee Lori McCue liked the idea of putting the money toward capital improvements but Trustee Jennifer Thompson thought that at least 10 percent should be returned to taxpayers.
Trustee Tammie Topel suggested tripling the contribution to the capital reserve fund. The Board unanimously approved a motion to amend the district's capital improvement fund to $1.5 million per year, with a maximum of $12 million at any given time, and extend it an additional ten years.
Taxpayers will have an opportunity to weigh in on the motion at the next Board of Ed meeting on June 18.