NYSSBA introduces fiscal reform “playbook” to curb state mandates on schools

FOR RELEASE:  May 2, 2011

CONTACT: David Albert
 (518) 783-3716 or (518) 320-2221 cell

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) today unveiled its fiscal reform “playbook” – a package of seven mandate relief initiatives that would allow school districts to operate more efficiently.

“As school districts continue to grapple with the worst fiscal crisis in a generation, they need a new set of rules going forward,” said NYSSBA President Florence Johnson, a member of the Buffalo Board of Education.  “Several years of frozen or diminished state aid coupled with the prospect of a local property tax cap call for a new way of doing business.”

The playbook includes draft legislation to curtail rising health care and pension costs, level the playing field during contract negotiations, impose tighter controls on the teacher disciplinary process, and bring special education costs into line with other states.

“School boards want to optimize resources to more efficiently serve taxpayers and support new practices to improve teaching and learning.  Unfortunately, we find ourselves up against outdated state mandates, inflexible rules and expensive procedures that are out of place in today’s world,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer.  “Taxes are high because school boards are forced to operate inefficiently.  Removing barriers to cost-savings is a critical ingredient to reducing school district spending and, by extension, property taxes.”

The NYSSBA Playbook highlights seven key components to this effort:

  • Contract negotiations – Reform the “Triborough” Amendment to the state’s Taylor Law to allow school districts to freeze salaries upon the expiration of a contract. With employees receiving step increases based on years of service, as well as movement into higher pay lanes based on graduate credits, there is currently little incentive for employees to re-negotiate an expired contract.
  • Health care costs – Cap the maximum amount that school districts would contribute to a health insurance policy to bring New York more in line with the national average. This proposal would cap employer contributions at 85 percent for individual coverage and 75 percent for family coverage.
  • Layoffs – Eliminate seniority as the sole factor in layoff determinations.  Unfortunately, economic conditions have forced school districts to layoff employees.  NYSSBA’s proposal establishes new criteria to be considered when making these difficult decisions.  In addition to using seniority, a board of education may consider other criteria such as annual professional performance reviews, the needs of a particular school, and a teacher’s credentials.  Current policy hinders the ability of schools to retain the very best instructional staff available.
  • Teacher disciplinary procedures – Streamline the teacher disciplinary process to make it less time-consuming and less expensive. Currently, the 3020-a process takes an average of 502 days and costs more than $200,000 per case. Changing the way hearing officers are appointed would allow cases to be decided more quickly.  School districts should also be allowed to automatically remove teachers whose license to teach has been revoked, as well as teachers who have been convicted of child abuse and certain felonies.
  • Pensions – Stabilize pension costs by providing new public school employees with the option of choosing a pure defined contribution retirement plan or a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan through a new tier in the state pension system.  This new tier would provide schools with greater predictability about their future pension costs, and immediate savings to taxpayers.
  • Special Education – Reduce the costs associated with special education by eliminating the more than 200 state laws and regulations that exceed federal IDEA requirements. While special education accounts for only 13 percent of all pupils in New York, spending in this area represents 27 percent of all instructional expenses.  NYSSBA’s proposal brings New York’s system of laws and regulations into line with federal requirements, and creates an advisory committee to recommend which should be continued beyond the federal level of service.
  • Purchasing – Give schools the ability to leverage the purchasing power of large, national procurement cooperatives and contracts entered into by other states and local governments. A national analysis of cooperative purchasing found that “piggy-backing” resulted in 7 percent savings for large agencies and 30 percent for smaller entities.  New York is currently one of only two states that do not allow schools to use out-of-state or national cooperative contracts.

“If the governor and the Legislature truly want to make public education more affordable and effective, they should look to enact these reforms as soon as possible,” added Kremer.


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