Pearl River teachers and administrators faced lost jobs and programs due to impending cuts in district budget for 2011-2012.
They took action Monday, agreeing to re-negotiate their contracts, giving back planned salary increases for 2011-12 and 2012-13 while extending their contracts. The Pearl River Board of Education is expected to approve the revised agreements at its next meeting March 29.
"This action speaks volumes about our faculty's and administrators' dedication to both students and taxpayers," said Pearl River superintendent Dr. Frank Auriemma. "Throughout our budget development process, we've discussed our frustration and disappointment in having to eliminate programs we have worked so hard to build. By reducing our salary commitments, almost all of the teacher reductions that we considered eliminating will be protected for next year."
Last week, 17 teachers in the district were notified that their jobs would be eliminated at the end of this school year, though most of those jobs will be saved by the re-negotiated contracts.
"We expect to restore almost all of these planned teacher reductions with the savings we will realize through the contractual salary givebacks," said assistant superintendent Dr. John Morgano, who leads negotations with labor groups for the district. "This simply would not be possible without the outstanding leadership and responsiveness of the Pearl River Teachers Association and the Pearl River Administrators Association.
"In my eight years of contract negotiations in Pearl River, I know how diffuclt, if not impossible, it can be to gain concensus on such a sensitive issue."
The salary renegotiations impact the salaries of 11 adminstrators and 217 teachers and will save the district between $900,000 and $1.5 million over the next four years.
The revised contract would decrease the teachers' salary increase for 2011-12 from 2.6% to 0.6%. The increase would have fallen between 2.0% and 2.9% for 2012-13, but now it will be 1.6%. The deal also extends the teachers' contract for two more years, with an increase of 1.6% set for 2013-14 and 1.8% for 2014-15.
"These are challenging times for all of us," said Kevin O'connor, president of the Pearl River Teacher's Association and a social studies teacher at Pearl River Middle School. "Many of our members have young families. Many are currently paying for their own graduate degrees as our profession requires. Some have spouses who are out of work and other financial hardships. However, they made the welfare of our students, the protection of their colleagues, and the needs of our taxpayers our priority. I am proud of them."
The revised administrators' contract calls for no salary increases at all for 2011-12, when they had been set for a 2.75% increase. It also extends the agreement to 2012-13, with an increase that year of 1.8%.
Other labor groups in the district are holding meetings related to the budget issues facing Pearl River.
Due to increased costs in pension and health insurance and a reduction in state aid in Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed executive budget, the Pearl River School District has been looking at a gap of approximately $1.5 million between revenue and expenses for 2011-12. Retirements and other adjustments helped to lower that number to $950,000.
"Because we've been reducing our non-institutional expenditures consistently over the years, the only place left to go was the instructional program," said director of operations Quinton Van Wynen.
The elementary schools were facing the potential loss of band and orchestra, library instruction and enrichment. Enrichment instruction, learning center and PEP courses at the middle school were also in danger. The high school was likely to eliminate two college-level classes, with class consolidations in math, science, social studies, Spanish, art, technology and physical education. Advanced art and technology classes for eighth graders were also among potential cuts.
"We are very fortunate to have a group of educational leaders whose priorities are in the right place," Pearl River High School principal William Furdon said. "The givebacks are just another example of their commitment to doing the right thing."
Some courses and jobs may still be eliminated in the 2011-12 budget, with more at risk in 2012-13 with more cuts in state aid likely and the threat of a proposed 2% tax levy cap.
"Unfortunately, we cannot promise that we will not have to revisit program eliminations and staff reductions for 2012-13 and beyond," Auriemma said. "However, once again, I can say how fortunate we are to be in Pearl River. I extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Morgano and Mr. Van Wynen for their outstanding leadership in helping to facilitate these agreements. Our teachers and administrators have again proven their dedication and commitment and we could not be more grateful."