In a June 29 article in the Albany Business Review, Charles Dedrick, district superintendent for the Capital Region BOCES stated that the business community needs to be as much behind mandate relief as they were the tax cap. I couldn’t agree more.  That was the message we sent to the Governor’s Education Reform Commission today in Binghamton. I applaud members of the Commission for traveling across the state to hear from community stakeholders and remain optimistic that the final recommendations will move us closer to the the intended goal of putting students first.

But here’s the reality. The ultimate goal of the Commission must be to address the true cost-drivers in education: personnel costs and unfunded mandates. It is nice to talk about innovation in schools and awarding good teachers, but it is impossible to cultivate quality education when administrators are wondering where the next budget cuts are going to come from and teachers are concerned about job security.

Just recently a local school superintendent made the comment, “there is no such thing as local control of schools.”  He added that the only thing that can be controlled are facilities and staff size, in other words…what to close and whose job to cut.

On average, personnel costs range from seventy to seventy-five percent of a district’s budget and costs to implement mandates can range as high as thirty percent. Not much room to implement innovative ideas or expand successful programs. Our schools are in survival mode and the focus must be on fixing the things that cost the most money.

How is this done?

Eliminate the Triborough Amendment

Place a moratorium (or at least restrict) Albany’s ability to impose unfunded mandates.

Establish a minimium contribution level for health insurance contributions.

Offer school district employees the option of moving to a defined contribution retirement plan – Tier VI was a huge step forward, but we should still move employees to a more flexible, and in many cases, more fruitful retirement plan.

These, and several other ideas, are included in the Let NY Work Coalition Agenda.  It’s time to revisit them. These are common sense ideas that will lessen the financial burden on schools and let them get back to the business of educating our children.

One thing for certain, there is a challenging task ahead for the Commission. I am hopeful that Governor Cuomo will remain undaunted in the face of them. The Let NY Work Coalition started a strong collaboration between the business community and school districts which will only grow stronger in the year ahead. This should help to empower the Commission, the Governor and the Legislature to make difficult decisions and truly reform our schools.