Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Big News for Albany!

Last night, I was exhausted. The running around to all of the baseball games and spring events caught up with me and I turned in early. This morning I awoke refreshed and with a packed inbox of exciting news. Sometimes it's not the early bird that catches the worm! The rundown: The ACSD is now looking at a 0% tax levy, with zero teacher layoffs, and zero schools closing (details to follow), plus it looks like we're even closer to getting some chickens. The Common Council voted yes 8- 7 to allow backyard hens in Albany. Because the vote is so close, there's a chance the Mayor might veto the bill. For or against, let the mayor know of your stance: 434-5100 or email: mayor@ci.albany.ny.us

If you've been following the ACSD budget, you're aware that the projected tax levy for next year was 1.7% (please remember from previous posts that this does not necessarily have anything to do with how much more your taxes may or may not go up, the ACSD has nothing to do with that exact figure). After a teacher's contract agreement that was reached yesterday, the tax levy increase will be 0% (again, this is coming from the school district, if the assessments change, which the school district cannot control, your taxes may still go up). Although I do have some reservations about the budget, those reservations come from some concerns about programs and me being overly fiscally conservative. On a whole, I'm astonished by this budget. It's amazingly good for a very bad fiscal time. It's an easy Yes vote.

Some details:

From an email I received:
Today something extraordinary happened in the Albany City School District.

Here's some info on a bunch of zeros:

* ZERO Teachers will be laid off this year. Every teacher working for the ACSD schools this year will still be with our kids next year.

* ZERO Increase in the tax levy. There will be NO increase in the tax levy this year. Please keep in mind the "tax levy" is the total amount of money we need to raise from taxes citywide. The actual tax rate on an indivudual home or business is set by the city considering several factors, not just the tax levy, so it is possible some of us will see a tax rate increase. That's outside the control of the school board. The amount the ACSD need to raise will increase by ZERO dollars.

* ZERO Increase in teachers' pay. ACSD teachers, acting through their union by a majority vote, agreed today to freeze their wages for the coming year. They join ACSD administrators, who agreed to such a freeze already, and our superintendent, who has frozen his pay for the last three years. (School board members serve as volunteers so there is no pay involved)

* ZERO schools will be closed in Albany. You have probably heard that many of our neighboring districts, facing the same difficult economic facts as we, have had to close some schools. In Albany, no schools will close. In fact, enrollment is UP over 400 students compared to last year.

These four zeroes add up to a good budget for our schools. No other district in the state has developed a budget with this combination of features. Most districts are raising tax levies and laying off teachers.

From the ACSD Website (click here for link):

District, teachers agree to new five-year contract that will

save jobs, lower taxes and provide more time for students

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 2, 2011) -- The City School District of Albany and its teachers' union agreed May 2 on a landmark five-year contract that will avoid teacher layoffs, eliminate the tax-levy increase and provide more time for students. District and union leaders hailed the agreement as a major collaborative effort that puts students first and recognizes the financial pressures facing the school district and the city.

The Albany Public School Teachers Association ratified the contract during the day and the Board of Education followed with unanimous approval. The contract, which takes effect July 1, includes a pay freeze during the 2011-12 school year.

“We deeply appreciate our teachers doing what is best for our students and our community,” said board President Daniel Egan. “We know that they have made major sacrifices to get us to this important day. The teamwork between the union and the superintendent has been inspiring. The Board of Education is grateful for these significant contributions in these tough economic times.”

The pay freeze for 2011-12 will mean $2 million in savings that will allow the district to eliminate the tax-levy increase in the $206.5 million budget proposal voters will consider May 17. The budget proposal, which the board approved April 12, originally included a 1.7 percent tax-levy increase. The district also has agreed to avoid teacher layoffs for 2011-12.

“We are doing what’s right for our students as always,” said APSTA President Cathy Corbo. “Sacrifice is difficult, but together we keep working to overcome the dual burden of too little state aid and too many charter schools. This agreement is another step in keeping a stable workforce and manageable class sizes.”

The contract includes five additional work days for teachers – two in the classroom and three for professional development that will be used for projects such as teacher training, parent outreach and data assessment, Corbo said.

Contributions to retiree health benefits also were an important component of the negotiations. Retiring teachers currently have no contributions for health coverage. The new contract includes a 5 percent annual contribution for teachers retiring in the fourth year and a 15 percent annual contribution for teachers retiring in the fifth and final year.

Superintendent Raymond Colucciello, Ed.D., praised the teachers for their dedication to the students, and for their willingness to sacrifice in the face of numerous financial pressures, including declining state aid and increases in salaries, benefits and charter-school payments.

“This is a defining moment for our school district,” Dr. Colucciello said. “These challenging times called for new solutions, and our teachers worked with us willingly to help do what is best for everyone. Just like our administrators last year, they have sacrificed for our students and we thank them for that.”

All members of the Albany Public School Administrators Association accepted a pay freeze for the current school year that saved the district about $250,000. Dr. Colucciello also has agreed to a salary freeze for 2011-12, the third consecutive year his salary remains at the same level with no benefits.

As the district worked through the winter to close a projected 2011-12 budget deficit of more than $10 million, the board asked all employees to accept pay freezes for next year. Following agreement with the teachers, the district will continue to negotiate with the unions representing administrators and non-instructional staff.

I applaud the members of APSTA for their willingness to share in the fiscal pain that is currently being borne by many members of the public sector,” said Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings. “As each of us is being asked to do more with less and to continually seek greater efficiencies in the delivery of services, Albany teachers have demonstrated that they, too, recognize the need to do so. The city’s taxpayers win, teachers will be rehired and, ultimately, the most important resource – our students – will not be penalized.”

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