Add the Bethlehem Central School District to the small, but growing, list of public entities taking action to bring spending in line with economic reality.   Officials of the Albany area school district announced that they had implemented a voluntary salary freeze for top administrators.  Governor Cuomo called it “a responsible and sensible first step that recognizes the state’s current fiscal condition.”

Meanwhile, the Bethlehem teachers contract (available here at SeeThroughNY.net) includes a 2 percent raise for the coming year, not including an automatic longevity “step” increase that can more than double the addition to pay.

For example, a Bethlehem teacher with a Masters degree and 20 years experience would be earning at least $80,152 for the 2010-11 school year.  Based on the parameters of the new contract, that teacher will earn $84,185 next year – a 5% raise worth over $4,000 (2 percent contractual and 3 percent “step”).  Furthermore, the contract includes a provision that increases the raise another .5 percent if CPI exceeds 3.5%.  Fortunately for the teachers, it did not include a DE-escalator for 2009, when the CPI average was negative.    (It’s worth noting that Bethlehem teachers re-opened their contract in 2009 and agreed to defer scheduled raises by several months.)

Last week, we noted here the teachers union in the Liverpool Central School District had refused a voluntary pay freeze, even though administrators had agreed to one.  The Auburn and West Genesee school districts have also asked employees to take a voluntary pay freeze.

If last year was any indication of what’s to come this year, we may not get far beyond that first step.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), 75 districts negotiated “some kind of concession” with unions last year.  There are well over 700 school districts in New York, which means only around 10 percent of districts were able to get unions to agree to concessions. Proposed budgets included per pupil property tax increases of nearly twice the rate of inflation for 2010-11 budgets, according to this Empire Center report.

Payrolls represent the largest chunk of school budgets – 70% according to NYSSBA – and school districts will have to make up for reductions in state aid this year. That means wage freezes, layoffs or property tax hikes…

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.