How the New York teachers union can reduce spending inequality

December 7, 2013

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Mike Antonucci Mike Antonucci

Mike is the director of the Education Intelligence Agency and has covered the education beat since 1993.
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ALBANY, N.Y. – In an effort to promote its lawsuit against the state’s property tax cap, the New York State United Teachers released an analysis that shows “the wealthiest 10 percent of New York school districts spend 80 percent more educating their students than the poorest 10 percent – a funding inequity that is aggravated by the state’s property tax cap and widens the unacceptable achievement gap.”

doubletalkfrontSince NYSUT defines the wealthiest districts as those that spend the most, their analysis is actually a truism. The fact that people who pay the most in property taxes would benefit the most from a property tax cap is also rather self-evident. It’s hardly worth getting riled up over NYSUT’s press release except for its complete avoidance of the one overwhelming factor that drives per-pupil spending: employee salaries and benefits.

New York has almost 46,000 public education employees who make more than $100,000 in salary alone. A Gannett study found “large disparities in teacher salaries in New York: highest in the wealthy areas of the state and lowest in the rural counties.” The averages ranged from $23,000 in Schuyler County to $121,000 in Scarsdale.

The effect of labor costs is even more noticeable when viewed in aggregate. For example, in 2010-11 the Greece Central School District spent $13,394 per pupil on employee compensation, while the East Ramapo Central School District spent $20,348. But Greece’s labor costs consumed 89.3 percent of its budget, while East Ramapo’s only ate up 76.1 percent.

Since NYSUT locals are mostly responsible for the levels of salaries and benefits, the union can greatly mitigate the effects of spending gaps among districts during collective bargaining. But NYSUT has no interest in reducing gaps by spending less in wealthy districts. After all, those members pay dues as well.

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