APRIL 5, 2013

Yankees and our school districts, in the same boat

What do Westchester’s school districts and the New York Yankees have in common? Huge salaries and benefits to pay that far exceed budget realities. The Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, more than $195 million, according to ESPN, with 11 players making $10 million or more. Yankees fans probably don’t feel too great about fulfilling multimillion-dollar contracts as former players star for rival teams.

As a result, ticket prices rise — up to $300 for “Legends seating” — concession rates soar (hot dogs are a bargain at $6.25), and the team can’t afford to do what it needs to in order to sign top-flight ballplayers.

Like the Yankees, our local school districts are also busy paying for past obligations. Former Katonah-Lewisboro superintendent Robert Lichtenfeld, who retired in 2007, is earning $258,852 in pension salary from New York State taxpayers. Former Bedford Central superintendent Bruce Dennis, who retired from the district in 2004, now earns $260,031 in pension salary — a $16,035 monthly benefit. At least 45 former Bedford Central School District teachers or administrators are making pension salaries of $100,000 or above.

According to the New York State Retirement System, the number of teachers and administrators from the Katonah-Lewisboro School District receiving more than $100,000 annually is also about 50, including a former principal who earns $132,139 in annual pension salary —after coming to a settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s office for receiving reimbursement for an expense he did not incur. A former middle school principal who admitted to falsifying expense reports is also on the list.

What to do when you’ve got problems of this magnitude? Form a commission — at least that’s what New York State did under Gov. David Paterson in 2008. “New York is proud of its schools, but the property taxes that support those schools are growing at an unsustainable rate,” wrote the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief.

The commission noted in the report that benefits costs “have the largest growth factor of any category. ... The commission recommends that the state support school districts’ efforts to rein in the costs of salaries, pensions and health care, as well as general operating and capital expenses.”

And since that time? Despite a tax cap and a harder line in the Cuomo State House, superintendents throughout the state will tell you that the only way to stay within the state’s mandated tax cap is to slash expenses, which means slashing our kids’ education.

So here we are again, this time with our schools facing the loss of funding for our elementary school librarians and the ACES high school in Bedford Hills, and the risk of losing staff and programs in Katonah-Lewisboro, including faculty cuts, eighth-grade team teaching and other reductions.

Pension costs in Bedford Central are up $2.8 million. Teachers’ pensions comprise 35 percent of the Bedford Central School District’s salary pie, and other employees add another 13 percent, meaning that nearly a half of the district’s payroll is comprised of people who don’t work for the district.

This year, pension costs are up by 23.2 percent in Katonah-Lewisboro, or $1,946,413. “A structural deficit will exist at the onset of the budgetary planning cycle in the foreseeable future,” wrote the Katonah-Lewisboro school board in their preliminary budget, echoing Governor Paterson’s 2008 report. “Existing labor contract obligations far exceed revenues ... this is simply unsustainable.”

With ever-rising costs, districts will have to become that much more creative in funding future budgets. Come to think of it, maybe we should raise the ticket prices of school athletic events. Let’s take a page from the Yankees playbook. Does $300 for a Fox Lane bleacher seat sound like too much?

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    

Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    

Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    

Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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