To the Editor:
To the good people of Guilderland Central School District: We are the executive board of the GCSD Employees Association. We represent the custodians, food-service workers, maintenance workers, mechanics, groundskeepers, bus drivers, and attendants.
We see the result of the press release in last week’s Enterprise and are not surprised.
[Editor’s note: After receiving a press release last week from the GEA’s attorney, Thomas J. Jordan, The Enterprise, wrote a story about the impasse between the GEA and the district, “GEA goes to fact-finder hearing” available online at www.AltamontEnterprise.com.]
The GCSD administrators put their usual spin on the facts to make it seem as if they are being just and fair with us.
It had all their typical talking points, sounding completely rational, understanding, and sympathetic, and seemingly ever mindful of taxpayer money. Yet, they are misleading you.
For example, last week’s Enterprise article quotes [Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources] Lin Severance as saying, “There are raises built into the step structure.” The truth is these steps represent GEA’s contractual promise to the district made in negotiations many years ago that has allowed the district to hire at a cut rate, lower than a fair starting salary.
So, they are not “raises” as Severance contends. A raise is a periodic increase to a “fair” wage, not increases negotiated by the parties many years ago to make up for a lower starting salary rate.
Another misstatement that needs to be corrected was quoted in this recent article but actually first appeared in The Enterprise last year. Severance said: “We’re (GEA bus drivers) just a hair below the median compared to the other Suburban Council schools.” This is not true.
[Editor’s note: Salaries for full-time bus drivers at Guilderland range from $18,674 to $36,464 according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders. Information gathered by The Capital Area School Development Association for 2011-12 shows, for other Suburban Council schools, Shenendehowa’s 40-hour drivers earn between $29,548 and $33,769; Shaker’s earn between $22,781 and $56,964; South Colonie’s 40-hour drivers earn between $26,409 and $38,528; and Bethlehem’s 35-hour drivers earn between $20,229 and $47,143. All of these are for 10 months a year.
Drivers at other Capital Area schools are paid less than in the Suburban Council; for example, again, according to information districts submitted to CASDA, 32-hour drivers for Johnstown earn between $13,500 and $18,000.]
We are at the bottom or close to it in every instance especially at the hiring rate. For example, our bus drivers are currently paid $15.03 per hour upon hire. Shenendehowa is currently advertising for bus drivers who will be hired at $20.17 per hour. Guilderland pays the lowest hire rate of any public school of comparable size in the Capital District. It takes nine years for GCSD bus drivers to reach Shen’s entry-level pay.
What is lost in this debate is even more important — in the last three years, our more seasoned bus drivers and attendants with 20 to 28 years of service have lost 10 to 20 percent of their salaries and they have, along with every other GEA member of comparable experience, received no salary increases. Whatsoever!
So, where is the money going? We believe some of it is going to GCSD administrators in unfair amounts. They have put their spin, on this, too.
In an Enterprise article printed about GEA last year, where we pointed this out, a district representative was quoted, “They (administrators) have not had a raise in a couple of years.” The person quoted [School Board President Colleen O’Connell] was referring to three assistant superintendents [Neil] Sanders, [Lin] Severance, [Demian] Singleton). GEA presented evidence to The Enterprise that not only were they already highly compensated, they got raises, too. When Severance was questioned about this she admitted they got raises but said the raises were offset by thir voluntarily increasing their contribution to health insurance from 20 percent to 30 percent.
No mention was made here by her or any of the other administrators that the raises they received also increased their pensions, which, regardless of their purported sacrifice, the district and its taxpayers are still on the hook for.
[Editor’s note: When The Enterprise reported on March 24, 2011 — again, available online — on the contract for the assistant superintendents, the story included interviews with the two school board members who voted against the contract because of the increased pension costs. Barbara Fraterrigo said, “The taxpayer is still on the hook — if you increase the salary, you increase the pension.”]
Severence is further quoted as saying about her increased health insurance contributions, “Symbolically, we wanted to set an example.” Symbolically, is right.
What they did, we believe, is give the “illusion” of setting an example! Within one year, they moved back to the 20-percent health-insurance contribution and got additional raises as evidenced by their new, three-year contracts mentioned in last week’s Enterprise article.
[Editor’s note: As The Enterprise reported on Nov. 29, 2012 — available online — in the third year of the assistant superintendents’ new contract, the three administrators will pay 22 percent of their health-insurance costs, up from the 20 percent, the district’s norm, in the first two years of the contract. It was to this increase Severance was referring when she said, “Symbolically, we wanted to set an example.”]
When we were asked by them in negotiations to follow their “symbolic example” and move to at least a 25-percent health-insurance contribution, it was not a temporary increase as theirs turned out to be. It was for a permanent one to carry through into our retirement! Some symbolic example!
How can we negotiate in good faith with the district when this spin is allowed to go on?
The Guilderland taxpayers also need to know the GEA has been sympathetic to them and their concerns about higher taxes. (Many of our members are Guilderland taxpayers.) GEA was the first association to accept lower raises in its last contract.
It was not symbolic. That contract is the one we are still working under four years later.
These are not the most blatant problems we have seen with the administrators’ use of your taxes and how they have conducted themselves in their dealings with our association. One we are still trying to figure out is as follows: A new supervisor of grounds and maintenance was hired in 2008, at approximately $73,000. He is currently listed on “seethroughny.org” at a salary of $123,601.
[Editor’s note: The current salary for the director of physical plant management is $103,245. The same man, Clifford Nooney, holds a second separate position, energy manager, which used to be held by Fred Tresselt. That job pays $19,382 and involves work on nights and weekends when people aren’t in the schools.]
That’s a 70-percent increase in five years over the employee he replaced. How can the district explain this? More spin?
We will be writing a few more letters like this in the following weeks. We think you, our friends and neighbors in Guilderland, should know more about where your money is going.
Bill Young, president,
andThe Executive Board
of the GEA