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Lindenhurst schools and teachers continue to disagree on key financial issues

Lindenhurst school officials have warned residents that the district will not be able to remain solvent if the conditions of the current teachers' contract continue.

The teachers union said such claims are overblown.

The district's warning came last week at a meeting that drew nearly 300 teachers for a presentation on a report by a state-appointed fact finder, which the district requested after it said negotiations with the union were not progressing.

The Teachers Association of Lindenhurst has been without a contract since June 2011, but under state law, the union's expired contract -- which includes 2 percent step raises but no salary increases per year -- continues indefinitely until a new contract is worked out. District officials reported 381 of the district's 517 teachers are eligible for the step increases this year, with the average salary districtwide currently at $98,039.

The fact-finder's report recommended a seven-year contract backdated to 2011, in which teachers would receive 2 percent annual step increases as per the existing contract through 2015. That would be followed with a hard freeze in the 2015-16 school year with no pay or step increases; no step increases for the following year, but a 1 percent pay increase; and, in 2017-18, step increases and a 1 percent pay raise.

The board of education last month approved the findings but the union rejected the offer, with union president John Mansfield saying at that time that because the report mentioned only salary and health care, it was "incomplete." After last week's meeting, Mansfield called the presentation about the fact-finder's report "one sided." He referred to a state comptroller's report from last year that stated Lindenhurst was not under any financial stress.

During his presentation, Greg Guercio, Lindenhurst's labor attorney whose Farmingdale firm represents 40 Long Island school districts, painted a picture of impending financial doom for the district, saying that declining revenue, increasing costs, reduced aid and the state tax levy cap have combined to make a "perfect storm" for the district.

"Lindenhurst is in a situation which is truly extraordinary," he said. "In the 40 years that I'm doing this, the financial condition of this district, if not the worst, is among the worst I've ever seen."

Guercio said that because of a projected 1.49 percent tax cap for the next school year, the district would be able to raise only $1.35 million through taxes. He said the cost of the teachers' step increases plus retirement and federal payroll taxes is estimated to be $1.53 million.

"It's just not sustainable," he said.

Some challenged Guercio, asking why the district wasn't more focused on bringing down costs.

"The district has drawn a line in the sand and that's not negotiating," said resident Michelle Martin. "You seem to be targeting teachers' salaries."

Other residents said there was little more that could be cut.

"I don't begrudge teachers anything, I love them all," said parent Maria Kalish. "This board has done a lot to save money for this district . . . there are so many programs that are gone now. We've done so much already and we've come to this point because there's only so much we can do."

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