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Hastings School Officials Tackle Mandate Relief

Board members chew on a menu of programs that represent state spending at local expense.

Renewing the decades-long quest of countless local officials, Hastings school board members took on mandate relief Monday, seeking to ease the burden of state-imposed spending imperatives.

Specifically, the board considered eight mandates cited by the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association as potential candidates for relief from state spending requirements. Over the years, Albany has legislatively prescribed or administratively directed local governments, including school districts, to foot the bill for a host of state initiatives. Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to change that.

When he won approval last year for a limit on increased local spending for services, he also installed a Mandate Relief Council to lift some of the more onerous requirements to spend for state-imposed reasons. When it reported back, however, the panel had not developed a single concrete proposal for scaling back unfunded mandates. This year, the relief council asked school districts to submit three mandates it wished to have the state body consider. The bi-county school body asked member districts to choose their three from a proposed list of eight.

So far, the Hastings board has whittled the list down to four, with the notorious Triborough Amendment perhaps the biggest if not the most onerous thorn local officials would like to see removed.      

Under Triborough, if the district and a union cannot hammer out an accord, the previous contract’s terms would continue indefinitely. That, critics say, removes any incentive for union negotiators to come to terms since "step increases," pegged to a worker’s length of service, would continue to be paid.
Other mandates have also proved nettlesome. When New York enacted Tier 3 and 4 pension plans, they called for employees to make a 3 percent contribution to the retirement fund for as long they worked for the state. But in 2000, the legislature ended that requirement for any employee who had been on the job for more than 10 years. School districts and others picked up the cost of that “pension enhancement,” as the legislature called it. But the proposal backed by the Hastings board and others would end the exemption for such senior workers. 

Another proposal would resurrect legislation, vetoed by Cuomo last year, to establish what the school-boards association calls a TRS Reserve Fund. It would permit school districts to borrow up to $1 billion to cover pension costs without first putting the question to a vote of residents.

In its final discussion, the board focused on section 3020-a of the state education law and its requirement that a district prove why a tenured teacher should be terminated. A proposed change in the law would streamline so-called 3020-a hearings, making them less time-consuming and expensive.

The board will continue the mandate discussion at its next meeting.

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