By CRISTINE MEIXNER
WELLS – School districts across the state are pleading with state legislators to reform a section of law that forces them to increase teachers’ pay even when their contracts have expired.
Adopted in 1982, the Triborough Amendment to the state’s public sector labor-relations law (the Taylor Law) allows automatic pay increases – such as step increases, longevity compensation and pay increases for obtaining further education (changing lanes) – to continue under an expired contract.
The unintended consequence is to discourage teachers’ unions in general from negotiating contract concessions.
According to The New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, NYS is the only state in the nation with such a requirement. Private sector employers are not subject to a similar constraint under the National Labor Relations Act.
The matter has come to a head due to the property tax levy cap enacted in June 2011. It limits annual increases in the tax levy to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, with some exceptions.
School districts are targeting the Triborough Amendment as part of their efforts to meet the cap, because in NYS employee salaries and benefits typically comprise more than 70 percent of a school district’s expenditures and have for years been increasing at a rate above inflation.
Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel has asked each of his 15 component school districts to vote on a resolution to be sent to the state’s Mandate Relief Council. Six had approved the resolution as of Sunday.
The resolution “strongly recommends” reforming Triborough to remove the requirement that school districts pay salary increases in the form of “step” and “lane” increments to employees even after a collective bargaining agreement expires.
“It’s unfair to management because it puts those unions in a position of strength,” Michel says.
The resolution also recommends eliminating state mandates that exceed federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requirements. NYS has more than 200 special education mandates on top of federal IDEA mandates, which significantly add to the cost of providing special ed services.
“If our special education results were better than the rest of the nation’s, we wouldn’t ask for them to be relieved,” Michel said, “but we’re doing no better and no worse, so why have them?”
The resolution also calls for a single health insurance plan for all the state’s public school districts. Michel says the resolution does not address retirement costs “because the governor is dealing with that.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Council is in the midst of holding 10 public hearings across the state. They began Feb. 10 in Long Island and will end in western New York in mid-March.
At the end of the hearings, Executive Office Senior Press Officer David Doyle says, the council members will “take all the recommendations and issue a report.”
Upon determining a mandate should be eliminated or reformed, the Mandate Relief Council has the power to:
– refer a regulatory mandate to the appropriate state agency for review and hear appeals of agency decisions;
– make referrals to the governor for the waiving, modification or repeal of a regulatory mandate; and
– refer a statutory mandate to the governor, who will have a governor’s program bill prepared for submission to the Legislature to repeal or modify the law.
The Mandate Relief Council will not consider a mandate without being asked to by a governing body.”For years, mandates have been used as a shield with the public when it asks, ‘Why are costs going up?’ It would look pretty bad if we don’t do something about it,” Michel says.