A coalition of tax watchdog groups calling itself BEST4NY is lobbying to draw attention to the New York state rules and regulations that force districts to spend tax money. Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with increasing number of school officials, is already on board with the idea that these rules need to be addressed so that education can be provided at a reasonable price.
"We felt like people who are concerned about the neighborhoods and villages and towns should be involved in this," said Roger Scheiber of Hastings-on-Hudson, one of five executive committee members running the new group. "We realized that these school budgets are so complex and that once the tax cap got passed, the big issue, the really big issue, became mandates."
Assemblyman Robert Castelli, who addressed the coalition at its Wednesday Town Hall meeting in Greenburgh, said that citizens need to become actively involved in helping their school districts lower expenses as there are vested interests protecting the mandates, and without a string showing of public support these interests will be hard to overcome. Castelli mentioned two laws that are particular priority targets: the Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment. The Wicks law forces the hiring of multiple contractors for construction projects. The Triborough Amendment ensures that union contracts stay in effect until agreement is reached on a new contract, significantly weakening the employers negotiating position.
"There is no traction in either house to repeal the Triborough because the unions oppose it," said Castelli, who has sponsored bills to reform and repeal it. "We need short-term, substantive mandate relief, but it is not easy to achieve."
The Triborough Amendment has meant that despite the New York City School teachers' contract expiring in 2009 they are disincentivized to make any concessions or agree a new deal in a tough economic climate. Meanwhile local government must continue to grant the employees raises as per the terms of their original contract, regardless of any other limitations they face.