AUBURN — Auburn Enlarged City School District Superintendent J.D. Pabis said Monday he is asking district employees to come together to help close the budget gap.
He requested the district’s unions take a voluntary wage freeze for the 2011-12 school year.
“We are considering all measures to help close the budget deficit and this is a measure being considered,” he said. “To make it effective, all staff would have to give it serious consideration.”
Pabis himself would take a pay freeze if all employees agreed to give up raises. Pabis said this could save the district $900,000 and save some programs and positions from deep cuts in state aid that will affect Auburn and other districts if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal is approved.
With a $6.5 million budget deficit possible, Pabis said there will likely be cuts whether or not all employees agree to the freeze. However, there would be fewer cuts if pay is frozen.
Pabis said in addition to helping preserve programs and jobs, a freeze would show the district is trying to solve the budget crisis.
“It would show some solidarity in the district, as a school community,” he said. “It would display to the community that we are also doing our part.”
Some union presidents declined to comment until they meet with their members, but Meg Yurco, president of the Auburn Educational Secretaries and Paraprofessionals Association (AESPP), said the prospect of a wage freeze concerns her.
Yurco’s union, made up of 160 secretaries, clerks, teacher aides and cafeteria monitors, signed a three-year contract in mid-2010 that gave employees a 3.35 percent raise for each of the first two years and a 3 percent raise in the third.
In return for the increases, employees will gradually pay a higher percentage on their health insurance premiums. In the first year, their contributions will go from 10 percent to 10.5 percent; in the second year, the percentage will rise to 11.5; and in year three, they will pay 12.5 percent, Yurco said.
She is concerned that continually rising health insurance costs combined with a pay freeze will harm her union members.
She also said the cost of living is rising faster than their income and when they signed their contract, there were no other benefit improvements.
She added many of the union members are single parents whose children attend school in the district.
“Most of us are among the lowest-paid employees,” she said. “We’re all very grateful for our jobs ... I couldn’t give up that small raise that we got. We worked very hard to negotiate that contract.”
David Albert, director of communications for the New York State School Boards Association, said 70 percent of most districts’ budgets are made up of personnel costs, so looking at wage freezes seems an obvious choice for trying to save significant amounts of money.
Albert said in 2009-10, 75 districts negotiated some kind of concession with their unions.
“This has been happening over the past couple years,” he said. “It does seem to be a strategy that districts will use this year.”
Albert cited the Liverpool and West Genesee districts as some that have also tried to pitch a wage freeze.
The United Liverpool Faculty Association, which represents 1,000 employees, did not take a voluntary pay freeze, Albert said. Their superintendent asked them in January and offered to freeze his own salary, according to a Syracuse newspaper.
Albert said West Genesee’s superintendent had asked for the same district-wide pay freeze, but Albert was unsure whether or not employees had responded. West Genesee Superintendent Christopher Brown could not be reached for comment.
Cuomo released a statement Monday showing his support for the Bethlehem Central School District administration, which “has implemented a voluntary salary freeze for its top administrators,” he wrote.
“This is a responsible and sensible first step that recognizes the state’s current fiscal condition and I encourage school district across New York to find ways to reduce costs and put children first,” Cuomo wrote.
John Cambareri, co-president of the Auburn Teachers Association, said he will go to Albany today to lobby and rally in an effort to ask state legislators to explain why this region is getting hit with such massive cuts compared to other parts of the state. He and hundreds of other education representatives will also appeal to legislators to reconsider cuts in the governor’s proposal.
“At this point in the process, I think we’re in agreement that everything needs to be on the table for discussion,” Cambareri said of the pay freeze idea. “Considering the enormity of the cuts proposed, we need to look at everything.”
Pabis said some of the union presidents have scheduled meetings with their members for next week. He said although he does not know what each union will ultimately decide, union leaders at least lent their ears to hear him out.
“Everyone was willing to listen to me – they didn’t throw me out,” he joked. “I’ve asked every (leader) to discuss it with their membership.”
Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.