As we approach another summer on Long Island, I put my Empire Pass on my car, booked a camping vacation in a New York State Park and prepared for summer camps and recreations for my kids; I began to think about all the money we pay in taxes and fees and where does it all goes to.
I’m not a native Long Islander, only living on the island for the last four years, so the idea of $10,000 tax bills and fees to use parks is still something I’m not used to. Attempting to be a fiscally sound person in these trying economic times, I began to ask, "What am I getting on Long Island that is so much better than everywhere else that my taxes should be so high?"
It’s a question that I have posed to my fiancé and other native Long Islanders over the last several years. And I seem to get the same answers: "Our schools are better than other places." We are safer than other places." We have a ton of parks that we can use." "We have a large public transportation system. "We
have amazing beaches …. all these things cost money." But when I pose the question -- "Do you really think your money is going as far as you think it does?" -- no one seems to have a real answer. So I began to do some research and what I found was just appalling.
Let’s start with the number one answer, and I think the number one reason why taxes are so high: the Long Island educational system. Long Island has been touted as having one of the best educational systems in the country, well by other Long Islanders anyway. Well, let’s take a look at some of the facts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for a teacher in 2011 was $56.59 per hour.
Let’s take a look at how that compares to other industries with high levels of education: Environmental Engineer $39.72, Chemical Engineer $38.88, Physician Assistant $37.84, Nuclear Engineer $35.23, Civil Engineer $33.06, Chemist $31.35. Should a teacher earn $21.36 per hour more than a Nuclear Engineer?
“But it’s so expensive to live on Long Island. If we don’t pay our teachers more, they won’t be able to afford to work here.” Is this all too often argument
actually true? Well, let’s look at the numbers again. According to LongIslandSchool.com, a website dedicated to promoting schools on Long Island, the average teacher’s salary in Nassau County in 2011 was $75,284 per year. According to the United States Census Bureau, the average wage in Nassau County is $41,387. I really wonder how the 1,324,701 people who live in Nassau County afford to live.
“But our schools are so much better than other schools across the country. After all, that’s why people want to live here.” Really, is that true? The average school in Nassau County spends $16,943 per student.
According to U.S. News and World Report, published in 2011, the highest ranked schools on Long Island are South Side High School in Rockville Centre, ranked 22nd nationwide, Jericho High School, ranked 94th nationwide, and … oh wait, there are no other schools ranked in the top 100. Considering the average national spending per student is $9,963 and schools in Nassau County spend on average $16, 943 per student, are we really that much better and are we really getting our money's worth?
It sounds to me like we need to start taking a harder look at our schools, our
teachers, and our administrators and really question if we are getting what we
pay for. I can’t understand how we can justify paying our teachers an average of $33,897 per year more than the average Long Islander? How can we
justify spending $6,980 per student more than the average and only have two
schools in top standings in the country? We need to stop listening to the Teacher’s Unions and start listening to common sense.
Over the next couple of blogs, we will continue to explore the expense on Long Island and tackle the other tough questions that face us. Feel free to follow along and comment.