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The March 4th 2011 issue of the Cornwall Local has a front page article which points out that taxpayers should brace themselves for an 8.57 property tax increase as a result of the 2011-12 school Budget. The article goes on to say that key contributors influencing the increases are $1,014,402 increases in retirement benefits and $998,239 in contractual salary increases.

The actual retirement pensions and salaries of our “underpaid” school teachers and administrators has long been a closely guarded secret by the School Board, Administrators, and Teachers. However, we at Cornwall Taxpayers United have been busy digging deep into the bowels of Albanys financial records in an effort to get a clear picture on this very important question. We thought that it would be fitting to start with the pension of Defacto School Board President, retired School Principal Melanie Robinson.

According to Albany records, Mrs. Robinson collects a sweet $68,211.00 in annual pension. That’s a check for $5,684.25 each and every month. She is by no means alone, nor is she the worse.

According to the same public records, retiree Margaret A Dames collects $71,226.00 annually or $5,935.50 per month;

Richard J Miller collects $70,235.00 annually or $5,852.91 per month;

Retiree James J. Alba seems to really have hit the jackpot especially in 2008 since his name appears on two lists, one as being paid a salary of $118,084.00 and also as him being retired in 7/1/2008 with an annual pension of $78,591.00 which comes out to $6,549.25 per month.

These are by no means the only examples, but rather just the ones that jumped out at us due to their excesses. Even if you have drunk from the cool aid fountain and foolishly cling to the intellectually bankrupt theory that they are entitled to such extreme pensions, the question still remains; Can we as a small town with a population of less than 12,000 residents which is comprised mainly of middle income and retired persons, afford such extravagant pensions?

What about salaries? In the course of examining mountains of public documents, we saw lots of examples which simply did not lend themselves to an easy explanation, and also plenty of examples of what appears to be nepotism, in which children of existing teachers/employees and those of school board members, are paid salaries from the school budget for reasons which were not immediately clear as to what could possibly justify a salary to a recent high school graduate. Were these positions advertised? How is the selection process carried out? Who makes the decision as to who gets hired and who doesn’t and what criteria is used? Who accounts for these monies, duties and tasks that are carried out in return for these salaries being paid to young people who are barely out of high school?

Here are some mere samplings pertaining to inexplicable salary increases and nepotism:

Alison R Babischkin, shows up as earning a salary of $70,631.00 in 2008; then jumping to $77,345.00 in 2009 then jumping again to $105,412.00 in 2010. Even with the steady 5% annual increases as a result of the 2007 contract, which is in addition to and beyond the automatic longevity increases that teachers get for every 3 or 5 years of service, the numbers simply did not add up.

Nor did the numbers add up in the case of Annamarie Baumel which shows a salary of $82,861 for 2008, then jumping to $102,839.00 for 2009 then jumping yet again to $107,463.00 for 2010;

Brian P. Creeden shows up as having earned $105,991.00 for 2008; then jumping to $116,955 for 2009 then inexplicably dropping to $111,372.00 for 2010.

Marrietta J Veglia’s salary also seems to have triggered our researcher’s attention due to a salary of $85,995 in 2008; then jumping to $96,974 in 2009 then jumping again by a wider margin then we would have expected to $105,220 in 2010.

Wemmer A. Patricia went from $45,731 in 2008 to more than doubling her salary to $93,261 in 2009 then jumping yet again to $95,220 in 2010.
What about the administrators?

Mr. Rehm’s salary also raised some eyebrows, with a salary of $164,794 for 2008; $177,609 for 2009 and $185,667 for 2010.

Mr. Kenneth A Schmidt didn’t do to shabbily either with a cool $143,749 in 2008; $151,031 in 2009 and $155,078 in 2010. Remember Mr. Rogers on PBS? Can you spell “private-fiefdom” boys and girls? We really need to have an adult discussion about what we can and can’t afford!

Other examples that caught our attention is Mrs. Zwart’s daughter, Meghan E Zwart, being paid $1,538 in 2010, however her name also appears on the Cornwall High School graduating class of 2007, and Whalen C Daniel being paid $300 in 2009 and $300 in 2010. Is this Whalen related to the same Whalen that has served or is serving on the School Board? Both of these examples, as well as others which are similar but not covered here, raise questions and cast an appearance of impropriety.

In examining mountains of data, we also noted what appeared to be a statistical oddity in which we could not attribute any cause, but for which we were pleasantly surprised. Our researchers noted that in many cases, the high water mark for salaries was 2008 with slightly though not significantly, lower salaries for 2009 and 2010. After looking at so much data, one of our members wondered wether it was mirages that we were seeing, much like the guy wandering through the desert looking for water. Going on the assumption that it was real, we will say for now that we were happy to see this trend and certainly hope that it continues, as there are literally mountains of your tax dollars at stake.

A word about those individuals whose names appear in this viewpoint. All of our information was obtained through public records, and it is as accurate as those public records are accurate. Those individuals which caught our attention and merited a mention herein, did so merely because there were extreme jumps in their salaries or pensions which could not be attributed to the contractual 5% pay increase, nor the added longevity payments, nor the resolution of contradiction with Mr. James Alba whose name appears both on the retiree records and the employee records for 2008.

We at Cornwall Taxpayers United are not saying nor implying that only those specific individuals are being compensated at an excessive rate. Our position has been and continues to be that the entire pay structure needs to be revisited and substantial downward revisions must made, especially for teachers who work a mere 1170 hours per year.

The need for downward revision has never been greater than during these depressionary times in which we are living. The alternative to not making serious downward revisions is taking a page out of the General Motors playbook and declaring bankruptcy as a Town (yes it can be done) then letting a State Bankruptcy Judge restructure the salary and pensions of our teachers and administrators, similar to what happened to the General Motors employees and retirees, after General Motors declared Bankruptcy in 2009.

Given all of the above facts, we can easily find hundreds of ways to trim our school budget by the millions, not hundreds of thousands, and bring property tax rates back to a level of sanity and affordability.