Having just received yet another piece of campaign literature pointing out the fact that a candidate for Suffolk County Legislator raised property taxes while a school board member, I must respond. I write this as an individual Huntington Station resident but in fairness, I must confess that I too am a school board member. I am president of the South Huntington School Board and Past-President of the Nassau Suffolk School Boards Association. In those roles I have dedicated a good deal of time investigating the causes of high school taxes, lobbying for changes needed to control them and working to inform others of my findings. It was in that role that I became acquainted with the Suffolk County Legislature. My county legislator approached me and asked me to serve on two county commissions, one looking at school expenses and the other at tax reform.
During those commissions the Legislature came to understand the causes of high school taxes and that individual school boards have little power to control them other than by cutting programs and services. They also learned how schools are funded. They learned that property tax and state/federal aid are virtually the entire source of revenue for schools. This is not the case with the County which receives tremendous revenue from sales tax and fees they set. With that in mind you might understand my dismay with advertisements that imply that county politicians that didn’t raise your property tax will do a better job as a legislator than a former school board member who did. This is comparing apples to oranges. All school boards depend upon property taxes - that is how the state designed the system, and in times like these when state aid to schools is declining there is no alternative if you wish to maintain educational programs.
School Boards have lobbied long and hard for changes to state laws that would allow much more control over costs at the local level. These include changes to the Taylor Law that would allow municipalities greater power in negotiating salaries, repeal of the Wicks Law which drives costs in construction projects and elimination of many other mandates affecting the cost of education. These efforts have been blocked by the very people who now are raising concern over our property taxes. Regardless of your feelings on the legitimacy and benefits of these laws, one might ask why the political expediency of attacking school spending, and school board members who support it is being used, particularly if I were a teacher or other public employee, as elimination of those very jobs is currently the only recourse Boards of Education have to control taxes. I would also suggest to those who support their school budgets in May that they be careful not to support those who attack them in November if they value the programs those budgets provide.
Mudslinging and negative campaigning have never been my cup of tea. I realize they must be effective insomuch as they persist, but I would much prefer to hear what a candidate is going to do for me in the role they seek. In my particular district I would like to know why the number of students living in poverty has exploded and what can be done about it. There have been multiple homicides and other violent crimes within close proximity to my home, the underlying causes of which must be investigated and eliminated. There are regional transportation and planned growth strategies that need to be addressed. Rather than focusing on issues completely outside their jurisdiction, those seeking election should solve their own problems before attacking others.