Opinion: Campaign Mailers Attacking BOE Members On Tax Hikes Unfair

South Huntington School Board President Jim Kaden says county politicians who don't raise taxes shouldn't be compared to a BOE member that did.

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.

Jim Kaden
Huntington Station

Kim November 01, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Thank you Mr Kaden. Well said.
JSC November 01, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Put all in a nutshell, that about sums up the problem. I too am floored at the reasoning behind why these candidates are so focused on school tax problems and not the problems they are going to be faced with IF they get elected! What are our new county exec and legislators going to do about the crime and violence in Huntington Station that is now spreading to other areas of the town? What are our new town council members going to do about all the illegal housing being ignored in Huntington Station, also spreading out? Are our political parties finally going to cooperate and deal with these issues once and for all or are we going to have to vote you all out every year until you do? Maybe then our schools won't have such a problem dealing with high taxes!
Kim November 01, 2011 at 03:42 PM
It's basically lies lies lies. D'Amaro had a chance and didn't do anything about the underlying problems and Mr Spencer ???? I read this today on another blog. Just bother some. "The Housing Authority controls millions of dollars of Federal, State and County taxpayers’ monies. In 2010 alone, the Housing Authority controlled Housing Assistance payments totaling $6,318,399.00. Spencer has been the Chairman since 2003-2010 and has failed to annually disclose to the public what is going on and how the money is being used until last year. As Huntington Housing Authority Chairman, he violated the town law by failing to file quarterly financial reports with the town itemizing all disbursements and receipts and failing to file annual audits and reports. This serious violation should not be tolerated by anyone, let alone one who seeks to be a Legislator and the people’s representative." According to this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAn4SlR0-w0 He never voted in his school district either. Why can't these people run on their own merit instead of blaming the board of ed members for raising taxes? Because their merit speaks for themselves. They are part of the problem that exasperated it in the first place.
Jerry Hannon November 01, 2011 at 05:18 PM
It's another example of politicians who are void of either principle (maybe that's an oxymoron for anyone in politics) or understanding. I'd love to see these folks taking on Albany, particularly the Governor and the feckless State legislators, particularly Andy Raia and Carl Marcellino, and Jim Conte, and John Flannigan, who have imposed numerous costly mandates on school districts but then created an artificial tax cap on districts before eliminating those embedded costs over which Albany gives districts no control. And then the clowns in Albany have the chutzpah to radically cut aid to districts! Albany has also tied the hands of districts, and BOE's, with regard to limits on authority for personnel management issues, with absurdities like the Triboro Amendment and the last-hired-first-fired anchor they have tied around the necks of districts. But these gutless politicians attack BOE members or former BOE members, yet they don't try to help districts overcome Albany-related problems; real leaders would be in the vanguard of community members trying to get these Albany barriers eliminated, or at least partially reformed. So, anyone trying to create smoke and mirrors about school taxes -- the only tax imposition which must be APPROVED by voters, rather than politicians, by the way -- by attacking BOE members, will not get my vote.
Joseph November 01, 2011 at 05:20 PM
My concern is not just the increase in taxes but the absolute failure of former school board members who are running for legislative office to really lobby albany for relief from unfunded mandates like the triborough act. Did Liz Black or Dennis Garetano lobby Albany extensively? If not, how can we count on them to stand up and demand that Huntington get its fair share of clean up funds for Northport Harbor or police from the Police District taxes?
Ricky November 01, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Jerry, I agree but come to a different conclusion. I'd like to see Board members take on Albany and fight for the changes that the taxpayer needs. The average taxpayer doesn't have the time or ability to work with Albany and get attention around the issues we need help with. Board members do. I wouldn't vote for a Board member who voted to raise taxes repeatedly without doing anything to try to address the serious financial issues we face in the school districts.
Jerry Hannon November 02, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Ricky, thanks for the additional thought, but BOE members don't get paid to do their jobs and have as much to do to take care of their families as you and I do. So, unless you want to propose (and I doubt this) paying BOE trustees a significant salary, so that they can take on this Albany dragon alone, it means that ordinary citizens -- including BOE trustees -- have to take on that challenge. That is happening in the Elwood School District this year. But, there are paid politicians, like County Legislators and Town Board members, and they can therefore afford to be at the forefront of leading the battle against the Albany dragon. Just don't imagine that unpaid BOE trustees, who are the volunteers who add an unpaid part time (but many hours each week) job to their very full commercial job responsibilities and their family responsibilities, should have that burden burden by themselves.
JSC November 02, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Individual board members have no power to make changes in Albany. But the NYS School Boards Association does and they continually lobby those in Albany for change. Unfortunately, the NYSSBA doesn't have the money that the state teacher's union does - and we all know money talks. Makes it very difficult to get rid of unfunded mandates, to get our fair share of state aid etc. So don't come down on board members, they face the reality of this issue everyday.
Susan November 02, 2011 at 01:26 AM
I appreciate Mr Kaden's letter and perspective. It would be helpful to hear from other BOE Presidents on the issue. School budgets and taxes have been increasing at unstainable levels for years. Yet when it's time for the community to vote on the School budget and BOE, the voter turn out is consistently low. The discussion about school budgets and taxes is a good one which needs to continue through the next School budget vote in May. If you want your voice heard on school budgets and taxes, continue the debate, attend BOE meetings if you can and get out and vote next May. With regard to the current election for the Legislature, the focus has been on school taxes increasing. The incumbents in the legislature pride themselves on not increasing the General Fund. Well how about a decrease in the general fund?They also don't talk about the seperate line on your tax bill for the police or sales taxes. We are all so accustomed to paying 8.625 percent on our purchases its easy to loose track of the additional tax burden. The focus on school taxes by the democratic candidates at the expense of having an honest debate about suffolk county fiscal issues is a smoke screen. If the democratic candidates want to debate school taxes that's fine...just tell us how you voted on school taxes in your school district. If you want to debate the current budget crisis in Suffolk County, we would all be happy to hear your views and recommendations. This current election
Laura Bart November 02, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Politics as usual. Maybe the people should start rallying against these politicians, both parties, instead of blaming Wall Street executives. Politicians are the ones who seem to be really benefitting while the masses suffer. If politicians can't be bought or swayed, maybe we'd actually clean up the mess.
K November 03, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Abolish the DOE !!!!!


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