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Tax Cap Jeopardizes School Quality

'Why would we want to risk eroding our education system?'

Eleanora Ferrante is legislative chair of the South Huntington PTA.

In today’s economy it is very easy to jump on the bandwagon and say, “I’m for a tax cap.”  But do we really understand what that will mean?  Do we truly understand the impact a tax cap will have on our education system and on our children? 

I have lived in South Huntington for 17 years.  Over that period our property taxes have increased dramatically.  We all agree that that’s a problem.  However, over that same period we have also seen our children flourish because of our education system.  In the South Huntington School District, we have students going to some of the best colleges in the country.  Our student musicians are performing in state-level ensembles.  Our business students are winning competitions.  Our middle school and high school students are winning curriculum fairs.  Our sports and extracurricular activities keep our children fit, engaged, and learning. 

Long Island schools are among the best in the state.  Why would we want to risk eroding our education system?  Why would the state government implement a tax cap without providing mandate relief?  Why would the state continue to decrease our state aid?

Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget would decrease aid to Long Island schools by an average of 11% compared to the 9% statewide average.  Here in South Huntington, the percentage is 10% which equates to just over $2.5 million less state aid than last year.  This is in addition to the huge loss in state aid in the prior year.

A tax cap won’t solve the underlying problem of expenses spiraling out of control.  Simply capping property taxes without enacting corresponding meaningful relief from out-of-control expenses does nothing to address the root causes of this problem. 

These expenses will continue to outpace our revenue under a tax cap.  Add to this a continued decrease in state aid, and this means that the only option available to school districts is to cut non-mandated programs and services and/or so-called “discretionary expenses”.  Staff, extracurricular activities, sports, music, art, transportation, and kindergarten (which is not mandated; only preschool is mandated) could be cut.  All of these programs and services directly impact the education of our children.

We need to look at the expenses that are increasing at such a fast pace and see how we can address those particular issues.  Do we really need all of the mandated programs and services?  Some may have been worth the cost when we were in a more robust economy, but we need to re-evaluate these mandates and determine whether they are really helping our children and if they are still worth the expense.  There are other expenses that are also outside of our control such as utilities, pensions, and insurance.  Others may be more within our control, but many districts are contractually held to these costs for the next budget cycle or more.

Wouldn’t it be better and fairer to provide our school district leaders with the ability to review and re-evaluate all programs and services to determine which fulfill needs and provide benefits to their communities?  Wouldn’t it be better and fairer to tie a tax cap to the reduction in state aid?  Wouldn’t it be better and fairer to allow individual communities to utilize our current budget approval process with a simple majority vote to decide how much they are willing to pay in taxes rather than force an arbitrary tax cap on everyone? 

We need to stay focused on the end goal: educating the next generation so that they can be successful, contributing members of society who can lead our community into the future.  We cannot short-change our children.  We cannot short-change our future.  We must fix a broken system, but not at the expense of our children who are our future.

Clifford Sondock February 08, 2011 at 04:28 AM
Kim, I agree that the Town needs to reduce its restrictions and regulations toward development to increase capital investment and increase the tax base. However, the real issue is the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our current public school system. The financial problem we find ourselves debating has offerred empirical evidence that the Government compulsory system fails at offerred a quality education at a reasonable cost per student. Therefore, we need to consider drastic reform to reinvent a new system that improves seloection and quality while reducing price. Such reform has occurred in many services; for example the telecommunications industry. Cellular phones and ipads and emails and instant messaging at a fraction of the cost ofhard wire rotary phones from the 1980's only occurred after Government got out of regulating and effectively running the telephone business, i.e. AT&T was broken up and phone serivce was deregulated. The same rreform needs to occur in public education...get Government out of the education business.
Clifford Sondock February 11, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Kim, The Netherlands has a K-12 system based on parental choice. There is no geographical constraints on where children go to school. The key to improving K-12 education is to get Government out of providing the actual service, not the funding. First, there is no reason for Long Island to have 127 school districts to oversee the property tax assessment and collection. The counties can determine the amount of the vouchers, assess property taxes, collect taxes and distiribute the vouchers. Second, release the schools from state mandates and let schools freely compete for students both in terms of curriculum, hiring and firing of teachers, administration and addmissions. Let schools merge and specialize if they deterime science or the arts or special education or language is their strength or the need for the community.
Clifford Sondock February 11, 2011 at 12:56 PM
Parents could contribute a portion of their tuition so that they have "skin" in the game to put pressure on the costs for K-12 education. Schools that are high priced and offer a poor quality education will go out of business; conversely, good schools that are in high demand will grow. Allow businesses and alumni to give back to their schools, offer scholarships, etc. The K-12 system should operate more like the university system which is the envy of the world. The poor currently have no way out of a failing school. It is foolish to claim that the curent compulsory system offer equal education to all. In a parental choice, school voucher system, the poor schools would fail and go out of business, so the poor would attend only the schools that succeed.
Marie February 14, 2011 at 12:23 AM
What was the outcome for the other 43 states? I have seen many articles which show that little money was saved and the public education was significantly damaged. Here is a neutral analysis by experts - http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2522
Clifford Sondock February 14, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Magnant schools are fine. They place the highest performing students in the same programs but that doesn't address the quality of education for all the rest of the students. Again, all students deserve a better education, an education well suited for their talents and ability. Also, costs should be held to some level of discipline which competition would achieve, partincularly if parents had some skin in the game.

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