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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.

Patched Out 2 February 05, 2011 at 06:07 PM
School districts are REQUIRED to make available to ALL children in their districts an adequate, free public education. So yes SD#3 has done a good job for some of the children but obviously not for all if it has also turned out the leaders of the Latin King gang! Again, I have confirmed it with high school students, and they tell me there are known gang members sitting in their classrooms of today. So it sounds to me like the BOE has some work to do in this area!
Jess February 05, 2011 at 06:31 PM
I have 2 questions, number 1. Kim you seem very knowledgable and have all the answers, are you planning on running for a seat on the BOE? and 2 what is the parents role in keeping their children out of gangs?
David Pennetta February 05, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Maria, We are not starting with a free market here like gas prices, but doctors have been told to and are accepting less payment for services provided. What we have here in public school is a protected class, which is not free market. Both the unions and residents need to agree to concessions and that's what I'm advocating. We don't want to sit here talking about our ideals and never getting anything accomplished. The Administration and procurement jobs will give immediate savings, and the savings when the new teachers come into the system will help save our children from these costs.
Patched Out February 05, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Parents? Community? Boe? Town Board? SCPD? Problems? Gangs? ALL OF THIS IS A COMMUNITY PROBLEM. IF EVERYONE DID THERE JOBS, THERE WOULD BE NO PONTIFICATION HERE! Our leadership has failed us all, that's the problem so in order to fix it without all of these verbs and words we all need to vote and help not talk! POI -last election 22% of the residents in the town of Huntington voted and that is a problem Houston!
Mike Field of Huntington Station February 05, 2011 at 07:09 PM
The police are responsible for stopping crime and gang activity not schools. Maybe you should call the 2nd Precinct and provide them with the information you have gotten. Unless you have names, and proof of your accusations, it is just hearsay. I am sure that if any school district employee has witnessed a crime taking place they have contacted the police. There is some sort of criminal activity in all school districts weather it be gangs, drugs, gambling, theft etc. No district in this country is immune.
Mike Field of Huntington Station February 05, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Part 1 This article fails to mention some facts about this proposal: A district's tax levy limit, excluding the taxes necessary to support the local share of capital expenditures, could increase by up to the lesser of two percent or the annual increase in the consumer price index ("CPI"); A district would be allowed to carry over unused tax levy capacity from the prior year, but could use this carryover levy capacity to increase its tax levy only an additional 1.5% in any year. In the event a district's actual tax levy exceeds its authorized levy due to clerical or technical errors, the erroneous excess levy must be placed in reserve to offset the levy for the next school year. A district would be required to submit a tax levy proposition for approval by voters at the district's annual meeting on the 3rd Tuesday in May. If the proposed tax levy is within the district's tax levy limit, then a majority vote would be required for approval. If the proposed tax levy exceeds the district's tax levy limit, then the vote threshold required for approval would be 60 percent.
Mike Field of Huntington Station February 05, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Part 2 If the tax levy proposition is defeated, then the district would be required to submit a second levy proposition for approval, that complies with its tax levy base, by voters at a district meeting held on the 3rd Tuesday in June. If the proposed tax levy is within the district's tax levy limit, then a majority vote would be required for approval. If the proposed tax levy exceeds the district's tax levy limit, then the vote threshold required for approval would be 60 percent. If the second proposition is defeated, then the district would be required to adopt a tax levy that is no greater than the prior school year. If enacted, the law would take effect for the 2012-13 school year. New York would become the 44th state to adopt a tax cap.
Mike Field of Huntington Station February 05, 2011 at 07:35 PM
If you want to see what the pay is for school employees you can go here: http://www.seethroughny.net/PayrollsPensions/tabid/55/Payrolls/StatePayroll/tabid/69/Default.aspx?BRANCHID=6 You will need to select the year and agency (district) and hit go. The resulting list can then be sorted by clicking on the column header.
Patched Out 2 February 05, 2011 at 07:46 PM
I noticed you mentioned "leadership has failed us all", and also "BOE" and "Town Board". But then you only quoted the Town Board election being 22%, what about the results of the BOE election? It seems to me that we have a problem in this area too, Houston.
Julie February 05, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Great link! Thanks!
Mike Field of Huntington Station February 05, 2011 at 10:54 PM
What? There are no addresses there.
Marie February 05, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Nicholas - Thank you for those links. It is quite impressive to see the accomplishments of the class of 2010. Pray that we can maintain that level of success in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015...
Marie February 05, 2011 at 11:47 PM
The information speaks for itself.
Clifford Sondock February 06, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Property taxes should be REDUCED rather than just capped. The funding for K-12 education must be reduced and quality increased. A compulsory Government K-12 school system is grossly inefficient and ineffective...we can't afford anymore to have Government provide education to our children. Parental choice with school vouchers would revolutionize K-12 education through market competition, driving down prices and enhancing quality and selection.
David Pennetta February 06, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Cliff is correct. A voucher system would create a competitive system of supply and demand and would let the tax payer choose where you want to send your kids. Right now we all pay, through our taxes, for the school district dictated by our residential address. Now, if we send our kids to private school we are still paying for the school dictated by our residence. The voucher system would allow you to move those taxes to any school system you want. As more students go to one school, supply and demand would dictate that tuition would get more expensive for that school. It's a drastic change for us but it does work in other areas.
Clifford Sondock February 06, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Milton Friedman, the Nobel Economist, devoted his life to the school choice movement. (see Foundation for Educational Choice) Obviously, taking the authority over education away from Government and tranferring the responsiblility for education to parents is highly political. Teachers Unions are vehemently opposed to parental choice and school vouchers. There are few examples of a real parental choice system. Typically school choice has only occurred in cases where poor and disadvantaged children are offerred transfer to private schools in severely poor school districts. (see Waiting for Superman). School choice examples have occurred in Washington DC, New Orleans, many states in the South. But often teachers unions and factions for the status quo have fought to stop paerntal choice in the courts and won. The best example of a parental choice system is in the Netherlands, where parents have had total control over where they send their children to school for over 100 years. Friedman's universal school voucher idea has never been attempted. The voucher component is the cost containment variable which pressures schools to also compete on price.
Clifford Sondock February 06, 2011 at 04:44 PM
The failure of compulsory Government education is becoming unsustainable in Nassau County due to extraordinary high costs where the cost per student at $27,000 is approaching 300% higher than the national average of $9,800 per student. Nassau County is the best place to start a universal voucher system where cost has become too high and education value is exceedingly poor.
David Pennetta February 06, 2011 at 05:09 PM
School voucher programs Six states — Florida, Maine, Ohio (Cleveland only), Vermont, Utah, and Wisconsin (Milwaukee only) — and the District of Columbia have voucher programs providing government-funded scholarships to help defray private school tuition. Maine and Vermont have had a school-choice arrangement for students in rural areas without public schools since the 1800s. Nowadays, rural students can use vouchers to attend public schools in neighboring communities or non-religious private schools. The nation's first voucher program targeted at low-income students was created in Milwaukee in 1975, but initially was limited to non-religious private schools. The Wisconsin Legislature approved use of vouchers for religious schools in 1995. Ohio created a voucher program in 1995 for low-income students in Cleveland to attend the private or religious school of their choice. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that Cleveland's voucher system did not violate the First Amendment’s requirement of separation of church and state as long as parents decide where the voucher is used. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush backed the creation of the first statewide voucher system in 1999. Congress approved a voucher program for low-income students in Washington, D.C., in 2004. Utah approved a voucher system for special education students in March 2005.
David Pennetta February 06, 2011 at 05:12 PM
I have commented positively on Cliff's voucher system discussion, but I think it's too drastic of a change to actually happen in during our lifetimes.
Clifford Sondock February 06, 2011 at 09:12 PM
I do not know how much money states give to private schools through a voucher. The controversial constitutional issue is public funding of religious schools, which allegedly violates the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state. However, this issue can be mitigated by determining criteria for schools that receive vouchers to comply with secular standards. The other controversial issue is that the best and most expensive schools would be attended by the wealthy. There are several counter arguments that counter such fairness. 1) The best schools will want the "best" students regardless of their family income or net worth. Similar to the university system, the best schools will offer financial aid and scholarships to those who can't afford the incremental tuition over the value of a voucher. 2) The incremental tuition over the value of a voucher will likely not be excessive. Many lower income families would gladly invest the additional funds for their school of choice if given the opportunity to send their children to a better school. At least with a voucher system, these lower income families have a choice. 3) Most important, competitition among schools both non-profit and for-profit would likely cause prices to decrease while improving quality. Lower income children would likely attend schools that are better than the schools they attend under the compulsory Governmnet school system we have now.
Clifford Sondock February 06, 2011 at 09:16 PM
I agree that a parental choice school voucher system would be drastic. However, the level of property taxes and the high cost of Long Island's Government schools are also "drastic." The catastrophic situation of Nassua County's schools may warrant such a drastic revolutionary reform.
Marie February 06, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Perhaps looking at studies on the impact of such things would be a good idea. Please note this study entitled "Hidden consequences" from an independent group: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=302 and http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=301 . Note this finding: Tax caps can be particularly harmful if adopted during a weak economy.
Marie February 07, 2011 at 12:00 AM
See this study - http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=323 - There are better ways to relieve property taxes. There are a number of steps New York could take to relieve property taxes that do not call forth the adverse consequence of a cap that are detailed in the Center’s report. These include two types of targeting — targeting school aid effectively to lower-income communities as Massachusetts has, and enacting a strong circuit breaker that protects low- and middle-income households when property taxes exceed a given percentage of their income. In addition, New York could consider state actions that would help curb some of the reasons education expenditures tend to grow rapidly. Health insurance expenditures are a major driver of cost growth; the state could create larger region-wide or state-wide insurance pools and use the bargaining power that comes from a larger insured group to hold down costs. Consolidation of small school districts in urban and suburban areas could also create longer-term cost savings. Caps cannot change the rapid rise of health insurance or fuel costs; they only cause inequities. It is far better to address the reasons for cost increases and remedy those causes.
Clifford Sondock February 07, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Property tax caps are certainly not the answer to making schools more efficient: however, setting a cap on the increase in property taxes is not a bad idea to pressure schools to become more efficient. The education system needs reform and the tax base needs to expand so individual property taxes go down, not up.
Marie February 07, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Inferior schools = Lower property value. Penny wise and pound foolish. Fix the inflated costs & unfunded mandates.
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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