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.