Tax Cap, Unfunded Mandates, and Cuts in State Aid Cripple Districts

What is at stake if the school budget does not pass on May 19? Expect deep cuts to existing staff and core programs fundamental to the academic awards and school rankings that drive demand and home values in Rye.

Published May 18, 2015 8:05 PM
3 min read

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taxcut-thWhat is at stake if the school budget does not pass on May 19? Expect deep cuts to existing staff and core programs fundamental to the academic awards and school rankings that drive demand and home values in Rye.

taxcut

By Jennifer Neren

What is at stake if the school budget does not pass on May 19? Expect deep cuts to existing staff and core programs fundamental to the academic awards and school rankings that drive demand and home values in Rye. Consider the incremental additional tax (proposed vs. tax cap compliant budget) of $705 for the average Rye home ($1.67mm market/$29,000 assessed value) as the cost of insuring value of that home. If the schools deteriorate and home values were to fall by just 10%, the average home loses $167,000. Seven hundred and five dollars to insure against a $167,000 (or greater) loss, I’d buy that policy.

Why are we in this position? An irrationally restrictive NYS property tax cap with no commonly standard exemptions for enrollment growth or costs beyond the District’s control, millions in unfunded state mandates, and cuts in state aid are crippling districts across the state.

The District cannot fix this, and has zero discretion over millions of dollars in unfunded required costs (e.g. pension contributions, high-stakes testing, evaluators, etc.)

Aren’t we paying so much already? Relative to the rest of the country yes. But, relative to the rest of Westchester, we are a top-quartile performer at the bottom quartile in expenditures. 

Why are costs increasing in a low inflation environment? There is no correlation between inflation rates and cuts in state aid or increases in mandatory pension contributions, unfunded state costs, and health insurance. 

Is budget growth exceeding enrollment growth indicative of poor fiscal management? Enrollment is not the only cost driver; unfunded mandates are growing faster than revenue growth allowable under the tax cap. 

And Special Education? This budget is a “sum of the parts” calculation. Every case for every child classified as having special needs is reviewed and a cost is determined. This is mandatory; the District cannot just reduce special education funding, nor should they.  

Why is the tax increase greater than the budget increase? We need to raise the tax base. Every dollar (millions) already drawn from reserves is a dollar that would have been added to the base had tax increases been higher. The cap restricts this and the tax base is too low.

The District already improved operating efficiencies, reduced staff, and re-negotiated compensation (falling from #3 to #29). There’s nothing left to cut.  According to State Senator George Latimer, we’ll “ultimately have to burn furniture to stay within the tax cap.”

The author is a parent, former financial analyst, and private school CFO.

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