To the Times of Ti:
Our Ti school district has weathered past financial crises. This one, given the recession and its aftermath, is arguably different. It already affects just about everyone – parents, employees, students and taxpayers – and threatens the quality of education here and elsewhere.
Past solutions have generally been limited to burdensome spikes in the property tax levy or, more recently, unpleasant budget cuts. That’s because New York gives individual districts the basic responsibility for school funding, supplemented by state aid often based more on Albany’s political and fiscal considerations than local need.
Projecting various future fiscal scenarios for our district – not untypical of others – suggests this antiquated system won’t work anymore.
Individual property tax burdens statewide, even with the cap, now exceed what is generally considered reasonable and tolerable – much of it due to Albany’s taxation and fiscal policies. Nearly 700,000 moderate income households pay an unsustainable 10 percent or more of their income in property tax on their homes.
High property tax increases are no longer a viable solution.
But neither can budget cuts continue indefinitely without damaging programs. Without extraordinary concessions made recently by teachers and other employees, we’d be in deep trouble already.
The need for austerity will likely remain. Unless the economy rebounds to past levels, additional spending restraint appears indispensable. But what might be thought reasonable and tolerable in that regard will probably not by itself close budget gaps, and we can’t keep balancing budgets with pay freezes or other unsustainable measures.
The solution: Spending austerity must be combined with new revenue, and that revenue must come largely from the state itself – not just more aid, but a commitment to gradually assume the primary funding responsibility as part of a new statewide system that will prevent these crises.
As Ti Superintendent John McDonald has often explained, the current system is especially unkind to districts like ours, since our high property values can effectively reduce state aid even as the district’s high needs status warrants an increase.
Now is the time to demand thoughtful, logical change that will promote greater funding equity for schools statewide, preserve quality, gradually reduce the overdependence on the burdensome property tax, and ultimately reduce costs.
Personally, I expect to support the proposed 2012-13 budget. I think our board has done about all one can reasonably expect in this one year.
But whatever the voting results, we’ll remain in crisis. The board should resolve now to seriously explore the need for systemic funding change, drawing on resources of the School Boards Association and exploiting the opportunity afforded by the governor’s new Education Reform Commission. I hope teachers and other employees and residents - particularly parents of current and future students - will encourage and support this effort.
The state can do better for its children. It’s time we insist on it. It is, after all, our state, just as it is our school, our kids and our future.
Legislative Affairs Officer
NYS Property Tax Reform Coalition