How NYS Public Schools are Economizing to Meet Tax Cap Challenges

More than 92% of the estimated 675 NYS school districts put up budgets at or below the property tax cap limit in the first year of the new law. Of those, only 1% failed to be approved by voters, according to the NYS School Boards Association. Those districts needed only a simple majority to pass. Of the districts that exceeded the cap, only 40% received the 60% super majority they required; 76% of the budgets that failed we're trying to override the cap. Those districts will have one more opportunity to put a budget before their voters for approval. It can be a revised budget or the district can put the original up for another vote. If the budget is voted down a second time, there can be no property tax increase at all for the next school year.

Governor Cuomo seemed pleased with the results. The Albany Times Union quotes Cuomo as saying, We feel very good about it." The tax cap "started a dialogue of fiscal discipline rather than the old way, which was automatic increase." The Governor has been reported as saying school districts need to save money and smaller districts should combine resources like health care and office services, if not consolidate altogether.

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In April, the Governor introduced an education reform commission. The group, which includes state officials and school chancellors, is supposed to issue a report of their preliminary findings by Dec. 1st. Among their stated objectives are examining education funding and costs. In a press release, the Governor said: "New York spends more per pupil on it's education system than any other state." Among things the commission will examine are:

  • school funding and how state aid is distributed
  • how fiscally efficient districts are
  • a comparison of the percent of money spent per student in the classroom to the percent spent on administration and benefits
  • methods to create a more efficient system
  • district-by-district analysis to determine the returns communities are receiving on their educational investment

So with a tax cap apparently here to stay, and mandate relief, if it comes, months away, what are school districts doing to cut costs?

  • Nearly 2/3 of districts across the state planned to cut teaching positions according to the NYS School Boards Association.
  • More than 1/2 planned to increase class sizes.
  • Teachers in Niagara County gave up tuition reimbursement and agreed to concessions on health insurance to save their district $1.2 million.
  • Near Buffalo, teachers in Amherst and Sloan took a hard freeze, giving up salary and step increases, averting 30 layoffs in the process.
  • The NYS School Boards Association reports 99% of districts have used reserve funds to offset increases.
  • A survey by the School Boards Association reports a number of districts have reduced electives, extracurricular activities, and sports.
  • In Deer Park, teachers deferred their 3% raise in exchange for not being required to complete 15 hours of professional development, opting instead to fit the non-mandated training around their classes.
  • Pine Bush teachers took 2 fewer paid conference days last year saving 5 jobs.
  • Teachers in Syracuse agreed to a salary freeze.
  • Rondout Valley cut 18.95 teaching positions, 3 administrators, and 5.5 other positions.
  • Teachers in Warwick Valley voted to accept a major salary and benefits agreement allowing them to "continue to offer full-day kindergarten" and other programs.
  • The Watervliet District is saving nearly $4 million over the next 5 years by agreeing to give teachers pay raises in exchange for their enrollment in a new health program.
  • In Manhasset, the BOE and union reached an agreement that includes a 0% salary increase followed by a 1% increase, and reduced step increases.
  • In Ravena, an agreement between the Teachers' Association and BOE calls for a "half-year pay freeze" and no step movement.
  • In Bethlehem, they're saving money by restructuring the salary scale and making changes in health benefits.
  • Mt. Sinai held budget workshops to get ideas from the community and administrators agreed to contribute more to their health expenses.

While it's not mandatory for unions to reopen their contracts, associations too numerous to mention have, and many school officials commended the unions for collaborating with them to preserve programming for their students. Superintendent Lori Kaplan, of Watervliet, said, It shows our teachers commitment to students and will help ease the fiscal challenges the district faces in the coming year. The good news is the districts whose budgets failed will have another chance. And in the end, it will be up to all of us to take this opportunity to come together and find ways to preserve programming for the children, fair wages and benefits for employees, and reasonable tax rates for the community.

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Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 09/15/2019


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