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School and political leaders talk candidly about this year’s budget challenges

Need Exists for Increase in State Aid Funding

September 20, 2011

Monticello Superintendent of Schools Daniel A. Teplesky and Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Dr. Kenneth Newman met recently with NY State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to discuss some of the important issues and challenges that will affect school funding and property taxes this year. Their conversations included the newly enacted 2 percent tax levy cap, the need for mandate relief and potential cuts to the district’s state aid monies.

Mr. Teplesky represented the sentiments of dozens of school district leaders across NY State when he made his plea to the assemblywoman to advocate among her colleagues in Albany to increase the monetary aid allocated to schools in the 2012 state budget.

“The lack of state funding to support public education is devastating,” said Mr. Teplesky. “Without mandate relief and any increase to our state aid, we will continue to lose additional student programs. In addition, we will have to make further cuts to essential staff – making it extremely difficult to continue to supply our children with a quality education.”

Assemblywoman Gunther expressed her understanding for the direness of the situation and offered to do “whatever she could to make life easier for her constituent school districts.” She suggested that a concerted advocacy effort, made at the state level, might be one of the most effective action plans for getting the message across to multiple lawmakers.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to bring all factions of the community together on the local and state levels to work together to get through these difficult budgetary and economic times.

Details of the Tax Cap

On June 30, 2011, NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that caps annual increases in the property tax levies of local governments and school districts at 2 percent. Although voters will still decide on school budgets, the cap comes with certain stipulations as follows:

- If a proposed school budget is within the 2 percent tax levy cap, it will still need a simple majority of “yes” votes to pass.

- If a proposed school budget is above the 2 percent tax levy cap, it will need a super majority or the equivalent of 60 percent of “yes” votes to pass the budget.

- If a district’s tax levy increase is below the 2 percent cap, the difference (up to 1.5 percent) can be carried over to the next year.
Similar to current law, school districts can hold up to two budget votes under the tax cap law. If both budget proposals are defeated, districts would be held to the same tax levy as the previous year, irrespective of increases in health care costs, contractual expenses or student enrollment. That calculates as a zero percent tax levy increase.

It is essential to note that the new law allows for certain exemptions from the 2 percent tax levy increase limit. In combination with the differences in equalization rates from town to town, even if a school district stays within the 2 percent cap, the final tax rate increase for homeowners in certain towns could still be significantly higher than 2 percent.

While the law is being touted as a way to control both educational and municipal spending, the cap for local governments is far easier to meet. Municipalities will be permitted to exceed their cap without seeking voter approval. To exceed the cap, approval by 60 percent of the municipality’s governing board (not voters) is required. For example, a municipality with a five-member board, three members would need to approve the increase, as opposed to a school district needing to have the approval of 60 percent of voters.

Unfunded Mandate Relief Needed

The tax cap legislation also included a number of minor measures aimed at alleviating state mandates to help school districts bring down costs. Although these relief measures will save the district some monies, they are not enough to offset the tax cap restrictions and state aid cuts. Many more significant unfunded mandated areas still need to be addressed. Presently, the new mandate relief measures include the following:

- Allowing districts to plan bus routes by patterns of student ridership (not by every potential bus rider).

- Allowing districts to “piggyback” on some state purchasing contracts.

- Allowing districts to share services, materials and equipment with other districts and municipalities.

- Allowing for joint electricity purchasing among school districts.

- Allowing districts with fewer than 1,000 students to share a superintendent with up to two other districts.

- Allowing districts to conduct a pre-k census every two years, rather than every year.

- Changing claims auditing practices for districts with more than 10,000 students.

- Creating a Mandate Relief Council to hear petitions from local governments and school districts for relief from specific mandates.

CLICK HERE to view a listing of the state and federal mandates with which public school districts must comply. (PDF)

CLICK HERE to view a list of unfunded mandate requirements. (PDF)

Photo: From left, NY State Assemblywoman (98th District) Aileen Gunther, Monticello Superintendent of Schools Daniel A. Teplesky and Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Dr. Kenneth Newman.

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