Friday, 10 May 2013 00:00
This is the fifth in a series of articles from CACLA, in which we discuss the subject of unfunded mandates and how they impact the Manhasset Public School District. It is this committee’s goal to educate the community on this subject matter in particular, as it has significant current and long-term ramifications.
An unfunded mandate is a statute or regulation (coming from the state or federal government) that requires, in this case, a local public school district to fulfill the requirements of the mandate without providing a source for the necessary funding. The only revenue source a public school district has to pay for an unfunded mandate is the property taxes paid by its residents.
It is critical that you know the following: As a result of the many unfunded state and federal mandates imposed on our public schools, while the proposed 2013/2014 budget for the Manhasset School District would exceed the allowable tax levy cap, it has been reduced to reflect what in our opinion are reasonable increases; the proposed budget-to-budget increase vs. last year is 2.56 percent, and the proposed tax levy increase is 5.98 percent.
Superintendent Charlie Cardillo first presented a preliminary working budget to the community in early March. The district then held numerous open board meetings and other open forums, and went through a line-by-line budget review. The district made some staff cuts, adding staff where necessary to meet students’ needs (as per state and federal mandates) and to address increased enrollment in specific areas. We are still not at the “cap level” however. As a result, rather than cut academic and extra-curricular programs, the district is proposing a budget that requires the community’s support for a “super majority” vote to approve it.
While we can’t speak to other districts’ strategies, CACLA has met more than a few times with area districts and has had active discussions concerning the challenges faced by many. While this may sound repetitive, it is worth repeating: All public school districts are facing the same challenges due to the burden of unfunded mandates. They have not been silent on the subject, as you’ve seen from some recent articles in the Manhasset Press. We do know that other like districts spend similarly and in fact, many spend more on a per-pupil basis. Have they used their reserves in a similar manner? It is likely that other districts who receive little state and federal aid, as is the case with Manhasset, will be in a similar situation, i.e., exceeding the allowable levy cap. It’s merely a matter of time.
Should the budget not pass with a 60 percent supermajority vote on May 21, and if the board decides to reduce the budget to stay within the tax levy cap, we present examples of what potentially could be cut from our schools. If the budget fails a second time, the board must reduce the budget to stay within the tax cap:
• up to 11 positions at the elementary school level increasing class size in several cases up to a projected 30 in a class.
• up to 14 positions at the secondary school, thus increasing class size and eliminating some course offerings.
• all before and after school programs and activities - no clubs, enrichment programs, theatre, music, etc.
• all interscholastic athletics, middle school, JV, and Varsity
• additional reductions throughout the budget necessary to conform to a budget within the permitted tax levy, or a budget conforming to the contingency budget rules, impacting facilities, equipment, administration and other non-teaching personnel.
In summary, to stay within this year’s permitted tax levy cap would require dismantling Manhasset’s excellent educational program. Members of CACLA feel that if the budget fails to pass on the first vote, it will begin to erode the ability of the district to continue to offer meaningful and challenging opportunities for all students.
Reining In The Tax Cap
There are a number of items comprising the “tax cap” calculation or rather, the maximum allowable tax increase, that should be changed to be fair, if nothing else:
To the extent a district pays down debt, the amount of the pay-down should remain in the maximum levy.
The amount of pension increases should be removed from the maximum allowable levy. Any increases are set by the State. The district has no control over the required contribution amount, and no ability to reduce or change it.
What difference does it make? Well, if a school district is within its allowable tax levy, a majority vote can pass the budget. If it exceeds the allowable tax levy, a vote of at least 60 percent support is required.
The requirement of the super-majority disenfranchises those who vote for the budget. For example, if there are 1000 voters, and 599 vote for the budget and 401 vote against, the budget fails and each “no” vote equals one and one-half “yes” votes. Many think this is fundamentally unfair, and in fact, the Teacher’s Union has filed a lawsuit claiming the super-majority requirement unconstitutional. Why does the State penalize districts choosing to exceed the maximum allowable tax levy? Every district, working in conjunction with its voting public, should be able to determine locally the path that is fiscally responsible and right for that district and its taxpayers.
You will find all budget-related presentations (department by department and in total) on the school district’s website at: www.manhasset.k12.ny.us.
CACLA is a committee consisting of the following Manhasset residents: Paul A. Baumgarten, Chairperson; Marianne Tomei, Secretary; John Delaney; Tim Katsoulis; Thomas Kowalski; Christopher Nesterczuk; Chris Roberts; Mamie Stathatos-Fulgier