Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
CACLA’s series of articles have examined unfunded mandates and out of the many affecting public school districts, we went into detail on: Pension Benefits, Special Education, Wicks Law, the Tax Cap and the Super Majority Vote. As previously discussed, the burden of funding mandates rests with the local public school tax levy, i.e., the taxpayer.
Public school districts have to fund programs that are required by law, either within the state mandated levy cap, or by a 60 percent super majority approval of the budget. The puzzle? How does a school district stay within a cap while, in Manhasset’s case, state aid has declined and the cost of providing employee benefits has grown exponentially? All of this while providing robust educational programs for a student population that has showed steady increases over the past 12 years.
Should the budget not pass and as a result a contingency budget goes into effect, the result would be the following reductions:
Up to 11 positions at the elementary school level thus 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.
Since public schools can’t control rising pension and healthcare costs, the only options available are using reserves to reduce year- to- year increases (no longer available to Manhasset since these were used purposefully to reduce tax levies in the past) drastically cutting services, or exceeding the cap. Manhasset is clearly between a rock and a hard place, lacking local control to manage its budget while focusing on what should be its number one priority, i.e., providing a top notch education for students. Rather, every year an inordinate amount of time is spent on fighting the “budget battle” with this year being the most difficult to date.
More unfunded mandates are on the horizon. Recently, you may have read an article in Newsday about PAARC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers). New York State is considering yet another unfunded mandate requiring substantial further testing of students with the required use of computers. This may mean that the district has to provide a computer for every student, which presents a significant expense. Add to that the staff training and implementation costs, and importantly, the cost of once again teaching to the test.
Where is all of this leading? CACLA would advocate for “opting out” of all mandates unless they are funded by the level of government requiring them. Since that may not be realistic, we would move for starters to amend the calculation of the tax cap by removing all costs, which result from unfunded mandates.
The Governor is saying he is committed to coming up with a solution for unfunded mandates, but he is not leading this nor is he providing relief for our public schools in the mean time. On top of this, he seems to be ignoring local government and the growing tax burden placed on the taxpayer.
The mandates that hurt Manhasset the most right now are the tax cap and the super-majority vote.
The requirement of the super-majority disenfranchises those who vote for the budget. For example, if there are 1,000 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 teachers’ 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: http://www.manhasset.k12.ny.us/Budget.cfm?subpage=12223
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-Fulgieri