It is the mission of public school districts to educate children, so they can succeed in an increasingly complex world and preserve our democracy. The failure of federal, state and county governments to provide adequate resources and a fair method of raising local funds to support schools has been at the expense of children.
Due to inherent flaws in the current system, in many instances, current taxation structures hit hardest for those least able to pay. Over 3 billion tax dollars leave Nassau County every year for Albany and Washington, never to come back. In addition over the past 15 years, the state has reduced its share of aid to Port Washington's schools from over 10 percent to under 6 percent.
Many people like to blame higher taxes on runaway spending. Let me dispel this myth. In the last 15 years, per student cost in Port Washington has increased an average of 3.18 percent per year. When compared to escalating costs in other areas, such as health care, auto repair, energy etc., a picture of how tight our budget really is begins to emerge. Yet, fueled by understandable voter frustration, two budgets were defeated. Under austerity, no matter which choices we made, children felt the effects. In our district, by running a very tight budget, almost 80 percent of our costs are for labor. Today over 15 percent of our classes are over class size guidelines, many of them have more students than work stations. We now have no after school activities for elementary school children, no late busing, limited sports programs and less options for students at risk. Despite our best effort to protect core programs these also suffered.
As a community we need to stand together and call upon federal, state and county officials to change their tax practices. Rather then putting the cost of public education onto the shoulders of local taxpayers they need to step up and shoulder their share. All of us need to understand what the real issues are and address them, rather than pit neighbor against neighbor, when the problems and solutions lie elsewhere.
(Ed.'s note: The writer is a member of the Port Washington Union Free School District Board of Education.)