While they may not realize it, Port Washington taxpayers owe a great deal of gratitude to some fellow citizens who have recently helped us all. This group is the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset. Their recent forum provided a valuable public service. The speaker, Ms. Lorraine Deller, executive director of the New York State School Board's Association, discussed how state funding formulas negatively impact Long Island schools. She noted that local school districts currently face tremendous pressures and that significant systemic change is needed if quality education for students is to be offered in a manner that taxpayers can afford.
As Ms. Deller said, "Federal and State governments have dramatically increased demands on local school districts ('unfunded mandates') without providing sufficient dollars to do so. Long Island schools have still not recovered from the major cuts in state aid which were made in 1990 and the Island continues to be a major 'cash cow' for the rest of the state (i.e, several billion dollars more in taxes are sent to Albany than is ever returned here)." Ms. Deller also cited three "budget busters" - pension costs, health insurance and energy costs, - which have also dramatically impacted local districts and over which they have little or no control. As she pointed out, with both student population and unfunded mandates on the rise, simply cutting costs can't make up the difference without harming the quality of education.
To illustrate the state's role in this situation, consider these facts. On average in other parts of New York State, State Aid represents 37 percent of school budgets, yet in Nassau County the revenue is 17 percent. In Port Washington less than 5 percent of our total school budget comes from the state. This is an unfortunate reality which we all must recognize. Public education is a public responsibility and a cornerstone of our democracy. State and Federal government is not fulfilling its obligations to our students and community. While I commend our local school board for doing what it can to minimize financial impact on taxpayers, we must all work together in holding state (and federal) officials accountable and to change these inequities.
Consequently, I commend the women and men who attended the league's forum. Most were senior citizens, without children attending schools. It would have been easier for them to simply get angry about our recent tax increases and ignore these realities. Yet each of them came to the forum seeking to learn more. Judging from their questions, they understand that these are complex issues. In fact, the forum was held as part of a larger yearlong effort being undertaken by the NY State League of Women Voters (LWV of NYS K-12 Financing Education Study) and several members of the Port Washington-Manhasset chapter will be participating. While these problems will not be easy to rectify, I find it heartening to live in a community in which people are focused on truly finding tangible ways to improve the lives of all residents. These people may not garner newspaper headlines but each of them deserves our thanks.