Opinion

Governor Paterson seems to finally be getting it about the predicament our taxpayers have been dealing with for years. He is finally talking about reducing the burden of unfunded state mandates on school districts. School boards and school district administrations have been raising the issue for years, but it has until now fallen on deaf ears. The State School Boards Association has been strong in its leadership on this issue. What the governor has done is to sign an executive order that any new mandates from the state must be reviewed for their tax impact on local districts. The order does not go so far as to prevent new unfunded mandates from being passed, but it significantly opens the opportunity for all concerned to understand the local impact of new regulations. The text of the order can be found at http://www.ny.gov/governor/executive_orders/exeorders/eo_17.html.

As an individual serving on the school board in Port, I personally applaud this move.

And while this is a good first step, the majority of mandates that are passed to local school districts come from the legislature via the State Department of Education, and those entities are not under the jurisdiction of the governor's order. Now it's time for both houses of the legislature to follow the governor's lead.

Governor Paterson has also renewed his call for a tax cap, and is resisting the State Assembly's preference for a circuit breaker. I have studied this issue in some depth during the course of my work with the board's Legislative Task Force. The tax cap proposals on the table, in my view, are nothing more than a political gesture. On their own, school boards across the state have proven themselves sensitive to the public and have set their budgets well within the proposed tax cap formula for the past two years. Here in Port, our contingent budget rate was set by the state this year at 4 percent. The board did not consider allowing an increase that high for a moment. We have approved a 2.29 percent budget increase for next year, and administration shared the board's goal of seeking ways to pare it down as far as possible while protecting the quality of our children's education that our community consistently demands. In my view, tax cap passage would wash politician's hands of having to deal with the source of the problem: ever-escalating unfunded mandates.

Sue Sturman


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