The Guilderland school district will have to close an estimated $4.2 million budget gap next year. In North Colonie, officials are considering phasing out the Maplewood elementary school. The Schodack and Ichabod Crane school districts are mulling a merger.
This is what the conversation sounds like in Capital Region school districts before they even have to factor in the effects of a likely upcoming property tax cap that could dramatically limit spending.
In his first State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said property taxes were killing New Yorkers. He promised a tax cap because the state leads the nation in school spending, though it ranks 34th in results, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a major ally of teachers unions, said he will now support a tax cap, though he didn’t specify what he meant by that.
Three-quarters of New Yorkers support the move. Last month, a Siena Research Institute poll showed that 76 percent favor a two percent property tax cap; just 21 percent were opposed. Last year, most school districts imposed a tax rate increase greater than two percent, including 2.16 percent in Schenectady and a whopping 10 percent in Albany.
While tax relief is always a sweet indulgence for politicians during troubled economic times, imposing a property tax cap will have significant implications for local school districts, which have already shed programs, jobs and even buildings for the last two years.
District officials say they now have little wiggle room, and a tax cap might prevent them from meeting their legally obligated contributions to employee pensions and benefits, much less support existing programs and initiatives. And it would be a harder hit for poor districts, which rely more heavily on state aid.
Without accompanying mandate relief, such as reduced pension contributions and a wage freeze, a cap could further devastate struggling school districts and force them to run out of money within the next two years, said Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, an advocacy group for about a third of New York’s 700 school districts.
“This is the tipping point that is going to redefine public education in New York state,” he said.
Many school districts are now holding community forums as they craft preliminary budgets in advance of the May vote, gently easing their residents into the idea of budget gaps measured in the millions of dollars and the difficult decisions they will require including the elimination of some sports, bigger class sizes and closing elementary schools. School districts receive a significant part of their revenue through local property taxes. School taxes typically outweigh the county and city or town taxes of a property owner’s bill.
In North Colonie, Superintendent Joseph Corr predicts a two percent tax cap would swell the district’s deficit to $4.5 million. In Clifton Park, the Shenendehowa district is predicting a roll-over budget of $8.2 million and the cap would only reduce that by $2 million.
Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles said a tax cap would add at least $1.2 million to next year’s projected budget gap of $4.2 million. She said the tax cap discussion dominates the conversation at her monthly meeting with other area superintendents, and that most are crafting budget plans that include a deficit. While she couldn’t say what exactly would have to be eliminated in the budget for Guilderland, which cut 56 positions last year, she said the struggle will be to preserve the district’s educational mission while meeting its financial needs…
You may also like
Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!