STORY AND PHOTOS BY ALLAN GOLDSTEIN
Nyack Youth Center hosts large crowd at program that discussed NY’s new tax cap
On Thursday evening February 9, the Nyack Youth Center was filled almost to capacity as local residents and school district administrators attended a program highlighting key elements of the New York state property tax levy cap. The legislation, announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in June of last year, places new restrictions on how tax levies may be increased and is a major factor in budget considerations.
The speakers at the event were Nyack Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Montesano and Ann Byrne a 30-year member of the Nanuet Board of Education, member and past president of the New York State School Boards and Northeast Director for the National School Boards Association.
Byrne immediately noted that there were several misconceptions that she wanted to address:
· There is not a tax cap but a tax levy cap. A tax levy is the total revenue to be raised by taxes. The tax rate is the amount a home owner will pay per $1,000.00 in assessed value of their home.
· The cap is approximately 2 percent but is based on a complex formula that produces different results for each school district. In reality the cap can be slightly above or below the 2 percent threshold.
· School districts can propose budgets that exceed the two percent cap but would require the approval of at least 60 percent of the voters.
· Residents are eager to know how their tax bills will be affected but the final determination will not be available until August when the tax rate is set.
Dr. Montesano made it clear that “We have no plans to exceed the cap. School districts may find themselves in the position for cost reductions and we have to back into our budget because of the cap. Nyack is a very strong school district. We recognize that we have to enhance the school experience with diminishing resources. We have work to do but need to approach it differently.”
He added, “Job market data in terms of job level and job growth, demonstrates that some post secondary schooling will be necessary—schools need to work more effectively to achieve better levels of performance.”
Byrne noted that, “If you average out the last three years most of Rockland County has already been under 2%. She added that there are hard costs which are out of the control of local school districts including teacher salaries, pensions and healthcare. On the cutting block are non-mandatory programs which include sports, transportation, kindergarten, clubs and activities.
From Dr. Montesano’s perspective, “We need to take hold of cost drivers. Taxpayers are taking a very heavy burden. We need more help from the state.” He pointed to federally mandated programs such as special education where costs have risen 40% in the last five years, state mandated pension contributions up 11percent and increases in health benefit premiums.
Byrne commented that other federally mandated programs including the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) are underfunded by the government. “Established 40 years ago, the government was supposed to pick up 40% of the tab. In actuality, school districts in Rockland County are reimbursed about 13%.”
She also listed Title I which does the important job of providing poor and disadvantaged children with critical services including pre-school programs and special tutoring as needing an infusion of dollars.
Also discussed were two other federal mandates No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. These programs have many positive aspects but are also severely underfunded by the feds leaving school districts to make up a sizable shortfall.
According to Byrne a number of states have decided to opt out of No Child Left Behind and have received waivers that would allow this action. New York has also applied and she stated, “I do think we will get a waiver. We should know by April. There is no waiver available for Race to the Top. We must stay in this program for four years.”
Dr. Montesano concluded, “This is a new experience. We want to stay constant with class size but also decrease our costs. Whatever steps we take we don’t want to affect kids in the classroom. This community supports robust courses for students. A lot of good things have come out of the cap but some changes are necessary to give more flexibility to school boards.”