Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, But No One Wants To Die!"

Long Islanders Need Schooling On How To Reduce Property Taxes

"It's the assessment." "It's the tax rate" "It was horse." "It was a mule."

It's the school property tax, stupid!

That's right. Where 60% to 70% of your property tax dollars go to fund local school districts, the problem is not really one of reassessing the assessment, or, for that matter, artificially "freezing" it -- as if the world stopped and the housing market stood still.

Its not even a matter of consolidating water districts, sewer districts, and sanitary districts -- although we should, and with all deliberate speed.

It's the school property tax that's draining our wallets and breaking the piggy banks, and we, the people, just don't seem to get it.

Spend. Tax. Spend. Tax. Spend. Tax.

A vicious cycle, to say the least.

How about save, cut, and, for goodness sake, consolidate -- not only on transportation, insurance, fuel, and supplies, but consolidation of entire school districts.

Loss of identity? That old "local control" argument?


New York City, with one million students, has one central public school system, with local "district" boards.

Long Island has 126 seperate school districts, each with its own school board, and a costly administration to go with it. [Need we remind you what school district superintendents are making these days?]

Its outrageous, and unfathomable, to think that we can trim property taxes without taming the school budget tiger.

You can consolidate the multitude of school districts on Long Island into two -- Nassau and Suffolk -- regional districts, each with a central, and far more efficient, administration.

Identity crisis? Come on. You'll still have your Panthers, your Eagles, and your Rams. Nothing changes, but for the savings of millions of tax dollars.

Local oversight? By all means. Just stop feeding this beast and letting local school districts get fat [and if you've been reading Newsday, you know that at least two dozen LI school districts in Nassau County alone* are doing just that], all at your expense.

Do we need the folks in Albany to find new ways to equitably fund public education, to scrap the archaic formulae, and to give relief other than by rebate? You bet!

Still, true property tax relief starts at home, and our schools are as close to home as we can get.

We agree that a first class, top notch education for our children is not negotiable. What we pay out of our pockets to achieve that status of "the best schools in America", real or imagined, is!
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Property tax delusions
Long Islanders want lower school taxes without changing the schools

High property taxes are the abiding preoccupation of Long Islanders. They were the top concern of Newsday readers who responded to our editorial and opinion-page series, "LI Future." But, as the fall 2007 Long Island Index survey shows, the region's residents have conflicting, even contradictory, views on what should be done to lower them.

Long Islanders want their leaders to find ways out of the tax trap, but they're clearly unwilling to consider the most obvious compromises - and they are looking to the wrong levels of leadership to effect significant changes.

Long Islanders said in the survey they want steep tax cuts but are not willing to make fundamental changes in the administration and composition of their school districts, which account for 65 percent of their annual property-tax bills. It's the equivalent of the cynic's observation about human nature: Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

In the survey, Long Islanders say they'd like to see a reduction of at least $3,000 on average in their tax bills, but they flatly reject consolidating local schools into regional districts. Yet such consolidations would reduce administrative and clerical costs and could lead to significant tax cuts. Apparently, home rule is sacrosanct, even if it exacts a high cost.

There is a misperception of reality in the survey. Even though school budgets make up most of their tax bills, only 7 percent of Long Islanders say school boards should be responsible for cutting local taxes. Instead, they cite state, county and town officials as those who should be responsible, even though those levels of government can have only a marginal effect on the levies.

Long Islanders are aware that property values reflect good schools, so they want teachers' compensation packages kept up. That's understandable. But educational quality and district consolidation need not be at odds. Yes, ultimately leaders must be persuaded to offer changes. But local leaders, such as school boards, reflect their constituencies' wishes, which today amount to an oxymoron: Lower school taxes but keep schools pretty much the same. That's a recipe for paralysis.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
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*The 24 Nassau County school districts that had windfalls, but did not reduce their tax rates, are: Hempstead, Uniondale, Levittown, Seaford, Roosevelt, Freeport, Oceanside, Malverne, Valley Stream 13, Garden City, Rockville Centre, Wantagh, Valley Stream 24, Valley Stream 30, Island Park, East Williston, Port Washington, Manhasset, Mineola, Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Syosset, Jericho, Plainedge, Bethpage.

Imagine that -- Hempstead and Roosevelt with a windfall!

Folks, we can do just as well -- probably even better -- with less. We could all use a lesson in frugality, with our schools the best place to start the learning curve.

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