Tuesday, April 22, 2008

School Daze

As Budget Vote Nears, School Taxes Are On Homeowners' Minds

Across Long Island, local school districts are in the process of crunching the numbers and adopting their budgets.

A difficult task, to be sure, and one which most school board trustees, homeowners and taxpayers all, take quite seriously.

Cut and scrimp as they might, it is never easy, in an era of high costs, seemingly boundless contractual obligations, unfunded mandates, and only a trickle in funding from the State, to hold down either budgets or tax rates.

With this in mind, and maintaining our general position that while education may be expensive, the cost of ignorance is that much greater, we offer this blog as a forum to one and all -- taxpayers, trustees, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and even State legislators -- to chime in with their thoughts on school budgets, funding, and the process that culminates this year on May 20th with an up or down vote on more than 120 local mandates here on Long Island alone.

Today, our friend and fellow activist, Robert Newman, of Patchogue Area Civic Tax Watch, has his say. On May 20th, you can have yours!

By the way, the figures Mr. Newman refers to in this Guest Blog may be Patchogue-specific. The issues he raises, and the manner in and means by which fund public education in New York are not.

We agree with Robert Newman, if nothing changes, and all we say is "see you next year," the discussion we have on the next go round will be pretty much the same.

Get involved in the education of our children. You can make a difference, and, believe us, your future depends on it!
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Budget Adoption – Patchogue-Medford Schools

The board adopted a tax increase of 9.5% for the 2008-2009 school year. The taxpayers will vote on this budget on May 20. Just a short 3 weeks ago they were talking about needing an 18% tax increase to fund all necessary programs. The board agreed (by informal vote) that in order for the public to pass the budget they would need to get the increase down to less than 10%. To do this, they talked about significant cuts as noted in the 5th paragraph (below) of our notes of March 26. The board has stated publicly, and it has been in the local newspaper recently, that these cuts were subject to getting more money from the state. If we got less money, even deeper cuts would be needed.

We found out last week that we did not get the state funding we had hoped for. In fact, Patchogue was hosed again by getting less per student than similar schools (in size and demographics) like Longwood, Middle Country and William Floyd. So how did we reduce the tax increase to 9.5%?

We have no idea!

And that, in a nutshell, is why budgets fail and why the local taxpayers do not trust their local government! No communication, no transparency, smoke and mirrors. If the public thought they would find out by going to this meeting (or any school board meetings for that matter), they were very wrong. The board had rehearsed Administrators discussing High School course offerings for electives as well as Elementary level reading class sizes and methodology. Board members made public comment pro and con but it was clear that the ink was already dry and the cuts were already approved in secret without public input or discussion.

It is little wonder why very few taxpayers showed up at this meeting. First of all, only 50 people showed up. Of this 50, there were several groups of 10 or so sitting in groups. These groups represent various special interests in the district. If you eliminate district employees from the attendance and special interest head count, the number of taxpayer residents attending the meeting was MAYBE 5. Only 5 people showed up because the community has given up on wasting their time with this annual charade?

The special interests will now go out into the community and “talk up” the benefits of passing or failing the budget.

This annual dance does a disservice to our kids and the value of our homes. Until the state takes over FULL funding of local education, it will be Groundhog Day all over again. Full state funding means the state pays for all CORE programs and all costs for our school. Every school and student in the state would receive the SAME core education. This would include funding teachers and employee salaries and benefits as well as mandated programs. This represents 90% of our tax bill.

We can maintain local control (this is a faulty concept that the teachers and administrators unions promote) by allowing each school district in the state to vote on local spending amounting to 10% or less than our current budget. These voted funds could only be used for specific items that would be considered extras above the needs of basic education. Each district would have to publish these expenses in a line item so it could be easily compared from one district to the next. Anything above that could be paid for by donations and fundraisers.

Could wealthy schools districts have more programs for their kids by deciding to pay more for extras? Sure. That is the way it should be. And every resident is free to move to a district that VALUES these extras.

Bottom line is that the fair way to do it is for ALL kids in ALL schools to receive the basic CORE education. LOCAL residents can decide and pay for extras!

There are proposals similar to this on the table right now. They will go nowhere unless people make a stink. We suggest you read up and deal with your state elected officials. It will be a long battle, but it is doable. Otherwise, see you next year. If nothing changes, this site will simply change the meeting dates, the discussion will all be the same!

Bob Newman,
Fax- 631-730-6308
Patchogue Area Civic Tax Watch Org.
PO Box 135
Patchogue, NY 11772
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What's your opinion on school budgets, school taxes, and education here on Long Island?

Your neighbors -- and the readers of this blog -- would like to know.

Write to The Community Alliance at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

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