Monday, April 27, 2009

100 Miles Long

127 Separate And Distinct School Districts Wide

With school budget/school board elections just around the bend (Tuesday, May 19), no doubt talk of consolidating Long Island's 127 school districts (yes, we said 127) will resurface, and disgruntled homeowners/taxpayers will wonder, as the have for more than a decade, what can be done do lower skyrocketing property taxes -- which in most communities account for upwards of 60% of the local property tax bill.

Vote no on school budgets? Hardly.

First off, the increase in the tax rate under most austerity budgets would be greater than the increases proposed by the majority of Long Island's 127 (count 'em, 127) school districts.

Second, and of perhaps greater import, to shortchange our children is to forsake the future.

Education is costly, no question. Still, the cost of ignorance is immeasurable in terms of the detrimental impact on our children's ability to succeed, and our nation's capacity to compete, in this global economy.

We do not endorse voting down school budgets any more than we cozy up to the ersatz "tea party" revolutionaries -- who, not surprisingly, are typically the very folks who brought you the high taxes in the first place (though they would like you to forget that).

Yes, school districts have to trim budgets and tighten belts. A difficult balancing act, given the rise in fixed costs, which run the gamut from salaries to transportation, utilities to insurance, juxtaposed against the desire to furnish a first class, well-rounded education to Long Island's children.

Consolidation of services, which many school district are doing even now in terms of cooperative purchasing of everything from paper to power, is one way to keep costs down.

It is simply not enough. Even a cap on annual increases would not suffice, the bar already set way too high for the average taxpayer.

Assuming it is necessary to pay a school superintendent upwards of $250,000 per year, multiplied by 127 school districts, by our math, that's nearly $32 million in superintendent salaries alone. This for an island that's 100 miles long. [That comes out to nearly $320,000 a mile, folks!]

Looks like we really do need help in the math and sciences.

The cost in terms of duplication of services, on just the administrative side alone, is both unconscionable and unsustainable.

The New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, in its final report, recommended, among other initiatives, the consolidation of school districts.

Combined with relief from unfunded mandates, and other measures that could potentially rein in costs, consolidation of Long Island's 127 school districts would go a long way in reducing costs and, in turn, lowering taxes.

A clear case of where less would be more for Long Island homeowners.

We really don't need a fact sheet from a blue ribbon panel to tell us that "property taxes are getting worse." We see it on our tax bills, and feel it in our wallets.

What we do need is the folks in Albany to act responsibly, taking up the challenge, in a truly bipartisan fashion, of lowering property taxes.

Indeed, it will take an act -- or many acts -- of a legislature that, regardless of which party has had control, has been largely absent from the scene, rhetorical wrangling and political lip service notwithstanding.

Then again, this is New York, with a dysfunctional legislature, and an electorate all too willing to serve as unwitting acomplice. Enacting legislation to effectively lower property taxes may well take more than an act of the legislature. It may take an act of God!
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Contact your State Senator and State Assemblymember today. Ask them what they are doing (not saying, DOING) to lower property taxes on Long Island.

And remember to vote YES on your school budget on Tuesday, May 19.

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