Monday, April 19, 2010

He Who Laughs Last. . .

. . .Probably Hasn't Seen His School Property Tax Bill

The following article on laughing hyenas, as appears on, tickled our fancy, but the pending increases in school tax levies -- ranging from 5% to 10% or more in many Long Island districts -- is truly no laughing matter.

The drastic reduction in state aid to education, coupled with escalating costs for salaries, benefits, pensions, transportation, energy, insurance, and the list goes on, will surely mean the return of sticker-shock for most Nassau and Suffolk homeowners.

School tax levies, already accounting for more than 60% of the typical property tax bill, now threaten to gobble up more of the household budget, with little or no relief on the horizon by way of reform.

Do we consolidate districts, or at least the back office? Can we chuck the regressive property tax in favor of a more progressive means of financing public education? Will we, as Long Islanders, insist on parity and equity with upstate school districts when it comes to state aid? And how do we continue to provide our children with a top-noth education in view of the diminishing returns on our tax dollars?

In the coming weeks, The Community Alliance blog will explore the issues that weigh heavily on both minds and wallets as the May 18 school budget vote drawers near.

We ask for your input, by way of commentary, suggestions, ideas, and paliative solutions, this through your comments, e-mails, and guest blogs. Write us at

Meanwhile, keep on smiling behind that nervous laughter. For the moment, or so it would seem, when it comes to taxing homeowners to the hilt to pay for education, all we can do is grin and bear it!
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Hyenas - What They’re Really Laughing About

by Evan Jacobs
Pets News
Lip Kee, Flickr

To our untrained ears, hyena communication often sounds like a series of crescendoing yelps, surprisingly similar to human laughter. However, to the hyenas — and now to researchers as well — the laughter carries a great deal of information.

Recently, Professor Frederic Theunissen from the University of California at Berkeley, and Professor Nicolas Mathevon from the Universite Jean Monnet in St Etienne, France, published in the journal BMC Ecology,

the first ever study on deciphering the hyenas’ language after studying 26 captive spotted hyenas.

By recording and listening to the hyenas vocalize in various situations, reports the BBC, the researchers learned that, just as with human communication, the sounds often reveal much about the animal and its place in the society. The pitch of the laughs indicate a hyena’s age, while their frequency signifies the hyena’s social status. Professor Theunissen told the BBC that “The hyena’s laugh gives receivers cues to assess
the social rank of the emitting individual.

This may allow hyenas to establish feeding rights and organize their food-gathering activities.”

Spotted hyenas have ten different types of vocalizations, from long “whoops” to communicate across large distances, to soft growls when they run into members of their own clan. Previously, researchers thought the laughter, which mainly is heard when the hyenas are fighting over a carcass, was to show submission. However, since this new study was released, we now know they are saying a lot more.

These results make us eager to learn more about other forms of animal communication — especially that of our own pets.


  1. As you note, school taxes will be going up in the next year, because pension contributions have to be increased. This problem is not necessarily limited to teachers, since only about a third of all public employee pension plans in this country are now adequately funded. Accounting rules allow for the recognition of investment losses to be deferred for a couple of years, but that's why the problem comes next year: as the market tanked in 2008, public employee pension plans took a hit, meaning now they're underfunded and taxpayers have to pony up to make up for the shortfall.

    Unfortunately the obvious answer is not the easy one: labor and benefit costs among teachers and other public employees simply have to be reduced. Getting into this can of worms will lead into all kinds of heated discussions about what's "fair" for public employees vs. taxpayers or private sector employees.

    That argument has already started playing out, but it obscures a key point: this is not a question of political position or social equity. It's fiscal and economic reality.

    If expenses are not cut, there are only two other options: tax more or borrow more. Taxing more will simply chase more businesses, and more families, and finally more jobs, out of the state. The state's economic base will therefore get smaller, meaning that tax rates on those remaining will only go up even further. You're then in a vicious, self-reinforcing spiral.

    Borrowing more - or "kicking the can down the road" - is always an option, but not a permanent one. At a certain point, even government can take on too much credit risk. Once that happens debt markets shut down. Just take a good look at what's happening in Greece right now, and you have a pretty good idea of what could happen here.

    So my point: NOBODY's salary or benefits or pension will be safe over the long haul if we don't address this issue. Now the hardest question: who among our elected leaders has the honesty and integrity to take this on?

  2. Where's Mangano, or any other politician for that matter, when it really counts? This is where the REAL TAX REVOLT needs to happen, and unfortunately there's silence from our elected officials. All of them are afraid to challenge the teacher's union, so we the taxpayers continue to pay more year after year!

    School taxes have gone up more than 5 times the rate of inflation in the last 10 years. This trend is simply unsustainable, and must change now.

    Why can't the school districts tighten their belts for once? Why is it that the taxpayer always has to dig a little deeper into their pockets to finance these out of control fiefdoms? And for that matter, why do the school districts always threaten to cut back programs for our children if the budget doesn't pass, when they can simply reduce their salaries and pensions which make up approximately 80% of the school budget? The programs for our children make up the other 20%. I'm tired of the school districts using these scare tactics to bully their way into getting what they want. It's time for the taxpayer to stand up to these bully's and push back!!

    Which one of our politicians is going to blast our Long Island superintendents, who already have bloated salaries, for taking pay hikes this year? Which one of them is going to blast the teachers for also taking pay hikes in addition to their usual step pay raises? Which one of them is going to take the lead in reforming how our public pension plans are funded? Which one of them is going to support consolidating these inefficiently run school districts. NY City has 1.1 million students with 1 chancellor (who makes $250K per year) and we have 50+ districts with 50+ superintendents for only 209,000 students (who make as a group $30 MILLION PER YEAR). Based on those numbers alone, our school districts must be run more efficiently.

    I'm still waiting to see if a true leader amongst our elected officials emerges, but in the meantime, I will vote NO Tuesday May 18th. Enough is enough!!

  3. Voting "no" on school budgets is not the solution, nor even a sound stop-gap measure.

    The successful course of any community – of any society – corresponds directly to the success of its public institutions. Foremost in this success story are our public schools.

    Where we fail to nurture public education, and to foster the public good, we fail to advance either as a community or as a society.

    Those who vote “no” on school budgets, whatever their persuasion, rationale, or beliefs, hurt all of the children, their own included, and cause immeasurable harm, both real and perceived, to our community.

    Voting “no” on school budgets, from here to eternity, will not lower our property tax bills by any appreciable sum. It is only in attacking the malaise of the status quo in Albany, and by demanding equitable apportionment of State Aid, a fair return to Long Island of our tax dollars, and the replacement of the onerous and regressive school property tax, that we will find true property tax relief.

    A "no" vote, while tempting on its face, sends only a single message -- to our children: Your education is no longer our top priority!

    The Community Alliance encourages all residents to VOTE YES on May 18 for the school budgets, and to consider carefully their votes in November when every seat in the State Legislature is up for grabs.

  4. Funny how we are so ready to vote "no" on school budgets, and so willing to vote "yes" for elected officials who do absolutely nothing to fix a tax structure, let alone a system of state aid to education, that is completely broken.

    The Community Alliance is correct. Voting "no" on school budgets only hurts our children. It saves little to nothing on that bottom line.

    Voting "no" on sending the same folks to do the same jobs in Albany, year after year after year? If only we had the courage, and the smarts, to do just that!

  5. I'm voting no on May 18th. No to more spending. No to more taxes. No to paying more and getting less.

    I don't even have kids in school anymore, and I'm paying more than ever. For what?

    This is ridiculous already. JUST SAY NO!

  6. Why? So that our kids are smart enough to know that "no" on school budgets is not the answer.

    Until we stop voting the same folks back into office in our state legislature, it will be debt do us all part!

    That's where the efforts of true reformers must be focused.

    How strange that we're asleep at the lever in November, and suddenly awaken in May, surprised to find that nothing has changed.

    The culprit here is an irrational and repressive means of paying for our schools. Take it out on Albany, NOT on our children!

  7. Albany is the main culprit; on the other hand, I'm an equal opportunity critic so I also think local school administators take some blame as well. I sense way too much game-playing on the part of school boards such that the specter of any kind of meaningful expense reduction quickly equates to high-profile programs and/or classroom cuts that are perceived to be damaging to our kids. I think this is actually overdone, and I think that's intentional. At the very least, these guys could be taking steps to consolidate administrative functions - even on an informal basis - with neighboring districts. I see little evidence of this or any other measure that could be taken at the local level to save money, even while preserving educational quality.

  8. I agree that our elected officials in Albany have failed miserably in reforming this mess and deserve more than their fair share of the blame. What I haven't seen is a list of politicians who are truly committed to school reform. When I see that person(s), I'll be the 1st to support them and support them strongly. If there are some names out there that I am not aware of who support the structural reforms needed in education, I would certainly like to hear their name(s) so that I can vote for them in November.

    But it's difficult to deny that the school's can do a much better job of tightening their belts. They continue to give themselves raises year after year no matter what condition the economy or its taxpayers are in. For instance, if a school superintendent makes $300K per year, is a 5% raise really necessary given that we have 9.7% unemployment? The same applies for the administrations and teachers to a lesser degree. Where's the shared sacrifice? As I mentioned earlier, salaries and pensions make up approximately 80% the total budget. Why would reducing salaries hurt the kids? If the school's are so committed to the education of their students, why don't they forgo a little of their salaries, and keep the programs as they currently are? Why is it when the school's need to make cuts, the programs for our children are the 1st to go and the salaries are never mentioned? While I acknowledge Albany has some responsibility here, the schools are no angels in this process.

    Lastly, where is the correlation between the amount of money spent and the quality of education are children receive. History has shown that spending more money on education, does not necessarily mean quality improves.

    In sum, I've been there and will continue to be there with you in November, but things have to change in May as well.