Monday, May 17, 2010

On Property Taxes, School Budgets, And The Education Of Our Children

A Concerned Citizen Writes
All Of Us Should Listen!

I send this message to you as a concerned resident of West Hempstead. Tomorrow represents one of the more important school budget votes that our community has faced in some time. The West Hempstead school district's tax levy has averaged 2.73% for the last five years, well below the Nassau County average for school districts. In the last two years, the school district's tax levy average has been below 2%. Understanding the economic pressure that all of the residents of West Hempstead are facing, the costs to run the school system in West Hempstead have been kept as low as possible. The budget for the 2010-2011 school year represents an entirely new challenge due to the miserable financial condition of New York State.

Regrettably, the tax levy increase is higher than it has been in many years. The vast majority of the tax levy increase is due to diminished revenues that are used to pay for expenditures. The revenue losses stem from three sources. The first is a loss in State Aid of $950,000. The second is a reduction in tuition from Island Park of $389,000 due to a lesser number of Island Park students attending the high school in the fall. The third is a reduction of $500,000 in the amount of money the district is pulling from its general reserve fund. These revenue reductions represent a total loss of $1,839,000. In order for revenues to balance with expenditures for the budget, the revenue loss must be recovered from another revenue source. Unfortunately, that revenue source is property taxes.

When the budget is examined closely, it becomes evident that spending is not the primary cause of the tax levy increase this year. The budget to budget increase is just over 3% and is similar to budget increases in other school districts throughout Nassau County. Last year, the budget to budget increase was 0%. Every reasonable attempt has been made to restrain spending in this difficult economy. The budget numbers for the last two years and for next year support that claim.

If you are thinking about voting against the school budget tomorrow, please consider this. If you believe that teachers are paid too much or that pension costs for employees are too high or that health insurance benefits are too generous, voting “no” on the school budget will do little, if anything, to change that situation. The teachers will still be paid their salaries, the pension costs will remain, and health insurance benefits will be exactly the same the day after the budget vote as the day before. Property taxes will remain high and while the venting of your frustration may provide some measure of gratification, ultimately it will be fleeting. The only stakeholder who will feel any real “change” from a defeated budget will be the children of our community, who will likely see a reduction in services and programs. It is unfair that the children of our community have become caught in the crossfire of a problem that is not of their making.

The issue of high school taxes is a statewide issue. It is not unique to West Hempstead. The solutions to genuinely resolving high school taxes must be found at the statewide level because the problems are systemic. Real property tax relief will happen when effective solutions can be found in Albany to fund education without over-burdening property owners. The frustration with high property taxes needs to be properly focused where the core of the issue lies and that is with our state government, not the children of West Hempstead.

I ask that you forward this email on to everyone in your email list who lives in West Hempstead to remind them what is at stake with tomorrow's vote. Please remember to vote tomorrow. The polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the West Hempstead Middle School on Nassau Blvd.

Thank you for your time.

Tony Brita
West Hempstead, NY
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Tuesday, May 18th


  1. Yes, it is true that teachers will get paid regardless of a YES or NO vote, but voting YES when the proposed budget includes raises for teachers and school district employees who already earn above what they would get in private industry is sending the message that taxpayers don't care about cost, and there is no limit to a persons salary if they work for the school district. A vote NO is appropriate if the school district personnel are overpaid based on their value in the free market and they are being given raises in the proposed budget. If Long Islanders do not believe in the free market and low taxes, why do they elect mostly Republican candidates that claim they do?

  2. Your headline is apt - ALL should listen. But from my perspective, "all" in this context not only means that parents and taxpayers should listen but also politicians, school administrators and most of all boards of education. The palpable frustration felt among many taxpayers has to do with a perception that they have not been listened to by any of these constituencies when it comes to the increasingly urgent need to reduce taxes.

    We could debate whether or not that view is reasonable or fair, but it won't change the fact that it exists on a wide-scale basis and many are acting on it when they vote on budgets.

    Another point about listening: it doesn't mean too much when communication is sparse or defective. Parents and taxpayers need to actively express their points of view both to politicians and school boards, but what gets communicated back to parents has to be clear, honest and responsive, and not designed to obscure or to patronize.

    I'm not saying that there are no communities on Long Island capable of sustaining a constructive dialogue among these groups, but what I am saying is that there are plenty of places where that doesn't happen - where effective listening and honest communication are utterly broken. And as long as this is the case, the frustration being felt by all parties will only grow.

  3. Mayor Bloomberg ordered a pay freeze for all city workers regardless of contracts. With the exception of Port Washington teachers, why isn't there a request for a pay freeze for all nassau county teachers. In addition, their should be a pay CUT for the Superintendents making over $300,000 a year. Isn't there a way we can make this happen!