ALBANY , N.Y. April 23, 2008 - New York State United Teachers today laid out a menu of hundreds of millions in potential cost-savings that could reduce pressure on taxpayers, but strongly opposed a property tax cap as "bad policy" that would erode the quality of public education and the progress New York has made toward raising student achievement.
While noting the vast majority of the union's 600,000 members pay property taxes, NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said a property tax cap – proposed at a time when New York is being recognized nationally for its standards and progress in improving student performance – would have the same disastrous impact as caps did in California (under Proposition 13), Massachusetts and Illinois.
"A tax cap makes no sense if we are serious about our efforts to maintain a high-quality education system and close the achievement gap," Iannuzzi said. "Tax caps do nothing to impact the rising costs facing school districts. Instead, they make it more difficult for schools to provide the programs and services our children need to graduate, go on to college and fill the high-quality jobs created by business that will spur our state's economy."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin, in testimony before the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, added that tax caps rob communities of local control over their schools. "When asked to choose between quality schools and lower taxes, parents and community members repeatedly vote in favor of investing more in public education," he said. "Local communities should be allowed to keep making these choices for themselves."
Lubin also pointed out that New York voters – in a budget process more open to public input and scrutiny than any other government body — approved 95 percent of school budgets last May. And, he said, a tax cap of sorts already exists: When a school budget is defeated, the district must adopt a contingency budget that is capped at 4 percent or at 120 percent of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.
Lubin, who heads NYSUT's legislative and political action department, testified that tax caps disproportionately affect lower income communities, which are less able to achieve the super-majorities needed to override property tax caps in those states where that is an option. "If the state imposes a mandatory cap on property tax increases, students will suffer," he said.
Lubin laid out for commission members an array of alternatives that, if adopted, could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually in property tax payments across the state. NYSUT is urging the commission to consider:
Regionalize school functions: The Legislature can regionalize many school functions while enabling school districts to keep separate identities. Lubin said cost savings from a regional approach could be more than $440 million annually, including:
Regionalize school board and superintendent functions: Lubin testified that eliminating local school boards in small districts and creating regional school boards would save the cost of board functions and training, including the board clerk's salary. NYSUT also proposed eliminating superintendent positions in the smallest school districts, noting one superintendent is paid $178,000 in a district with just 34 students. These changes could save $94 million annually.
Regionalize central office functions: NYSUT said reorganizing business office functions under a regional entity could bring estimated savings of $166 million a year.
Regionalize transportation services: Requiring school districts to regionalize their transportation systems would streamline administrative costs, reduce the number of buses needed by ensuring full capacity and result in reduced fuel costs through bulk purchases. This would lead to estimated savings of $180 million annually.
In addition, NYSUT urged the commission to consider requiring all school districts to participate in regional purchasing through their BOCES and to streamline school district reporting to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy.
"We understand the need to reduce costs," Lubin said, "We want the commission to uphold every child's constitutional right to a quality education."
NYSUT represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.