ALBANY, N.Y. May 16, 2012 - Despite deep cuts to programs triggered by the first year of the state's property tax cap, voters gave students and their local schools their strong backing by adopting 96 percent of school budgets, New York State United Teachers reported early today.
Based on its preliminary count, NYSUT estimated the statewide passage rate will be 96 percent. Voters approved 597 school budgets, with 24 budgets going down in defeat Tuesday. Of the approximately 50 school districts that exceeded the property tax cap, voters in 24 districts returned a 60 percent supermajority, passing those budgets despite tax levies greater than 2 percent. A final tabulation of this year's school budget voting should be available by mid-afternoon.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said voters recognized that school districts - and teachers - sacrificed in order to put together responsible budgets. And, he said, voters know that, despite some political rhetoric, the overwhelming number of school districts provide students with a first-rate education.
"New Yorkers see their public schools are doing a terrific job, producing excellent results amid budgetary challenges resulting from the undemocratic tax cap and from the state's failure to invest in public schools," he said. Iannuzzi noted that, despite this year's $805 million funding increase, three consecutive years of devastating budget cuts by Albany have slashed state support for public education by more than $3 billion.
Iannuzzi said schools were buoyed by last week's U.S. News and World Reports issue ranking New York second in the nation in its number of "gold medal" schools; a report by Education Week ranking New York No. 3 nationally based on six educational measures; and New York's domination in Advanced Placement courses and the Intel Science Talent Search competition. "Together, these honors underscore what most New Yorkers inherently know: Dedicated teachers and hard-working students - when supported by parents and their communities - deliver incredibly high levels of achievement," he said.
In those places where budgets went down, Iannuzzi said NYSUT would analyze the votes to see if tax increases caused by state-aid shortfalls - or anger over cuts to programs and staff - were responsible. "Unfortunately, there are places where support for education is so strong, community members may have looked at larger class sizes, cuts to AP courses and teacher layoffs stemming from the tax cap and state aid cuts, and voted against budgets precisely because they didn't want to impose deep cuts," Iannuzzi said. "The anger and frustration at Albany's failure to meet its funding obligations are real."
Nonetheless, Iannuzzi praised voters in local communities which supported school budgets, especially where drastic cuts in state aid made tax increases almost unavoidable. "We're thankful that so many local communities accepted the extra burden placed on them by the Legislature's failure to adequately fund education," he said. "Going forward, we will work with those communities to ensure that Albany meets its obligation to guarantee every child a quality education."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta noted state funding for public education is $1.1 billion less than in 2008-09. Meanwhile, the tax cap is crippling the ability of local communities to decide locally how much of their own resources they want to invest in their own students and schools. "Allowing 40 percent of the voters to override the wishes of the majority is wrong," Pallotta said. "Our students deserve better. The state needs to do its fair share and stop passing along the pain to students and local taxpayers in order to please the wealthiest and most privileged in our state."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, 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.