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School Finance
March 12, 2014

Leading statewide education groups united in opposing property tax freeze proposal

Source: NYS Educational Conference Board
nys ecb

CONTACT: John Yagielski
518-810-8382 (cell)
email: kyagiels@nycap.rr.com

New York's seven leading statewide education groups are united in urging rejection of the property tax freeze proposal.

The groups warn that the proposed two-year property tax freeze would cause further disinvestment in the state's public schools at a time when schools have not recovered from cuts imposed in the aftermath of the 2008-09 Great Recession.

The Educational Conference Board (ECB), comprised of organizations that represent parents, school boards, superintendents, teachers, principals, business officials and other educators, has released a position paper outlining its objections and concerns with the tax freeze proposal.

ECB Chair John Yagielski explained, "This proposal is convoluted, overly complex and ignores all of the work school districts have been doing over recent years to reduce costs and address concerns over property taxes. Furthermore, if enacted this tax freeze proposal would have a greater impact on schools in poor communities and further widen gaps in opportunities for students between low and high need school districts."

The groups note:

  • School district leaders – and voters – have been making tough choices to hold down local taxes, despite austerity in their other major revenue source – state aid. According to data from the State Education Department, districts have cut staffing by roughly 10 percent since 2008-09. Over the past five years, the budgets school districts have asked their voters to approve have proposed spending increases averaging
    2.0 percent, and tax increases averaging 2.8 percent.
  • The tax freeze would compound the jeopardy the tax cap already creates for schools. New York's cap denies schools any increase in local tax revenue if voter approval is not obtained, either for an override requiring 60 percent support, or a simple majority for an increase within the cap. The new proposal would promise voters rebates delivering the equivalent of a property tax freeze, but only if they oppose any school budget seeking a tax increase above the cap. With this prospect, it is improbable any over-ride would be approved, no matter how strongly district leaders – and some voters – believe it necessary for preserving student services.
  • A requirement for regional shared services plans ignores what districts have been doing, denies credit for past efforts, would delay future efforts, and is poorly conceived. After several years of cuts and freezes in state aid and two years with the tax cap, school districts have been exhausting opportunities for budget savings that do not hurt student services. A recent Cornell University study found 90 percent of school districts are already sharing services. The tax freeze proposal would provide no credit for these past efforts and, since no credit would be given for savings before 2016-17, it would discourage some immediate efforts. The proposal would also require the largest district in each Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) region to coordinate these plans. Few, if any districts, have the capacity to take on this role, and many large districts are burdened with extreme challenges of their own.

For all of these reasons, the education community is united in strongly urging rejection of the property tax freeze proposal.

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