UPDATE: May 20
Decisions are made by those who show up. Today, you can show up and help make the decision about whether or not your community invests in your local public schools. Show up. It matters.
Your "yes" vote can make the difference between your local schools - and your local students - winning or losing. So make sure you go to the polls and vote YES on your local school budget! Make sure that your family, your friends and your co-workers go the polls and vote YES!
What's at stake:
A double whammy: Tax cap, tax freeze put strain on school budgets as vote nears
It's not surprising.
Two years ago, the first year
the property tax cap was in
place, dozens of districts sought the
60 percent supermajority to exceed
their tax levy limits, and 24 succeeded;
last year, only 28 tried and
seven succeeded. This year, it looks
like only 15 will try.
"The penalties for trying and failing
are so crushing," said NYSUT
Executive Vice President Andy
Pallotta. "It's no wonder districts are
growing more and more hesitant to attempt
to exceed the cap."
He noted that NYSUT is challenging
the tax cap law in court on several
GETTING OUT THE VOTE
Local unions are partnering
with NYSUT, using phone banks in
regional offices, voter data from
NYSUT's records departments, and
postcards and materials available
online, to get voters
to the polls and to pass their local
Designated local leaders should visit nysut.org/schoolbudgettoolkit to access resources. (Login required.)
Seven locals — Smithtown,
Patchogue-Medford and Niagara-
Wheatfield among them — are working
with NYSUT to pilot a new online
get-out-the-vote system called
Amicus. It is designed to streamline
GOTV efforts using members' own
social media contacts.
School communities across the
state, except for the "Big 5" urban
districts of New York City, Buffalo,
Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers,
will vote on their budgets May 20.
Voters also will elect school board
members, who can have even longer
lasting effects on school resources.
[Voters in Buffalo elect board members
on May 6.]
When state lawmakers continue
to create disincentives for investing
in public education and institute pernicious
penalties, school districts
cannot afford to offer programs we
once took for granted: AP courses,
sports and arts — even physical
education and music classes.
"The tax cap and the tax freeze
are the demise of public education,"
said Kevin Coyne, president of the
Brentwood Teachers Association on
The tax cap is often mistakenly
called a "2 percent" cap. It in fact
varies, and depends on several factors,
including the previous year's
rate of inflation. The actual tax levy
percentage cap can mean a negative
tax levy increase, as it does for
18 districts this year.
Equally intimidating for districts
that want to pierce the cap: Prior to
the tax cap law, a district that failed
to pass a budget was stuck on austerity
at the rate of inflation. Now, if a
district fails to pass a budget, its tax
levy increase is zero percent.
Valley Central in Orange County is
one of the districts attempting to exceed
the cap this year — even with
a bare-bones proposal.
"We're going to 3.9 percent
this year," said Valley Central TA
President Tim Brown, which is only
about 1 percent more than the district's
cap for this year.
"Last year we tried for 9.8 and
we got hammered. This is one of
the lowest first budgets we've ever
presented to voters," he said. But
because it exceeds the arbitrary
number set by the governor's tax
cap, the district faces the undemocratic
burden of needing a supermajority
Last year, Valley Central lost elementary
music, art and library due
to budget constraints, and cut kindergarten
from full-day to half-day. This
year's plan is an attempt to restore
many of those cuts — full music, fullday
kindergarten and some art.
"The budget's going to pass with
more than 50 percent, no problem,"
Brown said, "but 60 percent is much
different, and I think it's going to be
West Irondequoit is attempting to
pierce the cap at 3.9 percent, said
WITA President Scott Steinberg. That
would triple the district's cap number
of 1.28 percent. The district has averaged
about 2 percent over the past
nine years, but at the cost of program
cuts and ballooning class sizes.
"This is a product of the [Gap
Elimination Adjustment], which
forced us into this situation," said
Steinberg. "If it had been a one-year
thing we would have been able to
make do with reserves, but now the
reserves have been cut in half and
we can't stay fiscally sound if we
continue to do that."
West Irondequoit voters traditionally
support their schools, easily exceeding
60 percent approval. This
year will be more difficult because of
the governor's property tax freeze.
The so-called "rebate" program
offers taxpayers a check if their
school budgets stay below the cap.
Now, school supporters must ask
voters to pay more in taxes and forego
a check, which, not coincidentally,
would arrive a few weeks before
"Most of the taxpayers in this district
would see a check for $40 to
$80," Steinberg said. The question
voters have to answer is: How much
are the music and sports programs
In Suffolk County, four districts
are seeking to pierce the cap
— East Hampton, East Quogue,
Sayville and West Babylon, the most
in any region.