June 2015 Issue
May 28, 2015

Voters OK school budgets, but tax cap takes toll

Author: By Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT officers Martin Messner, left, and Andy Pallotta help get out the vote for school budgets. Photo by Nicholas Dicocco.
Caption: NYSUT officers Martin Messner, left, and Andy Pallotta help get out the vote for school budgets. Photo by Nicholas Dicocco.

New York state voters delivered a strong vote of confidence in public education and the work of dedicated teachers, School-Related Professionals and school leaders, approving 99 percent of school budgets May 19.

"Parents and community members demonstrated the importance of local control by voting to support budget proposals," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "In every region of the state, what we see is a ringing endorsement of the work of teachers and school leaders in public schools on behalf of students."

However, the results are bittersweet, Magee said. The public affirmation of school budgets that were bolstered by NYSUT's advocacy for state funding is gratifying.

"But it was bitter to see the tax cap constraining too many communities from expressing their best hopes for their children," she said.

With information from 566 school districts out of more than 700, NYSUT said voters adopted 558 school budgets and defeated just eight, for a pass rate of 99 percent. A record 98.2 percent of budgets passed in 2014, and 95.3 percent won passage in the May vote in 2013.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said a $1.3 billion state aid increase enables some school districts to begin restoring programs and staff, but the increase is not enough to overcome the impact of many years of state aid cuts imposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, he said, the undemocratic tax cap denies communities local control over their schools, intimidates districts from seeking what they really need, and could allow a minority of voters to dictate spending levels against the wishes of the majority.

Of the 19 districts that proposed a tax levy increase to pierce the tax cap, 12 achieved the 60 percent supermajority required to adopt the budget. Seven did not, although it was unclear as of presstime whether they had more than 50 percent — a clear majority — who wanted to pass the budget.

According to data contained in Property Tax Report Cards, school districts, on average, proposed budgets for 2015-16 that contained a 1.83 percent spending increase, below last year's 2.63 percent. Tax levy increases in school budgets averaged 1.48 percent, below last year's 1.98 percent and below the average tax levy for at least the previous eight years.

More than a dozen NYSUT members across the state ran for positions on school boards, and about two-thirds of them were successful, according to preliminary reports. About 24 local unions that got heavily involved in elections to change their district boards saw some great success, including a three-seat sweep by union-endorsed candidates in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville.