As local boards of education approve budgets for presentation to voters and breathe sighs of relief for creating the plans, local taxpayers will notice a continuing trend: property-tax increases.
The state this year imposed a tax cap, which limits the amount local school districts can increase their tax levies. The cap widely has been referred to as "2 percent," but in reality, it varies among districts and is determined based on a formula and certain exemptions.
Many of the local school boards recently adopted their budgets, which will go before voters in May. Among those budgets are ones at the Mayfield Central School District, which calls for a tax-levy increase of 2.4 percent; the Northville Central School District, which seeks a 2.5 percent levy increase; the Gloversville Enlarged School District, which calls for a 1.9 percent levy increase; and the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, which seeks a 3.3 percent levy increase. All of those districts' budgets are within the state-imposed cap.
The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District adopted a plan that exceeds the cap and calls for an 8 percent tax-levy increase. The Oppenheim-Ephratah district also approved a budget that exceeds the cap and seeks a 4.5 percent levy increase. Both of those districts' budgets will require a 60 percent voter majority to override the tax cap.
Local school boards have been facing a difficult task of trying to maintain programs and staff while staying within the cap. The state, which has been stingy with education aid lately, continues to require schools to pay for state-mandated programs and services. Meanwhile, contractual obligations involving wages, benefits and pensions drive up school districts' costs.
The result is more pain for struggling property taxpayers, despite the tax cap.
This tax trend cannot continue. State leaders and school boards must make a stronger effort to control spending. Schools need more flexibility with program requirements, school boards must be tough contract negotiators and the state must provide adequate aid.