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School budgets and seniors

GUEST EDITORIAL

We can all agree that discrimination against anyone for any reason is unacceptable, yet discrimination still exists. In the past year discrimination against blacks became a siren call for changes to law enforcement.

There is a similar problem with how New York funds the school system. School boards are elected to represent the public yet it appears there isn’t consideration of seniors when it comes to voting for and implementing school tax rate increases.

First, school taxes and school board elections are held on a separate day than primary or general elections. This means the public (including seniors) must make their way to the polls three times a year. If the tax is voted down, then seniors are forced (again) to work their way to the polls for a fourth time. If it fails again, the district “creates” a contingency plan and the people are taxed anyway.

Next, how are seniors (making up 20 percent of the Fulton County population) included in the budget development process? How are tax increases (I can’t see where there has ever been a school tax decrease) presented completely to the voting constituents before the vote occurs? School boards are to hold a public meeting “no more than 14 days nor less than seven days before the date of the annual meeting and election” to present the budget for the coming year. This year the election will be held on May 18, with notification of the tax bill to be presented to the voters between the dates of May 4, to May 11. The proposed budget is to be made available to the public 14 days before the election (but only if you ask for a copy and the mail delivers the information before voting day). As the Board of Elections only rents the voting machines to the school districts, I’m not sure how the vote is certified.

A proper budget includes, “benefits and any in-kind or other form of compensation of the superintendent, assistant or associate superintendent and any other administrator who will earn over $138,000 . . . .” My data shows that all school districts in Fulton County have superintendents whose annual salaries and benefits should be listed as part of the budget available to the public. While seniors on Social Security were “granted” a 1.36 percent increase in 2021, five of seven superintendents were given raises that exceed the “raise” given to seniors. The annual rate of inflation has not exceeded 2.5 percent since 2011, yet superintendent increases for those five districts increased from a range of 3.74 percent to 15.11 percent in 2021.

STAR and Enhanced STAR are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a system of dates, rules and forms that push the burden of tax reduction to seniors that may or may not fully understand the program and how it might benefit them. Most tax reduction benefits are usually wiped-out by unfunded mandates and school administrations that have no real idea of what it must be like to live on something less than $20,000 a year. Seniors shouldn’t have to reverse mortgage their property to pay for out-of-control school budgets.

The solution is easy. First, all school tax elections are held on either the primary of general election dates. The tax increase is presented and if it doesn’t pass the school district continues on the existing budget until the next election where the tax increase can be presented to the voters. Seniors can have a primary or general election absentee ballot sent to their homes that include all relevant election data important to them, including school tax increases. There should be no “automatic” school tax increases.

Next, pay raises for all school system employees should be indexed based on annual inflation, maybe even based on the same “raises” seniors get from Social Security. Similar to industry, raises should also be based on employee performance, not years of service. School districts should be managed and run by the people, not unions. Elected members of school boards should represent all the people and their needs, not be a rubber stamp for the school administration.

Unfunded mandates from the State should be ignored until the state funds them. For example, free breakfasts and lunches for students should be paid by Medicaid, not the local school system. We fund educational facilities, not restaurants.

There should be a “return on investment” for our tax dollars. How does local industry benefit from high school taxes? Look around and draw your own conclusions. The return on investment should include something more than estimated increases in property valuations. Property valuation increases only seek to increase the tax burden year-to-year for property owners. The educational system should provide training and growth for existing manufacturing and allow growth which will lower the tax burden.

I am told that locally during the pandemic, there were no furloughs or layoffs as other school districts in the State. The school system is supposed to be “not-for-profit”, however it might be apparent that someone is making a good profit from the school taxes on the backs of seniors and the constituents.

MARK F. BOHNE

Broadalbin

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