I’m fighting with myself to not type the line that start with “We” and end with “so.”
Now districts across the state are finding just how bad it is.
Earlier this week I tweeted a number of comments about the cuts to the Broadalbin-Perth schools. Here’s a link to the Leader-Herald reporting about the program cuts happening to that district in Fulton County.
This is what $2.4 million in cuts to stay within the 2 percent tax cap looks like: Cutting art and music instruction in elementary schools, French as a foreign language offering, upper-level Spanish classes, social workers, and all interscholastic athletics and extracurricular programs. Reducing technology instruction at elementary and middle schools; health instruction at middle school; science, social studies and business electives at high school; career and technical education opportunities for high school students. The district will also revert from full-day to half-day kindergarten. Here’s a link to an open letter the superintendent wrote to the governor about the state of school funding.
It’s not just rural districts facing deep program cuts. The Buffalo News reports that Niagara Falls schools have a $6.8 million budget gap because they want a 0 percent tax increase (following 18 years of no tax increases there). The newspaper reports the district is still deciding its options and notes there are $2.5 million in reserves the district could use. Even if it uses up every cent of its rainy day fund, Niagara Falls could still be looking at 4.3 million in cuts – so almost double the cuts Broadalbin-Perth is considering.
Of course it’s not just the new tax cap. The fact that state aid to education is only going up 2.9 percent because of competitive grants is also an issue. (And if you haven’t signed the petition asking state lawmakers to fix that yet, well here’s a handy link to help you do that.)
Let’s delve a bit deeper into this whole tax cap issue, because perhaps there are ways you can fight it as well. Here’s a link to one of the best explainers I’ve seen inthe media. One very specific point the article makes: it’s specifically the tax levy that is capped at 2 percent. That might make a difference in your community as your “cap” might be higher than 2 percent. Here’s a link to the Syracuse Post-Standard’s more recent explainer and specifics on some central New York caps.
Here’s the formula I got from the office of state comptroller and State Education Department on how to compute a school district property tax levy cap. Man, I hope I translate it to you all right. If not, I’m sure you’ll let me know.
- Multiply the prior year tax levy to the tax base growth factor, (if any)
- Add payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) receivable during prior year
- Subtract taxes levied for exemptions during prior year (not ERS & TRS) to get the Adjusted Prior Year Tax Levy
- Once you have that figure, multiply that by what is known as the “allowable levy growth factor” which is either the Consumer Price Index or 2 percent. Subtract those payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) receivable in the coming year and you have the tax levy limit.
- In future years, you could add any carryover. What that means is let’s say a district’s tax levy under that formula was 3.74 percent. But the district fears only a 2 percent budget will pass so it only adopts a 2 percent budget. That means the district would have 1.74 percent carryover for the next year.
Is it confusing? Yes.
Things will be made much clearer after March 1. That’s the deadline for districts to provide their figures to the state Office of the Comptroller and the State Education Department. Those offices will provide districts with their tax levy cap number. We will seek all those numbers and make them public. (I will do a new post and link to the site when that happens.)
What can you do about it in the meantime?
- Call your school board members. Do they know what their true tax levy cap is? Would they consider going up to the true tax levy cap?
- Educate your members, parents in your district and all your allies about what this tax levy cap really means to the district.
- Consider an override. This is a brave step because if 60 percent of the voters in the district do not support a budget that goes over that tax levy limit, then the budget increase is 0.
- Get out the yes vote. The higher percentage yes votes you can get on this year’s budget may help convince your school board to try to override the tax levy cap in the future.
We’ll keep bringing you more details. You keep fighting.