Most school districts draft their budgets this month. (I have yet to hear of a single district that is not cutting something: from clerical and food service positions to Advanced Placement programs, to closing schools, the list of cuts goes on and on. Here’s a central New York roundup. Here’s a link to cuts at the Southwestern district near Jamestown. Is there any district out there not cutting programs? Please let me know so I can highlight some good news for a change! )
To try to override the 2 percent tax levy cap is a vexing question. NYSUT locals are supporting this in an effort to keep program cuts to a minimum. Two local unions that would like their districts to try the override — Port Jefferson Station TA on Long Island and the East Aurora FA from western New York — spoke with us about why. They shared a few of their strategies that might help if you too want to go that route.
“This tax cap is so bad in the short run, but just consider how it keeps getting worse every year,” PJSTA President Beth Dimino said. Her local has convinced the school board to submit a school budget with a 4.5 percent tax levy increase.
But even with that increase, there are cuts to educational programs. Class sizes will increase at every level. There will be no intramural sports and further reductions to middle school sports, and a number of elective courses will be cut.
“We worked with our superintendent to show the board how absolutely devastating a budget under the 2 percent tax levy cap would be,” Dimino said. “Are we happy with the cuts in this proposal? Absolutely not and we are hoping and fighting for some state aid increases that could help. But it is a far better budget for our students and our community than a 2 percent tax levy increase would be.”
The PJSTA’s strategy for your local is: Consider working with your superintendent to demonstrate the impact of the 2 percent cap through to the 2016-17 school year. The business personnel should be able to help project the total budget increase at, say, 4.5 percent and then assume the tax levy would only increase 2 percent; other revenues would only increase 2 percent to come up with the budget reductions that would be needed. Then you will see the decrease each and every year.
In western New York, the East Aurora union, led by Todd Hathaway, started an online petition to measure support for whether their district should try to override. You can link to see it here. NOTE: Do not sign the petition unless you live in the East Aurora community and support spending more on the schools than by the 2 percent tax levy. We are showing you the petition here as one strategy you might want to use to convince your board to try for the override.
“A 2 percent cap would increase class sizes by four-to-seven students a class. We could have more than 25 students in fourth-grade classes at Parkdale Elementary,” Hathaway said. “At the high school, 22 percent of all classes would be eliminated, cutting art, music, business, English, social studies, math, science, physical education.” School counselors would also be cut, which Hathaway noted would be a huge loss as they help “our most vulnerable students.”
There is no set percentage that the East Aurora local union seeks. “We’d like to see a moderate increase, to really send the message that the level of school funding will impact the quality of our schools, which impacts the quality of our community,” he said. Note that 68 percent of district voters last year said “yes” to a budget with a 3.4 percent increase.
Seeking an override is a big deal. Under the state law, that means 60 percent of voters must vote to approve the budget. How could this be fair? Well, here’s a link to an article that Middletown school officials are trying to get support for one lawsuit because it undermines the one-person-one-vote principle on which elections are traditionally based. But that’s a topic for another week. The law also carries a huge stick. If you do not get 60 percent of your voters to say yes the first time, boards have three choices. Under the legislation, if a budget is not approved, then it can be:
- resubmitted as-is,
- revised and resubmitted,
- or the Board can choose not to resubmit and adopt a budget with a tax levy no greater than the year prior.
Here’s the between-a-rock-and-a-hard place where so many school board find themselves. If the board choses to resubmit a budget that goes above a 2 percent tax levy cap and 40 percent of voters vote no on that budget, they the board must adopt a budget with a tax levy no greater than the year prior.
That is why this is really a 0 percent tax levy cap.
For local leaders, NYSUT has posted a full section of information on school budget campaigns on the password-protected area of this website. Meanwhile, NYSUT’s rank-and-file should reach out to their local leaders to see how they can help pass the budget on May 15.