Tax cap + testing regime = broken schools

New York state lawmakers said passing a tax cap in 2011 was a huge achievement. Their goal was to rein in local property taxes.
“They touted the Massachusetts tax cap law,” Alan Adcock, deputy superintendent for Massapequa schools, reminded a sold-out forum of more than 1,000 participants for Public Education at the Crossroads, sponsored by NYSUT local unions on Long Island.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers 32 years ago approved a tax cap law that said failed budgets can increase up to 2.5 percent if voters don’t approve what local boards want to spend. Here’s a link to a 2010 article that spells out the impact in at least one Massachusetts school district.
New York lawmakers did not adopt that fail safe. In districts where voters fail to approve an override attempt, the increase can be 0, as in nada, zip, zilch. Even worse, Adcock said, New York state lawmakers required that 60 percent of voters have to approve a budget that overrides the tax cap.

“Why should someone who votes ‘no’ have their vote count more than someone who votes ‘yes?’” Adcock asked the group at the event sponsored by Take Action Long Island. That group formed out of concern for legislative actions like the tax cap and the concern has grown along with cuts to schools across Nassau County.

Christine Corbett teaches reading in the elementary schools of Westbury and her family lives in Wantaugh. The cuts to both districts are devastating.

“We have a 90 percent poverty rate and 74 percent ELL rate in Westbury schools. AND we have 5 percent enrollment growth every year,” Corbett told the group. New York state’s property tax cap law does not allow for enrollment growth in students to be factored into district budgets.

“The burden this tax cap has placed on our district is immense,” Corbett said, listing increasing class sizes and cuts to programs.

As local school boards consider cuts, they split the community, Corbett said, cautioning the forum participants on the ills of pitting elementary parents against secondary parents, or sports boosters against music aficionados.

Joseph Dragone, the assistant superintendent for business in the Roslyn schools, noted the tax cap also pits districts against districts because it has exposed years of inequity in the state’s education aid formula.

Now that local control over taxes has been taken away, districts are looking to the state for answers. Instead, he said, the public must know that “for the past 20 years, Long Island state aid has decreased by 14 percent per pupil, but our expenses have increased by 26 percent.”
The cost? In 2012, 1,820 positions were eliminated from Long Island schools. While half came out of retirements, 932 employees were laid off. Based on school budgets voters will consider May 21, another 1,233 positions are being cut and, this time, 682 of those jobs are layoffs, Dragone said, asking the participants to think about the cost to communities of more than 1,500 people joining the ranks of the unemployed.

In February, NYSUT filed a lawsuit against the tax cap.

For more on the impacts of tax cap laws, TALI suggests watching this 2009 report about California schools.

Meanwhile, Pam Bierria brought the perspective of a single parent and the impact of lost opportunities on her three children. All of the panelists agreed with keynoter Diane Ravitch, who told the participants that citizens have got to take action against these laws and, especially, against the high-stakes testing regime. She endorsed AFT President Randi Weingarten’s call for a moratorium on using the high-stakes tests to make high-stakes decisions about students and teachers. She also endorsed NYSUT’s June 8 rally in her well-read blog.

Participants’ homework assignments included:

John Trapani, a West Hempstead music teacher, took that homework seriously and predicted a capacity crowd for the Albany rally.

“I went to public schools all my life. I’m living proof of the difference a quality education makes in a life,” Trapani said. “I returned to West Hempstead to continue to support the community.”

Now is the time to stand up, speak out and take action, Trapani said.

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  1. Tomia Smith May 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Thank you for joining us last night Betsy and helping spread the message on what is really happening to public education. The tax cap in its current state will devastate our public schools along with the emphasis on high stakes testing. We all must understand the true goal of our critics is the privatization of our public schools. The participation last night was inspiring. Now we need everyone to do their homework! Thank you again… Tomia Smith, President of the Massapequa Federation of Teachers, A Union of Teachers and Secretaries and co-chair of Take Action Long Island (TALI)

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