Katherine Daniels is the President of North Salem's Board of Education.
Now that the long-awaited "tax cap" legislation has passed in Albany, we have some important issues to think about as a community.
First, I find it unconscionable that the State will now impose a 2% cap (less if the CPI is lower) on our local school tax levy while at the same time (a) leaving in place numerous unfunded and underfunded State mandates, which, but for the cuts and other adjustments we have been making to compensate for these increases, force our levy up by 16 to 20% each year, (b) making huge cuts to State aid for education, which further forces up the local levy, and (c) imposing extremely expensive brand new unfunded mandates related to teacher and principal evaluations, which will drive the levy up even further.
Second, everyone needs to understand that calling this a "tax cap" is misleading. The legislation caps the levy. With a 2% cap on the levy, tax payers are in no way guaranteed that their property tax rates will not increase by more than 2%. This is because the tax rate is affected by a host of factors that have nothing to do with school spending, such changes in assessments, the equalization rate (which is determined through a state mandated formula), tax exemptions, tax cert proceedings and other tax shifting policies.
Third, like most other school districts in Westchester, North Salem has held its spending virtually flat for the past four years. We have demonstrated fiscal discipline. We did not need a State mandated cap then and we don't need it now. We certainly do not need one that forces us to cut essential programs and staff to compensate for millions of dollars in unessential, unfunded State mandates and unprecedented cuts to education funding at the State level! Had Albany demonstrated fiscal discipline by eliminating the costly unessential mandates, it could have indeed provided meaningful property tax relief. Instead, it chose to have the tax cap cake and eat it too by placing local officials in an untenable position.
Finally, as wonderful as our District is -- and I believe it truly is a gem that deserves to be protected -- it cannot survive for long if we have to keep cutting to compensate for Albany's lack of responsibility. Merging with another district is a possibility, perhaps, but a merged district will not necessarily mean lower taxes (and indeed it could just likely have the opposite effect for North Salem taxpayers). Furthermore, the merged district would still face the need constantly to cut to compensate for the State mandates.
The bottom line is that we need to get Albany off our backs -- and out of our wallets. Please call your representatives and demand that they get serious about mandate relief. Now that we have the cap, this is the ONLY way to provide meaningful tax relief and still fulfill our societal commitment to public education.
The Daily North Salem welcomes similar opinion pieces. Please submit them to Katherine Pacchiana at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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