>"For the last 27 years, enrollment hasn't grown, but on >average the tax increase has been 70 percent more than >inflation," said Frank Russo of the Port Washington >Educational Assembly. "It's not a question of whether >it comes from state aid or property taxes, it's the >spending that's out of control."
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/06peopleli.html?_r=1&ref=education&oref=slogin May 6, 2007 School Financing Increased State Aid or Not, Districts Seek Higher Taxes By FORD FESSENDEN DESPITE record increases in state aid for next school year, most districts on Long Island and in other New York City suburbs have also proposed property tax increases well over the inflation rate. District officials say they are handcuffed by big annual increases in teachers? salaries and the rising costs of pensions and health insurance, as well as higher energy prices.
Nassau and Suffolk Counties are to get a total of $220 million more in state aid from Gov. Eliot Spitzer?s 2007-8 budget, which was passed by the Legislature on April 1, an increase of 10.1 percent. Westchester will get $49 million more, a 9.4 percent increase.
But the districts say that is nowhere near enough: On Long Island, officials have asked for $300 million more in additional property tax levies to meet their costs, a 4.7 percent tax increase over 2006-7. In Westchester, the districts have proposed 5.6 percent increases on average, for another $104 million.
Residents will vote on the proposed budgets on May 15, and school officials expressed confidence that most would pass. Last year, when the average increase was higher, more than 80 percent were approved.
The burden of additional taxes will fall much harder on some taxpayers than others: A few districts in the region that received especially large grants of state aid are proposing little or no increase in taxes. The Sachem Central School District in Suffolk County, which proposed an 18 percent increase two years ago, only to see its budget rejected twice, has proposed a budget that would result in a drop in tax levies.
?Whatever monies we got from the state we applied to tax relief,? said Bruce H. Singer, Sachem?s assistant superintendent for business.
In the Uniondale School District, which received more than $6 million in new money, district officials said they could have spent some of it without raising complaints but decided to dedicate it all to tax relief. The district proposed no increase in taxes.
?We decided to be prudent, to have a strong educational commitment without an adverse impact on the taxes the community pays,? said Kenneth W. Rodgers, the assistant superintendent for business. ?We could have added two or three million to the budget and people wouldn?t have noticed.?
Many districts said they applied at least some of their new state aid to tax reduction. But most said they did not get enough from the state to make much of a dent in their fast-rising costs.
In the Patchogue-Medford School District, the school board has proposed a 13 percent tax increase to help pay off a deficit from the last several years that was the focus of a scathing report by the state comptroller last month.
?We had to borrow $6 million this year to pay off the deficit,? said Gene W. Levenstien, the interim assistant superintendent for business in Patchogue-Medford.
The district also took $2 million from a bond issue for operating expenses last year, Mr. Levenstien said. Even with $4.7 million in new aid, the district has proposed raising the tax levy by $10 million.
?It?s catch-up,? he said. ?Starting next year we will not be having this conversation, I hope.?
In all, 132 of the 156 districts on Long Island and in Westchester that reported tax levy proposals to the state last month are asking for increases greater than 3 percent. Inflation over the last year has been about 3.25 percent, and the state budget projects inflation over the next year to be 2.2 percent.
Tax activists, however, complained that the school districts should have shown more discipline.
?For the last 27 years, enrollment hasn?t grown, but on average the tax increase has been 70 percent more than inflation,? said Frank Russo of the Port Washington Educational Assembly. ?It?s not a question of whether it comes from state aid or property taxes, it?s the spending that?s out of control.?