The need for relief from mandated spending has been supported by nearly every candidate running for state office in recent elections, but nothing has been done about it. A few exemptions in the tax-cap legislation that make allowances for pension increases or building costs hardly count as mandate relief.
Districts are faced with double-digit-percentage increases in their mandated pension contributions to the state, yet Albany limits how much additional revenue the districts can collect. Until the state starts to control these costs, the tax cap is only going to hurt our schools, forcing deeper cuts to educational programs so districts can pay for all the mandates.
Even as elected officials have cried for relief, mandates have increased. The new teacher evaluation program that went into effect this year, the Annual Professional Performance Review, carries numerous costs. Districts had to add extra tests (with thousands of dollars going to testing companies), send administrators and teachers to training (spending thousands of dollars on workshops) and renegotiate teacher contracts (spending thousands of dollars in legal fees).
In two years, state tests will most likely be done on computers. That means many districts will have to buy more computers to accommodate all of their students and strengthen network capabilities. That will be expensive, too, and who knows if the state will help pay for that?
State lawmakers must get serious about providing mandate relief to school districts. If they want top-performing schools in the communities they represent, they need to make sure that those schools are adequately funded and that the financial demands on districts aren’t unrealistic.
The state budget for 2013-14 is being assembled in Albany. We expect our representatives there to fight for Long Island schools. They must push for more state aid so that every district, not just some, gets an increase — an increase that actually helps pay to preserve education. They must fight for mandate relief. They must re-evaluate the tax cap and its long-term ramifications.