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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Getting ready to fall off the cliff
Howard Schwach

Dr. Herb Brown, the long-time superintendent of the Oceanside school system sees a bleak future for all of the state’s schools under the present tax cap law that limits the yearly increase to two percent unless 60 percent of the voters decide otherwise.

“All of the districts in the state face unsustainability,” he told a large audience at the last Oceanside school board meeting on March 19. “All 700 of the state’s school districts are lined up facing a cliff. With the tax cap operative, it’s not a question of if the school districts will fall off the cliff, but when. Oceanside is at the back of the line, but its turn will come eventually.”

Brown pointed out that the percentage of state tax aid is unfair to Nassau County.

“We have 17 percent of the state’s students,” he said. “Only 12 percent of the aid comes back to the county. In 1985, 40 percent of our budget was from state aid. Today, it’s only 12 percent of our budget. At the same time, in 1985, property taxes paid for 60 percent of the budget while in 2013, 88 percent of the budget will be funded by property taxes. When did the state leave us as a partner in education?”

Brown pointed to a number of factors other than state aid, which he believes will be partially restored to the Oceanside district, as problem areas that exacerbate the school funding problems.

One of those problems is unfunded mandates, he said, with both the state and federal governments mandating programs that neither the feds not the state specifically pay for.

He pointed to programs such as PARCC and APPR as the leading examples of unfunded mandates that will eventually cost the district tens of thousands of dollars.

PARCC is the acronym for Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers. Under this unfunded mandate, additional state testing of up to 10 tests a year per grade will take place, requiring eight more days of testing each school year.

But PARCC is not only an issue of time, but of money. It requires that a district have sufficient electronic devices or computers to test at one time the largest grade in the school. That means a school with an eighth grade of 500 students, for example, would have to be able to come up with 500 test-appropriate devices.

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