To the Editor:
The Herald’s thoughtful editorial, “No easy answers in high school district” (Feb. 28-March 6), was spot on. The piece correctly notes the Central High School District’s dilemma of being caught in the middle between its obligation to provide the community with an excellent school system while trying to deal with the state’s attempts to solve its own fiscal problems. At a time when the state continues to offer insufficient school aid and continues to pass the cost of its unfunded mandates on to districts, it has now imposed a 2 percent tax cap which severely limits a district’s ability to raise minimally needed revenue.
Many who initially ballyhooed this new law as a great way to hold the line on property taxes, if they are not now beginning to realize its consequences, soon will. Inevitably, this egregious tax cap can lead only to a steady erosion of academic opportunities for students, a layoff of more teachers translating into unmanageable class sizes, further cutbacks in extra-curricular programs, an elimination of school services to community residents and the slow but sure deterioration of school facilities.
Moreover, this new legislation has the potential to lead to a decline in property values in some communities. For example, while the law allows a district to try to exceed the cap, to do so requires a 60 percent voter approval. Since it is difficult enough to get a normal majority, getting 60 percent approval in many districts is remote. Thus, some parents and prospective home buyers may end up choosing to move to a community that can.
While we sympathize with those who are to be inconvenienced by the district’s decision to opt for the less costly substitution of MTA passes instead of the more expensive yellow bus transportation, their ire should be directed at Governor Cuomo and State Senate leader Dean Skelos, the prime movers behind the tax cap on school budgets.
Perhaps there are some who, unhappy with a proposed bare bones budget that eliminates a component they have heretofore counted on, believe a vote against the budget will “show the district” how angry they are. Unfortunately, doing so will only exacerbate the problem by guaranteeing additional cutbacks under austerity, and a likely expansion of MTA passes to additional non-public school students who otherwise would have been transported by yellow buses.
Instead, what is needed is to fight harder for additional state aid and for some reasonable amelioration of the mad cap tax cap.
Richard E. Herrmann
Valley Stream Teachers’ Association