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School districts are laying off teachers, teacherís aides, bus drivers, principals...

Voters go to the polls on controversial school budgets

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Voters in over 700 school districts will have an opportunity to weigh in on school budgets Tuesday. The State School Boards Association says the average tax increase proposed is around three and a half percent, and they expect the majority of the budgets to be approved.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The School Board Association’s executive director, Tim Kremer, says while overall spending is up at the state’s school districts by just 1.3%, the average tax increase will be around 3.4%, largely due to increasing costs beyond schools’ control, like pension and health care payments to employees and retirees.

He says schools, which received a $1.2 billion dollar aid reduction in the state budget, are coping by spending down reserves, trying to negotiate concessions with labor unions, and sharing services.

“When you your get state aid cut, and you’ve got to try to make ends meet you’re going to have to try to turn somewhere,” said Kremer, who said schools have just three sources of funds, state and federal aid, and property taxes.
 
There will also be up to thousands of lay offs and reductions in programs as a result of the largely austere school budgets, says the State School Board’s Dave Albert, who will be monitoring the vote results Tuesday.

“School districts are laying off teachers, teacher’s aides, bus drivers, principals,” Albert said. “They are cutting or eliminating pre-K programs, full day kindergarten, elementary school music.”

Governor Cuomo has been traveling the state promoting a 2% property tax cap. On Monday, he was on Long Island talking to homeowners, whom he says are being forced out of their homes by the ever increasing
taxes.   

“Years ago when you went to buy a house, the question was, can you afford the mortgage,” said Cuomo. “Now the question is often , can you afford the property taxes.” 

Albert, with the School Boards Association, says a 2% limit this year would have led to even more pain for schools and school children, without major changes to help schools cope with pension and health care costs.

“We can’t box school boards in on mandatory expenses,” said Albert, who says it’s possible that pension costs alone could rise more than a 2% cap in overall tax revenue.

Governor Cuomo has been railing against increased spending at schools, saying the school spending increases in recent decades has not resulted in better test scores or a better education for New York’s children.  But Cuomo has stopped short of instructing voters to reject the school budgets.

Public opinion polls show widespread voter support for a tax cap.
Nevertheless, the School Board’s Tim Kremer says he expects most of the school budgets, with the higher than 2% tax increases, will pass.
He says during the past few decades, the majority of school budgets are approved each year.

 “I think we’re going to be over 90% in our passage rate,” Kremer said.

Turn out, though, is expected to be low, on average only around 15% of all eligible voters actually cast ballots on school budget votes. 

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