The yearly school budget madness is upon us, this year madder than usual owing to the bite the recently enacted property tax cap is beginning to take out of the academic program of school districts throughout the state. A school district like Plainview-Old Bethpage which has been in a really good financial position for some years finds itself seeking to close a 2 million dollar budget hole, and that number was arrived at only after other significant cuts to the budget. Leaders of the district comfort themselves in the knowledge that many Long Island districts are in a much worse position, some slashing entire academic programs and closing neighborhood schools.
Of course budgets can be uncapped by a vote of 60 percent for a higher one, but few boards of education appear to have the political courage to try that route. While NYSUT, our state teachers union, has filed suit against the tax cap law, in part because the super majority provision to pierce the caps violates the one person one vote rule, a decision in that case which is sure to wind up in the appeals courts is months, if not years, off.
Our political leaders in Albany appear to offer us no relief. While to a person I think they know that the property tax is an unfair way to fund public education, few have the will to express alternatives. Governor Cuomo, drooling at the thought of a run for the White House, goes around the state telling voters that school boards are crying wolf and are very often sitting on huge surpluses. He leaves out, what he surely knows, that where there are surplus funds they are largely locked up in restricted accounts that exist to fund known future liabilities. They can’t be spent to offset the property tax rate.
What we have in New York is the equivalent of the warped political process in Washington. We have a public that wants the best public services but refuses to pay the taxes necessary to fund them and an elected leadership that encourages them to think that a credible position. When good schools like ours are starved into failure, as they will be on our current course, our leaders will encourage the public to see that failure as inherent in government run programs and not their failure to provide responsible leadership.
I‘ll have more to say about Plainview-Old Bethpage’s school budget in future posts.