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Rye City School District Budget - Wait Till Next Year

As school taxes make up most of Rye residents’ property tax bill, the discussion of the Rye School District budget is always a matter of interest, if not contention, amongst the school community and the general public.

 

By Peter Jovanovich

 

As school taxes make up most of Rye residents’ property tax bill, the discussion of the Rye School District budget is always a matter of interest, if not contention, amongst the school community and the general public.

 

But, not this year. The Board meetings devoted to the 2016/17 budget have been sparsely attended; and this year’s tax cap-compliant budget proposal, with a tax levy increase of 1%, has engendered little comment. So what’s to talk about?

 

What’s coming next year.

 

At the March 29 Rye City School District Board meeting, board member after board member devoted his or her remarks to the 2017/18 budget. What is looming, according to Board Chair Katy Glassberg, is a “projected tax cap override next year.” As Assistant Superintendent Gabriella O’Conner explained, the District’s expenses are rising faster than revenues, under the tax cap, and state aid. In 2016-2017, the gap is being filled by the use of $2.5 million of fund balance.

 

However, as Board member Karen Belanger noted, “It’s getting to the point it’s less and less appropriate to use reserves on an ongoing basis. We are going to have to make up our minds about funding the program with tax dollars.”

 

It’s evident that the Rye City School Board is frustrated not only with the tax cap law but also with the tax cap nomenclature. “We need to focus less on the word override,” said Glassberg, “and focus on the level of funding our schools require.” Board members called for a community conversation that centers on what kind of school program the community wants, on what that program will cost, and on what is needed to create a great education for Rye students. “We pay for the District we want,” said Belanger.

 

“The idea of an override changes the conversation instantly into this awful thing,” remarked Board member Chris Repetto. “We need to get away from this ‘Can you do it without an override or is it tax-compliant’. It doesn’t matter. What that number is, we’ll ask for it, and the voters will show up.”

 

By law, a tax cap override requires a 60% supermajority. To pass last year’s budget, which overrode the tax cap, the Rye City School Board, along with the PTO’s and other community members, engaged in a massive campaign to pass the budget. In an historic turnout, it passed by 70%.

 

The Board acknowledges that there is little appetite for a tax cap override this year – hence the use of fund balance to make up for the lack of additional revenues. Rye City School District spending is rising by 2.5 to 3% a year. In a low inflation environment, a tax cap compliant budget will limit tax increases to 1% or even less. That “structural differential” is what makes the tax cap law problematic, according to board members.

 

As to the likelihood that the tax cap law will be amended or eliminated, State Senator George Latimer, who attended the March 29 meeting, explained there is no appetite in the legislature at the current time to change the law. Latimer, who has suggested changes to the tax cap law, acknowledged that it is crushing for governments to deliver under this legislation. “The real question,” he concluded,” is are we going to have a rational discussion after five years of experience with the tax cap? Or, are we going to see it as a political reality, a very popular political reality, so even discussing changes enters you into the world of political debate.”

 


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