CLARENCE, N.Y. - Homeowners in one of the top-ranked school districts in the region are facing a nearly double-digit tax increase.
When it comes to public schools, Clarence has long had some of the region's finest, yet even in this relatively affluent, second-ring suburb, a financial storm appears to be gathering.
"It has become increasingly difficult to continue to make reductions," Clarence Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks said to a packed auditorium of students, parents, and property-tax payers Monday night. "We think we've reached the limit this year."
Hicks said that unfunded state and federal mandates are squeezing the district's finances tighter and tighter. Consequently, his proposed budget calls for the elimination of nearly 30 teaching positions as well as certain school programs like family and consumer sciences. Plus, it calls for a tax levy hike of about 10 percent (9.8%).
Students pleaded with the board to stop the cuts.
"Cutting these teachers is a huge mistake," said one student whose remarks were followed by applause. "I really hope that you can offer retirement incentives for our current teachers because it's just such a shame to see them go."
But the size of the proposed tax increase infuriated some homeowners.
"Ten percent increase is outrageous," one woman said. "There are a lot of people out there who are on fixed incomes and who don't have the luxury of having their salary increased every year."
A 10 percent hike means Clarence would have to override the state's property tax cap. To override the cap, more than 60 percent of Clarence voters must approve the board's current budget. If the budget does not pass, the board will likely have to cut an additional 30-60 teachers and staffers.
The problems are likely far worse in less affluent districts. Clarence is just the latest of several in this region where officials say they've run out of room to cut without drastically affecting the quality of education.
New York State Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-Amherst, said something must give.
REPORTER: How concerned are you and others about these school districts, particularly with the property tax cap?
WALTER: I think that there is going to become such a critical mass of push back from the school districts that there is going to have be some sort of mandate relief in order for them to provide the services that the people of the State of New York expect when educating their children.
Walter and Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, have suggested diverting even more state lottery revenue to school districts if state lawmakers refuse to start eliminating certain mandates.
"If we cannot do something to relieve the costs of the mandates, we ought to take some of that money in helping to relieve some of the tax burden on the resident," Gabryszak said.