Schools limit taxes to 1.7%

ALBANY -- School districts are proposing austere budgets for voters to decide May 16 in the face of a limited property-tax cap.

The state's roughly 700 districts are proposing an average tax-levy increase of 1.7 percent, while increasing spending by 2.31 percent, records released by the state Education Department this week showed.

Enrollment is expected to drop slightly from 1,494,214 students to 1,489,862 students for districts outside New York City and the largest upstate districts: Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers -- whose budgets do not go to voters.

Only 12 districts are seeking a property-tax-cap override on May 16, which would require a 60 percent vote for passage, the state's data showed.

Districts seeking an override include Mamaroneck in Westchester County and East Ramapo in Rockland County.

The tax cap for the 2017-18 school year, which starts July 1, is 1.26 percent.

"This latest data continues the trend of restrained spending, tax levies less than allowed by the law and declines in student enrollment," Michael Borges, executive director of the state Association of School Business Officials.

Districts are benefiting from a $1.1 billion increase in school aid for the coming fiscal year, a roughly 4 percent increase, to $25.8 billion. School aid has increased $6.2 billion, or 32 percent since 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

"We spend more per child in education dollars than any other state in the United States of America, and I’m proud of it," Cuomo said at an event Wednesday in Queens to ceremonially sign the school aid portion of the budget approved April 9.

Since 2012, for example, 58 percent of budgets that sought overrides were approved -- compared to budgets that need a simple majority passing about 99 percent of the time, according to the state School Boards Association.

The 12 districts seeking an override are the fewest since the tax cap started. Last year, 36 overrides were sought because the tax cap was at a record low -- just 0.12 percent.

The tax cap is 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In recent years, because of low inflation, the tax cap has been below 2 percent.

"A combination of a higher tax cap growth factor – 1.26 percent this year compared with 0.12 percent last year – and a $1 billion increase in state aid has enabled the vast majority of districts to put up budgets that require only simple majority approval," said said Timothy Kremer, the association's executive director.

The tax cap has its anomalies: 25 districts have negative caps for the upcoming fiscal year based on growth in the community and other factors that decide each district's cap limit. So those districts would have to cut taxes to stay under their cap limits.

With all the various exclusions to the cap, the average maximum allowable levy increase is 2 percent for the upcoming year, Borges said.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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