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Another Voice: State tax cap looms as a threat to school districts next year

By Michael J. Borges

My wife cringes and rolls her eyes at me when I bring up school finances and property tax caps at social gatherings like barbecues and my daughter’s field hockey games. For her and many others, school finances are not considered polite topics of conversation.

However, as the executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials, it’s my job and that of my members to talk about these issues and the balancing act of providing a quality education at a cost that is acceptable to a majority of the community.

I believe as a society, as parents and as taxpayers, that we want our public schools to deliver the best education possible to our children, with the caveat that we achieve this worthy goal at a reasonable price. Key to delivering a quality education at a reasonable price is the effective allocation of resources, and key to achieving this is the involvement of the school business official.

The school business official is the administrator in your school district (hopefully your district has one) responsible for finances, including borrowing, transportation, food service, buildings and grounds and many other administrative aspects of running a school district.

That individual saves school districts and their taxpayers money on a regular basis by recommending to their superintendents and school boards both the effective and efficient use of available resources, like changing bus routes to cut down on gasoline expenses, or refinancing debt to save on interest charges, or purchasing health care through regional consortiums.

Your school district’s leaders and particularly your school business official’s job next year will get even tougher if projections for next year’s tax cap remain below or at zero. For clarification, the 2 percent tax cap is not really 2 percent; it’s 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less.

For those who are not economists, the CPI is basically the rate of inflation for core consumer purchases like food, energy, housing, etc. And right now that inflation figure is minus 0.1 percent.

What does this mean for school districts? This means all the programs and staff recently restored will be on the chopping block again if districts cannot raise sufficient revenues locally or obtain a significant state aid increase. The impact of these cuts will adversely affect the educational opportunities of students across the state in varying degrees.

Polite conversation or not, we should all be concerned with our school district’s finances when it impacts the future of our children.

Michael Borges is executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials.