Almost all schools districts are complying with the state’s new property-tax cap, but they are proposing to do it with cuts in positions and services, a report today found.
A survey of 58 percent of the state’s school districts concluded that the 403 districts plan to eliminate 4,263 positions in the 2012-13 school year, which starts July 1. Sixty-four percent of districts plan to cut teaching positions.
The report was conducted by the state School Boards Association and the state Association of School Business Officials.
School budgets will be voted on by the public on Tuesday.
“School leaders are taking extraordinary steps to keep their budgets in line with the tax-levy cap,” Timothy Kremer, executive director of the Schools Boards Association, said in a statement. “They are negotiating salary freezes, sharing administrators, and outsourcing services. But that isn’t always enough.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature last year adopted a tax cap that limits the growth in property taxes to 2 percent a year. Some costs were exempted — such as major increases in pension costs — that gave districts on average a 3 percent tax-cap limit.
The average proposed tax levy increase is 2.2 percent this year, state data show.
In an interview last week with Gannett’s Albany Bureau, Cuomo hailed the cap’s success. He said it is stopping automatic increases in property taxes — which are among the highest in the nation. Nearly 92 percent of districts plan to stay within their cap amount.
“You can’t spend more than you have,” Cuomo argued.
Records from the state Education Department show that only 51 of 669 school districts plan to ask voters to override their tax-cap limit. A 60 percent vote is required to exceed the cap.
This year, schools are getting a 4 percent increase in state aid, or about $805 million more.
But Wednesday’s survey said the additional aid isn’t making up for growing costs.
About 25 percent of districts said they have cut more than 20 teaching positions in the last two budget years, the report found, and some have eliminated more than 100 positions.
More than half of the school districts surveyed said class sizes will increase, while 40 percent said they are planning to reduce
some elective programs and extracurricular activities, including some sports.
School officials warned that while most districts are staying within the tax cap, they are using up their reserves to do so. All districts plan to dip into their reserves to limit their property-tax increases.
Statewide, schools plan to use $1.3 billion of their reserves, state records show. They used nearly $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year.
Also, future school-aid increases are tied to the rate of inflation. Schools warned that means aid would be linked to the uncertainty of the economy.
“With so many schools using reserve funds, unless the state provides additional aid or mandate relief, or some combination of both, schools will be forced to continue to erode programs,” said Michael Borges, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials, in a statement.
The school groups urged lawmakers to reduce unfunded mandates that are driving higher education costs, such as requiring schools to pay employee salary increases after a contract has expired, called the Triborough Amendment.
Other proposals included allowing schools to use national procurement cooperatives and eliminating excessive special-education mandates, the groups said.