School boards and teachers unions are screaming bloody murder, but taxpayers — most of them, anyway — have to be rejoicing over the impact of the state’s new 2 percent tax cap. Because of it, school taxes around the state — typically the highest that property owners must pay — will be going up far more modestly than usual. And less than 10 percent of the state’s 671 districts are asking property owners to pass budgets that exceed the cap.
Unfortunately, the news is far from all good. The cap has caused thousands of jobs — including many of teachers — to be chopped. And that’s on top of the many thousands that were chopped in the years before, when state aid was reined in. Fewer teachers mean less-ambitious educational programs, producing students who are less-well-prepared for college and the world beyond.
But with property taxes around the state going up far faster than the rate of inflation practically every year, and with wages relatively stagnant, something had to give.
To save money and spare their colleagues’ jobs, a lot of teachers in a lot of districts agreed to postpone contractual raises, or accepted benefit cuts. That helped somewhat, but with rising pension and health insurance costs, so-called step increases built into many contracts on top of annual cost-of-living raises, and only a modest hike in state aid, a lot of districts had to resort to layoffs to balance their budgets.
It’s going to take some time for New York’s education bureaucrats — school boards, administrators and teachers — to break their old habits and adjust to smaller revenue increases every year. It will mean having to make do with smaller raises and less-generous benefits, but that’s been the reality in the private sector for years.
As for upcoming school budget votes, it’s hard to imagine people rejecting any that stayed under the cap, so most should pass. Some voters may feel like rejecting any tax hike at all, while others may feel that the tax cap compromises their district’s programming too much, but under the circumstances both sentiments seem a bit extreme.