In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a showdown looming between public school educators and their constituents on one side, and overburdened New York taxpayers on the other: a nasty showdown over — what else? — money.
After two years of having to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent property tax cap — which, as many taxpayers know often is higher — education bureaucrats are chomping at the bit. Even relatively wealthy ones like Niskayuna, which had to cut to the bone last year, are in worse shape this year — facing a modest increase in regular state aid, less “gap elimination aid,” higher payroll and pension costs, and no way to raise the money needed to close their projected deficits.
Then there are the low-income districts, like Schenectady, which closed schools, fired guidance counselors and librarians and cut educational programs to deal with last year’s deficit. This year, they’re putting on a full-court press for an overhaul of the way the state doles out aid to schools: The formula the state was supposed to have followed the past half-dozen years has been roundly ignored, and poor districts like Schenectady’s have been getting seriously shortchanged.
Monday’s newspaper featured a story about a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo that would drastically alter the aid formula so that districts like Schenectady would get enormous increases while rich ones like Rye would gradually get zeroed out. Lupardo acknowledges that her bill has no chance of passing; even lawmakers that represent poor districts, like freshman Assemblyman Phil Steck, realize it is a political nonstarter.
Among other reasons, state legislators often have constituents in more than one school district, and they have to reconcile the differences between their respective interests. And even in relatively rich districts (like Niskayuna), most taxpayers think they’re overburdened; they wouldn’t look kindly on the state cutting their aid back dramatically or eliminating it.
Nor should the state do so. What it does need to do is figure out a better way to raise the money needed for education; reduce costly mandates (like special education) on school districts; and stop grandstanding with gimmicks like STAR and the tax cap.