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Long IslandEducation

DiNapoli: Tight school tax caps, low state funding possible again

From right, Danielle Whitcomb helps her 7th-grade students

From right, Danielle Whitcomb helps her 7th-grade students Ashley Adaszewski, Amanda Durham, and Rithika Narayan, as they learn how to analyze DNA samples using a process called gel electrophoresis at Elwood Middle School, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

State cap restrictions likely will hold growth in school tax revenue under 1 percent in 2017-18 for the second year in a row, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said Monday.

The comptroller, a former Mineola school board trustee, also warned that districts next year cannot necessarily count on Albany to provide enough additional state financial aid to make up for lack of local revenue.

That double whammy could leave school districts with the choice of either cutting student services or overriding tax caps — a difficult task requiring 60 percent of local voters to approve budgets.

“It appears that the state is shirking its constitutional responsibility to provide the revenue so that each student receives a sound basic education,” said Robert Dillon, superintendent of the regional Nassau BOCES system, who attended the Regents’ monthly meeting in Albany.

DiNapoli said the state could face gaps in its own budget of up to $5 billion a year for the next three years because of a combination of income-tax cuts and higher spending.

“We may be in for a tighter budget picture as we move into next year,” the comptroller said.

Projections by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget division show much smaller deficits, on the assumption the state will find billions of dollars in savings.

DiNapoli’s comments came in an interview with Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, who praised the comptroller as “one of the good guys.” A video of the interview can be viewed on the association’s website at nyssba.org.

The association, which represents more than 650 school boards in New York, has joined other education groups in lobbying for a change in the state’s cap formula, which would allow tax revenue to grow 2 percent annually.

DiNapoli’s warning came at a time when many schools on Long Island and statewide have just begun restoring sports teams, music classes and other programs trimmed in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.

This also is a time when state policymakers have begun discussing the politically sensitive question of how state school aid might be reallocated to provide a fairer share for districts with large numbers of impoverished students. The state Board of Regents discussed and debated the question for 45 minutes Monday afternoon and is expected to take it up again next month.

Educational leaders on the Island, including Joseph Famularo, superintendent of Bellmore schools; and Charles Russo, the schools chief in East Moriches, issued statements voicing grave concerns over prospects for tight limitations on state aid and local tax revenue. Russo and Famularo are presidents of organizations representing superintendents in Suffolk and Nassau counties, respectively.

“I find his forecast for future state aid very discouraging,” said Dillon, the Nassau BOCES superintendent.

Local school leaders acknowledged Albany’s generosity in distributing aid for the current 2016-17 school year.

The Island’s districts alone received an extra $155 million, including repayment of more than $90 million cut in 2010-11 and 2011-12 to close a state budget deficit. However, local officials worry that full restoration of that money means it will be more difficult for the region to obtain extra funding next year.

State law provides that school aid will grow each year at a rate equal to growth in personal income. A spokesman for Cuomo pointed to that commitment Monday.

“This administration has a proven track record of providing significant school aid increases while balancing the budget every year and holding State spending growth to within 2 percent,” said spokesman Morris Peters.

The state also sets its baseline tax cap — a Cuomo initiative — at either 2 percent, or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. So the baseline cap initially was set at 2 percent for the 2012-13 school year. By 2016-17, however, it plunged to 0.12 percent as inflation fell.

The comptroller’s office is not scheduled to announce next year’s baseline cap for 2017-18 until January. In July, however, the office announced a 0.68 percent increase for municipalities, and DiNapoli on Monday suggested the school rate would not go much higher.

At the local level, individual districts’ caps vary widely. This is due to a variety of school expenses exempted from caps — most notably, costs of interest payments on bonds for school construction or renovation approved by local voters.

Statewide tax cap

The property tax cap, imposed in 2012, limits tax-levy increases to 2 percent, with certain exceptions, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

The statewide allowable tax-levy increase, calculated by the state comptroller’s office, is a baseline figure. Every year, each school district has its own tax-cap limit. The comptroller’s office usually announces the baseline tax-cap for school districts in January.

Statewide caps in past years:

2012-13: 2%

2013-14: 2%

2014-15: 1.46%

2015-16: 1.62%

2016-17: 0.12%

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