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LI school offices expect fast-rising taxes next year

A kindergarten teacher instructs young students at Moriches

A kindergarten teacher instructs young students at Moriches Elementary School. (Feb. 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday File / Pablo Corradi

Long Island school superintendents generally expect a faster rise next year in the taxes that constitute more than 60 percent of homeowners' tax bills - and many say this will happen even if state lawmakers restore school-aid cuts proposed by Gov. David A. Paterson.

Forty percent of the region's school chiefs project tax-levy hikes in their districts between 4 and 10 percent, according to a survey released Monday by the State Council of School Superintendents.

In contrast, only 14 percent of the Island's districts raised taxes that much during the current school year. The average hike this year was 2.72 percent - the lowest in more than a decade.

"I think it would be a challenge to keep the tax levies that low two years in a row," said Henry Grishman, superintendent of Jericho schools and president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents.

Jericho is projecting a 3.92 percent rise in its tax levy next year, about the same increase as this year's.

The new statewide survey also finds that 57.5 percent of local superintendents expect rate hikes of 4 percent or less. And 2.5 percent predict increases of more than 10 percent.

All those projections assume that Paterson will somehow push through $1.1 billion in statewide aid cuts, which he has proposed to help close a state budget deficit. Most political observers in Albany consider such cuts unrealistic - especially in an election year.

But even if aid money is restored, local school administrators still expect higher rate increases next year.

One big reason cited is a jump in contributions districts must make next year to cover employees' pension benefits. For example, the state Teachers Retirement System is requiring a contribution equal to 8.62 percent of teacher salaries, up from 6.19 percent this year.

Moreover, districts that used temporary measures - such as postponing purchases or shifting interest income from one year to another - to hold down taxes at the height of the economic meltdown in 2009 are finding it difficult to repeat that performance this year.

In Smithtown, Superintendent Edward Ehmann says his system is trying to hold next year's tax increase below 3 percent. Last year and the year before, the district saw no tax increase at all. "It was two zeros in a row, but you can't go on doing that forever," Ehmann said.

The statewide superintendents' survey was conducted in cooperation with the State School Boards Association. On Long Island, the survey collected responses from 38 school executives, out of a total of 122.

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