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Long Island

Panel plans to tackle burden of school taxes

Concerned about a rising tax burden its chairman sees as "unsustainable," the Long Island Regional Planning Council is preparing to host a "summit" on the impact school taxes have on rising property tax bills.

The council hopes to convene the summit sometime next month, bringing together school district officials - superintendents, school board members, the teachers union - as well as government leaders at the state, county, town and village levels to try to find solutions.

Council chairman John Cameron said data show that the Consumer Price Index has increased an average of 2.8 percent over the past 10 years, while school spending has outpaced it, increasing an average 6.8 percent.

That increase, he asserted, is "totally unsustainable. We cannot survive. We cannot," Cameron said, noting costs are driving many Long Islanders away, especially the young, while others who stay are drowning financially.

"This is a recipe, a paradigm for failure," Cameron said. "We have to try and do something about this."

Cameron and Michael White, the council's executive director, noted that efforts to consolidate services among school districts and local governments, while helpful, are not enough, citing personnel costs as the largest portion of school budgets.

Noting that K-12 education was one of the Island's biggest assets, White said, "We're not disparaging the school districts. We're calling them into the room to solve the challenge with us, and I'm hoping they will attend."

The leaders of superintendent groups in both counties are indicating a willingness to participate in the summit, while also pointing to consolidation efforts, and advocating for pension changes, to reduce costs.

"I think the school districts are open to positive dialogue on any level with any group that can cooperate with us in achieving greater efficiencies and cost effectiveness," said Henry L. Grishman, Jericho schools superintendent and president of the Nassau Council of School Superintendents.

Wendell Chu, East Islip superintendent and head of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he "welcomed the opportunity to talk about solutions."

In other business, the council voted on a slate of officers for the new year, and voted unanimously for Cameron to remain chairman.

Cameron's continued role on the council looked to be in jeopardy late last year when former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, as one of his last acts, appointed Thomas Garry to the council to fill Cameron's unexpired term.

Garry was welcomed to the council Tuesday and Cameron now has a holdover seat and must be reappointed by new County Executive Edward Mangano, who made a brief appearance at the council Tuesday.

Mangano's press secretary Michael Martino said Mangano had "no plans right now to replace the chairman."

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