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OpinionEditorial

Pension contributions declined, so why don’t taxes?

People stand in line to sign-in to vote

People stand in line to sign-in to vote regarding the school budget at Greenport High School on May 15, 2012. Credit: Randee Daddona

In the 2014-15 school year, the rate of pension contributions for teacher retirement costs hit a startling 17.53 percent as the fallout from the stock market crash in 2008 had its maximum impact.

That number meant that for every $100 a public-school teacher was paid, another $17.53 had to be contributed for the pension fund, squeezing budgets tight.

Since that year, the investment returns of the fund have improved and the pension contribution has declined. For 2017-18, it will be 11.72 percent, a reduction of almost one-third, or $5.81 for every $100 in pay. Most other school employees, about one-third of staffs, are members of the state pension fund for civil servants, for which contributions have moved in a similar pattern.

What the drop means is that a really big district, with $100 million in teacher salaries, would spend $5.81 million less on teacher pensions next year than in 2014-15. So where is the savings for taxpayers?

For the most part, the idea of school budgets or school taxes ever going down significantly, even when expenses do, is treated as unthinkable. From 1985 to 2000, as the pension contribution declined from 25 percent all the way down to almost zero for several years, school property taxes increased an average of 6 percent a year across Long Island. Educator salaries skyrocketed instead. Meanwhile, many districts have seen the number of students they serve shrink even as budgets grow.

Few residents want to deny teachers a good wage or deny students a great education. It’s just that the taxes they pay on their homes are four times the national average and far more than they can afford.

When expenses shrink because costs or enrollment decline, the tax burden ought to also. — The editorial board

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