It seems likely that New York State will pass some sort of property tax cap this year. A recent poll showed that 78% of the New Yorkers favor a tax cap. The New York School Boards Association and the New York State Unified Teachers Union (NYSUT) believe they have the political muscle to quash the tax cap in the State Assembly or State Senate. Whatever happens, it will be am interesting year.
I wonder how the Nyack School District is preparing for the possible passage of a state tax cap. The cap would likely limit the growth in the tax levy to 4% more than the prior year, or to 125% of the inflation rate (whichever is lower). The cap would dramatically limit the District’s ability to increase taxes to pay for raises, new programs, maintenance, and repairs.
The District has historically levied taxes at almost double that rate. It used the tax dollars to fund the growth in salaries and benefits for school district employees, especially teachers and administrators. Historically, just under 80% of the annual school budget paid for salaries and benefits.
The existing teachers’ union contract expires this year and a new contract is currently being negotiated behind closed doors. There is no mechanism for public participation and once the contract is accepted, it can not be questioned or changed, regardless of the tax cap or the community’s ability to pay. So prudence would dictate that District negotiators consider the tax cap as a certainty and negotiate the teachers’ union contract accordingly (with the recognition that if they give generous raises, other programs would have to be scrapped to pay for the raises). The District would be forced to live within its means and stop using the taxpayers as debit cards.
Aside from the tax cap, the economy is in real turnoil. Property values have plummeted, and job losses are at record rates. The community needs some tax relief. In prior recessions, the teachers union has had to accept a wage freeze. The freeze applied only to the growth in teachers’ base salaries. Teachers still enjoyed annual salary boosts based on years of service and certifiable skill enhancements. Again, even if a base salary wage freeze was imposed, teachers will still get raises based on their years of service and skill sets.
All of these realities mandate that the District negotiate the new teachers contract with a wage freeze for the first year or two. After that, it is reasonable to consider fair increases in accordance with the District’s ability to levy taxes and with the realities of the economy. Our teachers are well paid and deserve to be so. If the District wrongly commits all of its future tax levies to pay contractual salary increases, there will be no money left for programs in art, music or technology. That would be a real tragedy.
What can you do? Write to Bryan Burrell (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell him you support a base salary wage freeze in the new teacher’s contract. While you are writing, tell him to also freeze administrative salaries for the next school year too.
Thank you for reading.