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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Sky is Falling: Preparing for a 2% Tax Cap

By Peter DeWitt — October 27, 2011 4 min read
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“The sky is falling. I saw it with my eyes. I heard it with my ears. Some of it fell on my tail.” Chicken Little

Many educators have spent the past couple of years dealing with the realities of our economic crisis. Our budgets have been voted down and we are forced to do more with less. Schools are in crisis mode and are at the verge of collapsing. Schools have an increase in mandates, a decrease in funding and are seeing a rise in social issues (i.e. homelessness, parents losing jobs, etc).

This may sound overly dramatic but it is our present situation. Although we do not want to say it is only going to get worse, we can certainly agree that it is not going to get any better for many years. Although schools try to focus on the positive, which is difficult some days, they also have to plan for the future. That future will continue to look very differently than the days of old.

In New York State, schools are anxiously planning for the new 2 percent property tax cap (NY Times). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the tax cap will help ease the burden of suburban school districts. However, if 60 percent of the local school district votes to override the tax cap, then it can be raised in those particular school districts. Tax payers have been paying high property taxes for decades so most school districts will not be in the position of overriding the looming 2 percent cap.

New York taxes have been out of control for many years, so the tax cap brings some welcomed relief to tax payers. However, it would be beneficial if there were other forms of revenue that could be used to offset the lack of funding and this will have devastating effects on school districts.

Possible Changes Districts Will Face
Over the past few years schools have seen many changes that effect students and teachers on a daily basis. When this 2 percent tax cap hits school systems in the spring of 2012, there will be many more changes to come. The following are just a few of the changes that schools can expect:

Fewer electives - Schools will not able to offer as many electives as they once did. Without electives students will not get a well-rounded education and therefore are in more danger of not having their academic needs met.
Study halls - With mandated seat time and less electives, students will find themselves sitting in more study halls. Study halls are not optimal for learning so schools will have to find creative ways to address the needs of students during multiple study hall sessions.
Teacher/Administrator Lay-offs - school personnel salaries make up a large percentage of the school budget which means there will be cuts to staff. Less staff means higher class sizes.
Low enrollment - Suburban school districts are seeing lower enrollment across New York State, which does mean a higher tax burden on the homeowner. It also means that when school see lower enrollment they will be forced to consolidate schools.
School closures - Schools will close due to low enrollment and because schools will have to cut costs.
Energy savings - schools are looking to conserve energy because it is an expense that they can no longer afford. This means lowering the temperature in school buildings.
Consolidated bus runs - School districts will have to consolidate bus runs. Consolidated bus runs will result in more students on buses. In addition, school districts will be forced to limit the areas where students are dropped off which means some students will have longer walks home. In the future they will be the ones who can say they walked three miles uphill in the snow...both ways!
Higher class sizes - Class sizes will rise because it is a direct cost of budget cuts.

Privatization - Cafeteria programs, child care programs and transportation departments are at risk of being privatized. This means that the people who live and work in the school community will lose jobs or be rehired for jobs at a lower wage.

One of the biggest stressors besides limited school budgets and laying off some of brightest teachers is the fact that states are not offering mandate relief to schools and districts still have increased demands due to high stakes testing. Over the past few years states have seen an increase in cuts scores which differentiate a child who doesn’t “meet the standard” and those students who “do meet the standard.” Increase cut scores limit a school district’s chance of meeting annual yearly progress (AYP). At some point schools may very well be the failing institution so many politicians have been talking about.

The Good Old Days
Most people grew up in a time when they sat in classes with thirty other students. Many of those people remember those days fondly by stating that they had high class sizes and turned out just fine. That memory contradicts the message that schools are not preparing students for the future.

The big difference between the good old days and our present situation is the fact that schools have more state and federal mandates than ever before. In addition, high stakes testing pressure is at an all time high because schools do not want to be seen as failing. Lastly, because of brain research we know that students learn differently. Teachers must be able to differentiate lessons and that is very difficult to do with large class sizes.

If states really want their students to grow up and be competitive with the rest of the world, they should find a new method of paying for it because continually cutting education will not increase competitiveness, it will decimate the system.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.