The following letter was posted today at the district website by Yorktown Schools Superintendent Ralph Napolitano on the subject of the 2012-13 budget and the state tax levy cap.
Dear Parents and Community Members,
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, I reviewed the reality of the 2% tax cap with the Trustees. To date, the administration and Board have always done a good job at providing a balanced budget that (a) provided a high-quality education aimed at the development of the whole child and (b) was sensitive to the taxpayers’ individual budgets. We always took into account, when budgeting, that the 2% cap could become a reality and now that it has, the essential question for all Districts is “How do we sustain a high-quality education when the operational budget increase cannot exceed 2%?” The answer is, “not easily.”
The reality of not exceeding 2% would mean that the District would have to ensure that all of its increase in operational costs cannot exceed $1.4 million dollars. In a time of unprecedented tax certioraris, cost increases to heating, lighting, transportation, health insurance, pension plans, unfunded mandates, contractual obligations, reductions in aid and response to twenty-first century educational and facility needs, the task is almost impossible.
When a District can only increase its revenues by 1.4 million, the reality is that this amount could be absorbed by one or two substantiative tax certioraris that the District did not anticipate. Please see the Board Presentation for January 9, 2012, on the website. Where will Districts get the additional monies to offset all of their other expenses? While all Districts do have an opportunity to retain some monies in a fund balance (4%), continuous removal of money from this fund will eventually cause the depletion of this account.
While Yorktown will receive a total of $27,000 over the next four years through the Race To The Top funding, I anticipate that it will cost the District $100,000(+) to receive this $27,000. Clearly, we will not be racing too far with that sum of money and the accompanying expenditures to procure it. Moving forward, the concern is clear, with an operational cap in place where will additional funding come from to fill the gap that many Districts will now face. Clearly, the face of education as we have known it will begin to change: resources will have to be maximized, costs will have to be reduced and alternative funding resources will have to be identified and tapped. Every program will have to be looked at to determine its viability. All positions will have to be reviewed to determine their sustainability. Class sizes will continue to be increased. There are far too many costs outside of a District’s control to ensure that it stay below 2%. Tax certioraris, unfunded mandates, benefit cost increases, contractual obligations, service costs increases, and facility upkeep all totaled will not stay below 2%. Therefore, we will have to look at those costs that we can control and formulate plans to control them.
Now that the 2% tax cap has been put into place, the focus must not be simply on how school districts reduce costs and maximize resources. We have and continue to do this. The focus must be on how do school districts receive alternative funding to offset their costs. It seems that one thing was put into place (a cap) without any consideration to the (gap) it would cause. To provide a total educational experience that meets the academic, social, emotional, physical, aesthetic and moral needs of children in a safe and comfortable environment is something we all desire to maintain and support. How we do this during the state’s financial crisis will be a challenge.
Providing relief to the taxpayer at a time of extreme financial crisis is certainly understandable and commendable. However, how will Districts sustain their educational principles without control over a large number of their costs and without relief from another funding source remains unanswered. The education of our children is far too valuable not to have an alternative plan for funding. To expect that Districts will simply continue to cut expenses by eliminating programs, people and required services is unrealistic and deleterious to the future of public school education. As a school community, we must all carefully reflect on what needs to be accomplished to save public education and how together we can accomplish this goal.