Ed board brainstorms law changes

Bill San Antonio

During the Manhasset board of education’s brainstorming session at its meeting last Thursday gauging its interests in amending various state laws, Trustee Patricia Aitken suggested the state look to take inspiration from a neighboring state’s tax cap.

Aitken said she had spoken with a friend who works as a school administrator in New Jersey, who told her that if a school’s adopted budget stayed within the state’s tax cap, its community would not have to vote to pass it until November’s general election, sparing much of the pressure to pass it so quickly after its introduction.

“That seemed to me to be a very logical and approachable balance,” Aitken said. “There’s a bit of a quid pro quo there for you to stay within the cap.”

In New York state, a school community votes on the budget in May regardless of whether it exceeds the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, though if the tax levy exceeds the cap, it must earn a 60 percent supermajority vote in order for the budget to pass.

If that supermajority is not reached, another vote is taken and if the budget is not passed a second time, the board of education must eliminate enough line items to bring the budget within the cap.

Trustee Regina Rule said state Sen. Jack Martins has told the board that the state Legislature doesn’t have immediate plans to amend tax cap laws, though Aitken said the processes of other states should not be ignored.

“But the fact that we’ve got them as a neighboring state, I mean this is insane,” Aitken said. “It seems like it would be easy for them to connect with some districts, get some research, look at that and then make a very plausible case to Albany and that would give them something to sink their teeth into.”

Manhasset residents will vote on a $89 million budget May 21 that would increase its tax levy 5.98 percent, requiring the supermajority vote.

If the budget is not passed after two votes, the board has said it would condense class sections throughout the district and eliminate before and after school programs, including its entire interscholastic athletic program.

“People have to convince the governor that this is an issue,” Aitken said. “This is a conversation that has to start with Martins and [state Assemblywoman Michelle] Schimel, how do we get you guys to understand that these are real issues to our community?”

Board members suggested that the board partner with neighboring districts, especially those that are currently in comfortable financial situations, to express concerns about the tax cap’s future to officials in Albany. 

“You have all these other districts that aren’t in the same situation as we are but could be next year or in a couple years, so it’s important we get on this now,” Aitken said. “We’re not the kind of district that has shrinking enrollment. We’re not like everyone else.”

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Bill San Antonio

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