Westchester County taxpayers are letting legislators know that escalating state-mandated costs are eroding educational opportunities for our children.
A coalition of tax watchdog groups from 16 Westchester school districts is setting its sights on an elusive target: the complex web of state rules and regulations that force districts to spend tax money.
The new coalition, calling itself BEST4NY, is launching an online petition for local relief from state “mandates.” It is holding a public rally at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Greenburgh Town Hall.
“We felt like people who are concerned about the neighborhoods and villages and towns should be involved in this,” said Roger Scheiber of Hastings-on-Hudson, one of five executive committee members running the new group. “We realized that these school budgets are so complex and that once the tax cap got passed, the big issue, the really big issue, became mandates.”
BEST4NY, with the tagline ” Better Education and Smarter Taxation for New York”, is modeled after NYSUT, the New York teachers union and political lobbying organization that is a statewide organization with local chapters in different school districts. In this way, BEST4NY could be viewed as a union for taxpayers and parents.
Widespread agreement that we need mandate relief
Growing numbers of school, municipal and business officials — not to mention Gov. Andrew Cuomo — are calling for the state Legislature to remove some of the hundreds of state rules that force communities to spend money. But the Legislature has been slow to reach agreements because there are so many mandates, great and small, and most are supported by special interests.
School districts say that mandates account for 15 to 20 percent of their overall budgets, dictating spending on everything from data collection and curriculum changes to pension contributions and construction.
Pensions are out of control
I’m glad to see that pension contributions are included in this petition since skyrocketing public pension costs are “the single biggest threat” to local schools’ ability to deliver educational services for New York children. In our local district, pension costs have risen more than 50% over the last two years and now account for 7.2% of the total budget, up from 5.1% in 2010-11. This has meant ongoing cuts in student services as taxes are diverted to pay for pensions. The trend is up, and by 2015 pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.
The Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment are two other burdensome mandates
… the Wicks Law, which requires districts and local governments to use multiple contractors for construction projects; and the Triborough Amendment, which requires that public-employee union contracts stay in effect until a new contract is reached, perhaps reducing the incentive to negotiate.
“There is no traction in either house to repeal the Triborough because the unions oppose it,” said Castelli, who has sponsored bills to reform and repeal it. …
The BEST4NY online petition calling for mandate relief: