kitchen table math, the sequel: Putting the brakes on school spending in New York State

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Putting the brakes on school spending in New York State

Catherine alerted me to this:
5 Troubling Property Tax Facts
  1. Property tax levies in New York grew by 73 percent from 1998 to 2008—more than twice the rate of inflation during that period.
  2. New York has the second highest combined state and local taxes in the nation and the highest local taxes in America as a percentage of personal income —79 percent above the national average.
  3. The median property taxes paid by New Yorkers are 96 percent above the national median.
  4. When measured in absolute dollars paid, Westchester (1st), Nassau (2nd) and Rockland (5th) counties are among the 5 highest taxed counties in the nation.
  5. When property taxes are measured as a percentage of home value over a three year period, the top sixteen counties in the nation are all in Upstate New York.

New York State school districts and municipalities are facing unrealistically large property tax increases this coming year, caused partly by "skyrocketing" pension costs.  The town portion of my property taxes will increase by over 16% this year.  It is simply unsustainable, and Governor Cuomo has proposed a property tax cap of 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.  If this cap is enacted, schools will be forced to make painful spending cuts.  But they have countered that any tax cap must be coupled with mandate relief.
The group is offering a host of recommendations to lower the mandates on schools. Among them is a one-year freeze on the salaries of school and public employees. They also want public employees to contribute at least 10 percent toward the cost of health insurance and establish a new 401k-type pension tier.
Mandate relief is needed.  Something’s gotta give.

(Cross posted at Education Quick Takes)


Hainish said...

When measured in absolute dollars paid, Westchester (1st), Nassau (2nd) and Rockland (5th) counties are among the 5 highest taxed counties in the nation.

I live in one of these counties, so I can vouch for the taxes being high. But what sense is there in using absolute dollars as a basis for comparison? Those counties are also among the wealthiest and most populous in the U.S.

Grace Nunez said...

I would agree that particular point is not very meaningful by itself. But I think in the context of the other four, it adds another significant bit of information. It's just a lot of money being transferred from taxpayers to the government.

Catherine Johnson said...

My property taxes have doubled in 10 years' time with nothing to show for it. I am simply paying administrators & teachers far more for the same results.

My school so abjectly failed to teach my son math (and writing) that I am now paying parochial school tuition.

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, I am probably paying far more for worse results. Ten years ago we hired a curriculum administrator who adopted Math Trailblazers, so now we have kids arriving at middle school not knowing their math facts (including addition & subtraction) & not knowing how to do long division.

A couple of years ago the curriculum director sent the Open Court books up to the attic & adopted Fountas & Pinnell.

More is less.

lgm said...

The district here keeps saying the mandates are the outrageous expense. However, they did admit that the budget must rise by 2% solely for the staff salary grid increase....wouldn't give a number for the rest of the compensation package. A compensation cap is needed. Or less funding from local and more from state.

Catherine Johnson said...

A grid increase??


Catherine Johnson said...

fyi, for people who don't know what 'grid increases' are (I didn't until just a few weeks ago):

Districts give 4 kinds of raises, I think:

* step increases
* column increases (column increases may also be called "lane" increases, I think)
* longevity increases
* grid increases

The grid is actually a grid: it shows all the different salaries at every level: years served & advanced degrees obtained.

As I recall, NY state teachers have 17 step increases over a 30-year career (not fact-checked); these raises are given automatically when a teacher reaches 'X' years of service.

"Longevity increaess," in my district, kick in when a teacher has reached the end of his or her step increases.

Column increases are given when a teacher earns an advanced degree.

What happens with the grid is that each new union contract negotiates an across-the-board increase in ALL numbers in the grid for every year the contract is in effect.

Then the step & column increases are figured as a percentage on the grid figures.

Catherine Johnson said...

Because our union contract expired in June 2009 - the district & the union are now at "impasse" - we have not been paying grid increases for two years now.

Under Taylor law, however, we are required to carry on paying step, column, and longevity increases negotiated when times were good.

Grace Nunez said...

That explanation of raises is a bit confusing. It's going to take a while to sink in.

But one thing seems clear - no mention of a "merit" raise.

Catherine Johnson said...

Robyne had to explain it to me several times before I finally got it.

Just visualize a grid - a table - with tons of numbers filled in.

Each little box represents one possible salary configuration -- i.e.: 3 years service & working on Masters degree.

Or 5 years service and working on Ed.D. (Not sure if our teachers get raises for attending professional development workshops).

The "grid increase" is an across-the-grid increase of, say, 3% to every single figure in the grid. The next year there's another 3.5% increase to every single figure on the board.

If you get a 5% raise for moving from your 2nd year to your 3rd year, that 5% is now on top of the across-the-board grid increase of 3%, or whatever it was.

The base on which step-&-column-&-longevity raises are figured keeps going on.

Grace Nunez said...

I just took a quick look at our teachers contract. It has the grid, but I only saw longevity increases for teaching assistants. I'll take a closer look later.

Anonymous said...

The community college where I am an adjunct has a similar compensation schedule. Basically, your length of service and educational attainment determine where you land in the schedule. We can get lane credits by attending continuing education courses and/or workshops. When your accrued lane credits reach the prescribed, magic number, you can move across the array into the next lane.

If I recall correctly, a workshop is only 0.1 lane credit, which isn't a whole lot, considering several lane credits are required to move across - it would be necessary to attend scores of insufferable workshops just for a few post-tax dollars. Given that, the immediate gratification of $100 compensation per workshop is much more enticing.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous -- thanks!


Catherine Johnson said...

Grace - everything should be in there.

I may have a more complete version of the contract than is available on See Through New York ---

ChemProf said...

The grid is one issue that makes it basically impossible to control teacher salaries, without violating the contract. If all your teachers continue, or if (as is happening in California now) you only lay off the youngest teachers, the budget for salaries will increase because people move up the grid in terms of service or education credits or both. That may be what lgm's district meant by "grid increases." Often, increasing the whole grid is called "cost of living," and teachers (and civil servants in general) don't seem to realize that such across the board increases are really rare in private employment, especially during a recession.

lgm said...

I beleive he meant COLA increase..i.e. where the contract promises that the whole grid moves up a certain percentage.

If the property tax was capped at 2% per year, there would not be enough to fulfill the contracts given to the teachers and the admin both, much less deal with the increase in health care costs, fuel oil, bussing, and sped. There isn't even enough left in extracurriculars to cover those costs. The mandates have to go, or the teacher extras - such as dept chair pay, sixth period pay, etc - have to go or a sufficient number of reg ed students have to be persuaded to leave.

Catherine Johnson said...

Often, increasing the whole grid is called "cost of living," and teachers (and civil servants in general) don't seem to realize that such across the board increases are really rare in private employment, especially during a recession.

right - and our grid increases have been above the rate of inflation for years now