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Home Schools Rye Schools Board of Ed Zahm Letter: School Budget Needs to be on Sustainable Funding Path

Zahm Letter: School Budget Needs to be on Sustainable Funding Path

This letter to MyRye.com is from Rye resident Bob Zahm:

Dear Neighbor,

Please consider this message a one-shot deal.   It is not a solicitation for donations or a missive in support of a political party.  It is a request that you think deeply about the proposed school budget and vote next Tuesday, May 20th.

While I strongly believe in the need for and value of public education as well as the quality of our Rye schools, I also believe in the need for rational spending and taxation.  The proposed budget contains fundamental flaws in both revenue and spending.

On the revenue side, the tradition of unsustainable funding continues with the planned use of $2.7 million in reserves.  To make this practice slightly more sustainable, the Board of Ed is poised to impose a Utility Tax if the budget passes.  The Utility Tax is expected to generate over $1million per year.  This new tax would NOT make the school spending sustainable, but merely slow the drain on reserves.   Other issues with the Utility Tax are:

> The Utility Tax is non-transparent.  You’ll never know how much you’re actually paying because it is spread across many of the utilities you use and combined with other charges and taxes.  You won’t find an estimate of the tax you would pay in the budget documents distributed by the School District.  I’m figuring $300-$400 / year on top of the proposed “average home” property tax increase of $172/year.

> The Utility Tax is grossly inefficient because it is not deductible from federal income tax.  Depending on your tax bracket, the Utility Tax may cost you 25% or more per dollar collected than an equivalent property tax.  Property tax assessment could be effectively lower – after Federal income tax – to generate the same level of funds for Rye’s schools.

> The Utility tax will not shift the tax burden to businesses as suggested by some Board members and one candidate.  Given the high percentage of residential property (over 75%) in Rye, that’s just not going to happen.  Even so, are local businesses really under-taxed?

> The Utility Tax is regressive.  The tax will disproportionally affect low income households.  Is that “fair”?

On the expense side, the proposed budget has no meaningful spending reductions vs the current school year.  District presentations repeatedly reported actions taken in previous years as the basis for saying there was nothing else to be done.  Given continued spending growth, previous actions have clearly been insufficient.  Obvious reduction opportunities include the recently added assistant elementary school principals ($400-$500,000) and replacement teacher costs incurred due to the long running standardized testing issue ($200k+).  As suggested by Ed Fox and favorably discussed by several other Board members, the Board could also restructure its facilities spending through the use of bonding.  Doing so would increase funds received from NY State and partially address issues with the so-called Tax cap.

We owe our Board of Ed members a vote of thanks for the time and effort they put into their service.  But we do not owe them support for decisions like the Utility Tax and the proposed budget.  Instead, we must make clear what we expect – continued excellence in education with the most affordable and honest funding possible.

I believe, as does the Board, that Rye school spending must increase in excess of the so-called tax cap, but our schools need to be on a sustainable funding path.  I also believe that we deserve clear, transparent, and efficient taxes.  The Board’s attempt to avoid the necessity of a tax cap override vote via the Utility Tax and continued reserves draw-down conflicts with these beliefs.

As Rye residents, we owe it to ourselves and the community to vote and to vote based on a full understanding of the issues presented to us.  Please make it to the polls on Tuesday.

Additionally, in the event that the budget passes and the Board believes itself empowered, thereby, to impose the Utility Tax, please attend the Board’s meeting Tuesday evening to express your opinion about the tax.  While tougher to achieve, seeking voter support for a “tax cap” override to get the full amount of funds needed for our schools, would present us with an honest question and provide a way to get to a sustainable budget.  One that I, personally, would support.

Thank you for reading my letter.  My apologies for its length.

Sincerely,

Bob Zahm

Ridgewood Drive, Rye

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