Supers: Districts Must Adjust to New Tax Cap

Southampton and Bridgehampton superintendents weigh in on new law and mandate relief.

Local school administrators are already preparing for next year's budget season after the New York State Legislature adopted a tax cap Friday that limits annual tax levy increases to 2 percent.

The legislation also would allow districts to float budgets with higher tax hikes, but those would have to be passed by a supermajority of 60 percent of voters.

Superintendent J. Richard Boyes said Tuesday that his district will do everything it can to maintain services and programs at current levels while aiming for the 2 percent mark.

Southampton's 2011-12 budget had a , enough to pierce to cap.

Having known for some time that a tax cap was coming, Boyes said the district has held costs down wherever it can, including labor contracts. The idea is to keep costs low so voters are not forced to make choices, he said.

Boyes said the district could always manage to trim the budget to stay under 2 percent, but residents are used to having the breadth of athletic programs, foreign languages, clubs, advanced placement courses and summer programs that Southampton offers.

“We’re getting out into the community and we’re framing the issue for them that they have to decide what they want for the school district,” he said.

One way the state promises to help school districts adhere to the cap is through mandate relief — loosening or eliminating requirements regarding class size, testing, special education, safety, auditing, annual reports, etc.

Boyes said there are well over 100 mandates that impact school districts, each with different implications. “Each mandate, if you take it on its own, makes sense,” he said. “I don’t argue with it.” But when all the costs are added up, he explained, that’s when it becomes an issue.

In sister legislation to the tax cap, the state Legislature created a Mandate Relief Council to identify and repeal “unsound, unduly burdensome laws and regulations.” Repealing mandates could take longer than is needed to realize significant cost savings in upcoming 2012-13 budgets.

“I don’t think we’re going to see enough specific mandate relief for next year,” Boyes predicted.

Superintendent Lois R. Favre agreed. “New York State takes every federal regulation and makes it more difficult to implement than was ever intended,” she said Tuesday. “Mandate relief is not a viable relief valve for most districts.”

Bridgehampton voters passed one of the region's higher tax bumps in May, when .

It is still too early to tell if the district will seek a 60 percent supermajority to override the cap for 2012-13, Farve said.

“I will, as always, present the basic ‘if this – then what’ scenarios to the community, and it will be up to them,” she said. “Bridgehampton community members have supported the school, and I anticipate that they will continue to do so as long as they have the correct information to make an informed decision.”

Favre said the cap will probably mean a reduction in staffing and programs, but the district still needs time to look at the impacts of the legislation.


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