The Mamaroneck and Rye Neck schools may not be able to maintain the quality level residents are used to under the new 2% state tax cap, district superintendents say.
Dr. Peter Mustich of Rye Neck and Dr. Robert Shaps of Mamaroneck said at the Local Summit’s Tuesday meeting that the new law takes away local control, puts schools in a financial straight jacket and continues to subject them to top down spending requirements (mandates) over which they have no say.
The NYS legislature passed the law in June and it was subsequently signed into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who regarded it as a key accomplishment of his new administration. Proponents touted it as a practical and symbolic means of keeping the rate of local tax increases down.
Dr. Mustich said that the law will essentially turn Westchester into a borough with the kind of school systems that many former New York City residents moved here to get away from. “The Tax Cap takes local control away and gives it to the state,” he said. “I haven’t been able to reach the Governor in weeks. He doesn’t accept my calls.”
Dr. Shaps said that ongoing state mandates (spending requirements for such things as pensions, health care, transportation and other items), coupled with the tax cap and Federal No Child Left Behind requirements, drain the schools’ resources and make it less possible to provide quality education.
Neither school executive expressed much hope that the tax cap would be overturned. But they did express modest optimism that work by groups of area superintendents and other organizations might reduce mandate pressures.
Both said they recognize that they will have to better inform the public of the pending crisis and Dr. Shaps told the audience that Mamaroneck schools will hold a presentation and discussion about the ABC’s of the new tax cap at 7:30 p.m. on December 5th at the Hommocks Library.
Less affluent school districts will be hardest hit by the tax cap, both said. “There is a relationship between home prices and quality education,” Dr. Shaps said.
Concerned about underfunded schools, State Assemblyman George Latimer said he was appalled by conditions when he visited his old school in Mount Vernon. Rather than reduce the quality of top schools, residents of various communities should work together to increase the quality of all schools, he said.
Latimer said it’s not always easy advocating for Mamaroneck and Rye Neck schools in Albany, as fellow legislators are often skeptical of the districts’ needs. They are particularly critical of Westchester’s multitude of small towns and villages, each with its own government,fire department, police department and school district, he said. This “duplicative government” is financially wasteful, they say.
The Local Summit, which hosted the program, is an informal community council aimed at making to the community a better place for everyone. Its next public discussion, featuring County Executive Robert Astorino, will be held at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck.
— Submitted by Harold Wolfson