The 21st Century Schools Act
By Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill
Reform of our crippling property tax system has been a priority since I’ve been in the Assembly. It’s unaffordable and unfair, and there are workable alternatives. That’s why I authored the Equity in Education Act. Plain and simple, this plan calls for a full state takeover of education by eliminating the local school property tax and shifting to the far more progressive statewide income tax.
This proposed solution is the only one that will alleviate the burden of our current property tax system, while assuring a quality education for all of New York’s children. But such a drastic overhaul is going to require a significant infusion cash just to replace the revenue currently generated through property taxes. As the state continues to grapple with fiscal uncertainties, finding close to $20 billion is simply not feasible at this time.
That doesn’t mean we should wait for better days. Our property taxpayers can’t wait. There are things we can do right now to relieve the pressure on taxpayers while actually improving quality. Our underutilized BOCES system is in a perfect position to take advantage of economies of scale to deliver many of the services our kids and their teachers need. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has estimated that if school districts took better advantage of the back office services our BOCES already offer, we could save close to $400 million. That is a significant down payment by any measure.
That savings represents the sharing of services already available. Payroll administration, employee benefit coordination, cooperative purchasing, substitute teacher assignments and safety and risk management are all out there right now through our BOCES. Increasing cooperative participation and improving regional approaches to bigger ticket items like special education and health insurance could yield even greater savings and offer a better product at the same time.
The time is also long overdue for the reexamination of school district lines that have not been comprehensively redrawn since the 1950s. Taking into account population shifts and community growth, boundaries that may have been logical sixty years ago, no longer make sense today. For example, of the 700 school districts in the State of New York, 200 are now serving less than 1,000 students each.
The detailed statewide action plan for the consolidation of school districts and administrative services I am proposing can bring relief and reform. A board, modeled after the successful Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, better known as the Berger Commission, would develop a comprehensive blueprint to remodel our education system. Like Berger, there would be significant regional and public input. The result would assure the goals of modernization, educational excellence, efficiency and cost reduction while preserving the community character of our schools.
One thing we don’t need is another powerless blue ribbon panel. My plan takes these concepts, Comptroller DiNapoli’s findings and ideas put forth by the Commissions on Property Tax Relief and Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness and actually puts them to work. We can economize the delivery of services to better meet our educational needs, enhance the character of our schools, and without undue political interference. Like Berger, the recommendations would automatically go into effect unless voted down in whole by the Legislature.
In 2005, in the face of spiraling Medicaid costs, the Legislature empowered statewide and regional panels to reduce the number of hospital and nursing home beds across the state. Because of the work of the Berger Commission, with assistance from the state and involvement by the community, we now have a stronger health delivery system to withstand these tough times.
We can do the same with education. By working closely with local activists, parents, teachers, administrators and other education advocates we can finally modernize our system, lowering the cost to taxpayers and providing a better education for our children.
The 21st Century Schools Act (A9510) and the Equity in Education Act (A6009) can be viewed at http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/.