Idea for state legislation to reduce school taxes originated in Warwick

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WARWICK - Warwick residents Michael and Terry McGill have three children attending St. Stephen's - St. Edward's Elementary School and another at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen. "Our tuition expense is about $1,100 each month," said Terry McGill. "Besides this, we pay about $5,000 each year in local school taxes." Thanks to an idea, which originated in Warwick, parents who choose to send their children to tuition supported private or parochial schools in New York State may one day receive a significant tax break. The proposal also is intended to reduce school taxes for all property owners including those who send children to public school or who do not have children in any school. State Sens. Serphin Maltese, R-Queens, and Sen. William Larkin Jr., R-C-New Windsor) have just re-introduced an educational expense school property tax credit bill known as the Freedom of Education Act. A companion bill also was re-introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Daniel Hooker, R-Saugerties. Both bills are now in committee. The Freedom of Education Act would basically provide that any owner of real estate in any school district in New York who pays all or part of the total educational expenses for a student in a public or private elementary or secondary school could receive a credit for their school taxes. The amount of the credit would not exceed 90 percent of the taxpayer's school real property tax assessment. Edward Scharfenberger, a retired attorney and chairman of the Warwick Taxpayers Association, said the purpose of the legislation is to lessen the costs of public schooling by increasing the number of tuition paying students. That would likely occur if those who pay school tuition to private schools were not also required to pay the full amount of their local school taxes, he said. Unlike voucher proposals, which Scharfenberger equates with shifting taxes from one group of taxpayers to another, the Freedom of Education Act would simply allow participants to keep and spend a portion of their own money for educational expenses. Fewer students in public schools would theoretically lower costs and that in turn would mean lower school taxes for everyone in the community. John Moore, a past member of the Warwick School Board, has a mixed opinion on the issue. "A good public school system helps to increase our property values and benefits the entire community," he said. "I believe people who volunteer to send their children to a private school should be prepared to pay for that. That's why I'm against vouchers. "However, if this bill, as it's designed, can help reduce school taxes for everyone, then I'm in favor of it," Moore added. "Too many of our older citizens have been forced to leave Warwick, the town they helped build, because of rising taxes." The idea, which led to the current legislation, originated about five years ago with Scharfenberger and the Warwick Taxpayers Association. Scharfenberger and Maltese had once worked closely together in the state's Conservative Party, so he needed no introduction. And he believed that at that time Maltese was the best and most logical choice to sponsor the legislation. The senator agreed and introduced the bill in the state Senate. But it languished in committee and had to be re-introduced twice. An Assembly sponsor was also needed and Hooker agreed to be that person. Scharfenberger is also vice president for communication for the Warwick Valley Chapter of Citizens for Educational Freedom. The organization is federation headquarters for five New York Chapters, each of which will lobby the members of the committees to bring the bills to the Senate and Assembly floors for a vote. In the Senate, the bill is in the Real Property Tax Committee; in the Assembly, it sits in the Local Government Committee. "By allowing participants to keep and spend a portion of their own money for educational expenses," said Scharfenberger, "more funds would be available for household and other needs. And every federal, state and local taxpayer would benefit." The Warwick Valley Chapter of Citizens for Educational Freedom can be contacted at 986-5591 or by e-mail at