'We need your input ... now more than ever'

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:21

    On Jan. 21, Warwick PTAs, in conjunction with Community 20/20, will host a Superintendent’s Community Forum for residents of the Warwick Valley School District. It will focus primarily on the new academic challenges and state mandates facing the district, combined with the new tax levy limit law and the financial impact all of this will have. I will also provide updates on existing directives such as maintaining current class sizes, the reduction of athletic costs, technology improvements, increasing rigor at the high school level and program maintenance in the arts and music. Additionally, we will demonstrate how we have responded to community feedback since our first Community Forum in 2009 and throughout the past two years. In short, your input has been vital and is very much needed. Input from the community informs and shapes the Board of Education’s decision-making. Among the topics that will be discussed at the Jan. 21 Forum are the new Common Core Learning Standards, the new State Assessments, Response to Intervention and how best to prepare students for life after school. It is important that both our district parents and community members understand that these new standards will not only change the way schools across the state approach instruction but that they also come at a cost to the district at a time when the state is not providing any additional funding to support these mandates. The issue of funding the mandates presents new challenges to an already difficult budget season. The consequence of the 2% Tax Cap My colleague, Dr. Richard M. Hooley, Superintendent of Schools in the Valley Central School District, recently wrote: “As we move relentlessly toward the new budget season with the end of the Federal Jobs Bill and likely continued cuts in state aid, Albany is eerily quiet on the topic of mandate relief. Without this relief, the heralded '2% Tax Cap’ will surely have the unintended consequence of eviscerating student programs and opportunities.” I could not agree more. It is equally important for our community to know that the so-called “2% Tax Cap” is neither a tax cap nor is the increase likely to be two percent. The law does not cap taxes - it gives voters the ability to cap the levy increase. If a school district puts up a budget that would increase the tax levy by more than two percent, a “super majority” of voters (60 percent) must approve the budget. (If the district puts up a budget that stays within a two percent levy increase, a simple majority, or 50 percent of voters, must still approve the budget.) Under the new law, if voters do not approve a proposed budget for 2012-13, and the district must adopt a contingency budget, it may not increase its current tax levy by any amount - which would impose, in effect, a zero percent cap. In Warwick, a preliminary look at a 2012-13 school budget based on approval by a simple majority (50 percent) of voters (a tax-levy-limit-compliant budget) shows a shortfall at the outset of $3 million. Cost comparatives The entire athletic program runs at a cost of about $1 million. Going to half-day kindergarten would save about $500,000. To make that gap up entirely through teacher salaries would mean a cut in staff of 30 to 37 teachers. If a proposed budget is defeated twice by voters, we would have to cut $4+ million from the current year’s budget (2011-12.) What is a more palatable option? Raising taxes, increasing the levy beyond the calculated limit which will require a super majority (60 percent) of voters? As unpleasant as any of these options are, without significant mandate relief, how can our school district possibly meet the ongoing needs of students and provide the enrichment that marks a quality education? We need your input on these serious issues, now more than ever. Please attend the Superintendent’s Community Forum on Sat., Jan. 21, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Warwick Valley Middle School. Thank you for your continued support of education in our community. Raymond W. Bryant, Ph.D., is the Warwick Valley Superintendent of Schools.