Editorial: How can a tax cap not factor in growth?

02/03/2017 5:59 AM |

A major oversight in New York State’s property tax cap law is that it makes no exception for school districts that experience increased enrollment.

The law, which took effect during the 2012-13 fiscal year, requires school districts to limit increases in the amount of money they raise through property taxes each year to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index — whichever is less.

This year, the state has set the tax levy cap at 1.26 percent. This creates problems for districts like Riverhead, where enrollment has grown by more than 600 students in six years. The vast majority of these students aren’t native English speakers, which means the district must hire more staff to accommodate their needs. Classroom space is also an issue.

In a statement this week, Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney said the district’s state aid increases need to keep pace with enrollment. That hasn’t exactly been the case.

The district is scheduled to receive a 4.2 percent boost in state aid next fiscal year — amounting to nearly $575,200 and likely to increase a bit in the coming months.

Nevertheless, one has to wonder whether a cap on the tax levy — a school district’s principal source of funding — is sustainable if it does not acknowledge or accommodate spikes in enrollment.

Last year, noting that nearly a third of state school districts had experienced recent enrollment increases, the New York State School Boards Association recommended that a student growth index be factored in when annual tax levy caps are calculated.

State legislators should work to fix this fundamental flaw.

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