Educators tout property tax relief legislation

State Senator Brian Foley and Assemblyman Steve Engelbright attended a press event this week to discuss state legislation they hope will improve the way New York’s public school are funded.

State lawmakers and area educators joined together this week to show unified support for the school property tax relief act — legislation they say will provide property tax relief to Suffolk County residents.

The bills call for 50/50 funding from the state and the district, increased reimbursement for state-mandated programs and a change to the school aid formula.
Introduced by Sen. Brian Foley and Assemblyman Steve Englebright in their respective houses, the school property tax relief act — dubbed the “Framework for the Future” proposal — aims to make property taxes more equitable throughout the state, lawmakers said. The legislation is the latest in a string of proposals that has been introduced in an effort to address the disparity between increasing school taxes and decreasing school aid on Long Island.
Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer Gary Bixhorn said there needs to be an overhaul of the way state aid is generated, in order to fix the inequity.
“The structure of the basic system puts Long Island at a disadvantage,” said Mr. Bixhorn at a press conference sponsored by the Long Island Education Coalition at the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Huntington Station campus. Mr. Bixhorn said the committee began meeting about five years ago to troubleshoot ways school districts can work together with lawmakers to bring some relief, not only to taxpayers on Long Island, but also school districts that have to keep up with unfunded mandates imposed by the state.
Mr. Bixhorn said the proposal will help reduce dependence on property taxes, enhance school efficiency and promote fairness in the distribution of state aid.
The proposal includes a provision were the state would provide equal funding in education and a change to the state aid formula that would recognize the costs associated with mandates for special education, employee health insurance and pension plans.
The proposal also calls for the replacement of $4.2 billion in property tax revenue with an equal amount of state aid, which lawmakers said would result in a 15 percent reduction in statewide property tax. Provisions for expense-driven state aid formulas, support for districts with high needs, and limits on state aid for high-wealth districts are also included in the proposal.
Mr. Foley likened the challenge faced by Long Island school districts to an opportunity in disguise.
“The opportunity now is perhaps not having as much funding as we’d like to fund education,” Mr. Foley said. “The opportunity now is to talk about the basics, the fundamental underlying principle, and framework that, quite frankly, is causing the problem we speak of.”
Though the legislation is still at the committee level, both lawmakers said they would like to see it passed within the next year. “It’s a blueprint for the future,” Mr. Englebright said. “It’s a blueprint for optimism. And it is optimism that will ultimately prevail.”
Longwood superintendent Allen Gerstenlauer, a member of the coalition’s legislative committee, called the bills a good effort to fix school aid funding problems in the state.
“This has got real potential,” he said.