Rally against state tax levy cap planned for Riverhead

The front steps of Pulaski Street School will play host to a rally against last year’s state tax levy cap legislation next Thursday.

“Stop the Cap, Close the Gap,” planned for 4 p.m. on Oct. 25, will raise awareness about New York State policies that “are the causes of the unfolding education crisis,” said Barbara Barosa, president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association.

The RCFA along with Educate NY Now, a coalition seeking to encourage others to “demand that our state government fulfills New York’s constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education,” will host the event.

“We’re having this rally because public education is in a crisis,” Ms. Barosa said at a school board meeting on Oct. 9. “The state has reduced its role in funding our schools and they’ve passed the burden down to the local communities … this is only going to get worse.”

The tax cap was passed last year in the state Legislature.

The law limits the amount government agencies and school districts can increase their tax levies — the total amount collected from local taxpayers — to no more than 2 percent from year to year. Agencies can override that cap, but require a supermajority from voters for approval, a tactic few Long Island school districts attempted during the last budget votes in the spring.

To remain under the tax levy cap, the Riverhead school district was forced to cut more than $3.2 million from its planned budget for the 2012-13 school year, largely through the firing of 21 employees, including 12 teachers and nine teaching assistants.

The district also cut its entire adult education program, made smaller cuts to after-school activities and sports, and combined bus runs to save money.

The roughly $112 million budget passed with 61 percent of the vote in May during the lowest voter turnout since at least 2000.

Ms. Barosa said the state’s policies, which include decreases in state aid, are forcing local school boards to make “very tough decisions.”

The rally is designed to help people understand the tax cap situation, she said.

“We know it, but we need to make sure everyone in our community also knows this because they look to the boards and they say, ‘You guys, fix it’ and you can’t fix it alone,” Mr. Barosa said. “But all of us, the entire community of school board members, teachers, parents, students, we can do it together.”

Ms. Barosa said she understands the community pays high taxes and agreed something needed to be done to address that concern. But the tax cap, she said, is not the answer.

The rally is open to the public, and at least one school official said she would attend.

“I’ll be there,” said school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse.

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