Educational leaders in Three Village are inviting the community to join them at a rally called "Stop the Cap, Close the Gap" on Thursday, during which they will urge state lawmakers to eliminate the property tax cap it adopted in 2011.
They say the tax cap threatens the foundations of education in the state by putting a heavier burden on school districts to fund education without any relief of the mandates the state requires.
"It is essential to communicate to New York’s elected officials that we have had enough attacks on public education," Deanna Bavlnka, a school board trustee and parent, said in an email to Patch. "By standing together in solidarity we can send a strong message about our commitment to public education and the importance of maintaining quality education for all students."
This past summer, Three Village joined a lawsuit against the tax cap, alleging that the tax cap legislation is unconstitutional because it makes the minority's votes hold more power than the majority's votes during a budget vote. The move followed a tense budget season that saw Three Village voters reject the district's first attempt at a 2012-13 budget, a $178.6 million proposal that would have carried a 4.48 tax levy increase. Voters later approved a $176.7 million budget that carried a 2.99 percent tax levy increase, which was within Three Village's specific cap set by the state.
The upcoming budget season is likely to be difficult once again, according to school board president Dr. Jeffrey Kerman. He said the cap will put pressure on the district's ability to cope with the contracts it entered into prior to the legislature's adoption of the tax cap.
"By putting in the cap as they did, while it looks good as far as the tax rate goes, it’s not necessarily realistic with all the contracts that are already in place," he said.
As the event is being organized by community members, Three Village's central administration declined to comment on the event.
Among other school districts on Long Island, Comsewogue, Sachem, and Smithtown are also taking part.
The events are being supported by the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the advocacy group Educate NY Now. According to Danielle Asher, a campaign coordinator for the LIPC, Three Village has lost approximately $5 million in state aid over the past three years. She said school districts on both sides of the spectrum are feeling the effects of a loss of state funding.
"We wanted to be out there telling those stories now, and get ahead of the next budget," she said. "We want [the governor] to hear from parents, advocates, school board members, principals and teachers saying, ‘This is what we’re feeling now, we can’t take anymore.’"
Chad Rodack, campaign coordinator for Educate NY Now, said the organization is treating the tax cap effects as not only an educational crisis, but also as a constitutional one.
"The state constitution guarantees a sound basic education for every student in the state," he said. "... Now, schools are running low on reserve money, so they’re cutting year in and year out. Since there's a constitutional obligation, and our districts aren’t able to provide that sound basic education, then the legislators and the governor have not upheld their oaths of office."
State Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, who voted in favor of the tax cap, said that the legislation is important to serve as a reassurance to those who are struggling that there is understanding of their situation.
"There are good reasons, I think, in the present climate to have a tax cap," he said. "... As circumstances change, there is an appropriate time that needs to be found to reassess. I’m not sure we’re at that point at this particular moment."
However, Englebright said, just because the tax cap may be needed at the present time doesn't mean it should permanently remain on the books.
"I think that we as elected officials need to remain aware of changes that generally mark improved economic realities," he said. "Should we as electeds continue to listen? Absolutely."