GUEST COLUMN: Community Conversation on School District Expenses Kicks Off with Town Halls

Modified: May 10, 2018 11:10am

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In April my administration released our comprehensive report on countywide school district expenses, “Examining School District Expenses and Potential for Consolidation in Erie County”, which builds on Erie County’s leadership in bringing municipalities together to participate in New York State’s efficiency and shared services initiatives, saving millions of dollars annually for county taxpayers, and calls for the inclusion of school districts in future shared services discussions. 52% of the property taxes levied in Erie County go to its 32 individual school districts, but none of these entities were mandated by New York State to participate as part of the 2017 shared services panels, which could potentially save millions more for taxpayers. This week I began a month of Town Hall meetings on this subject at a crowded North Collins public library as the communitywide conversation began in earnest.

Over 70 people crowded into the library’s community room on a warm spring evening for a wide-ranging and robust discussion. Some were surprised to hear that Erie County is one of the few counties in New York State that shares sales tax revenue with local districts, providing these districts with nearly $137 million between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. That significant support will not change, despite what others may have said. Others were unaware that Erie County also supports local school districts by making them whole for unpaid property taxes at county expense, another financial support that will continue. These reaffirmations of county support for our schools were welcome news and set the tone for the dialogue in North Collins.

The conversation also touched on the considerable amount of NYS aid that is available to school districts considering reorganization. Incentive Operating Aid is available for fourteen years to reorganized school districts, beginning with the first year of operation as a reorganized district. For the first five years after consolidation, the new district is eligible for a 40% increase in aid from New York State; after the first five years this aid is reduced by 4% a year until it zeroes out after 15 years. Available to any district that undertakes reorganization, this funding provides a significant long-term financial incentive for consolidated districts and could be used to offset reorganization costs or to enhance programming. This could mean the expansion of gifted and talented programs, expanded AP classes, improved Special Education programs, Career Pathways and internships, or other programs.

The Town Hall meeting went well into the evening, covering not only school district expenses but county infrastructure questions and more. It is always beneficial to have an honest and open dialogue and I thank the many residents who came out to participate in getting this communitywide conversation started. Upcoming Town Hall meetings on school expenses are scheduled for Wednesday May 16 at 7:00 PM at the Newstead Public Library and Tuesday May 29 at 7:00 PM in Cheektowaga’s Julia Boyer Reinstein Library on Losson Road. Please attend if you can. I would like to talk to you.