By Matthew P. McGarrity
Once again, school districts across New York State are bracing for another dismal school budget season. This perfect storm is systematically unraveling the fabric of public education.
For many years there has been a perception that there are districts that have had no problem raising taxes. The current tax cap has stripped districts of the practical ability to do this. The penalties for attempting to exceed the tax cap and failing are punitive at best.
Each year, the tax cap is 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. For the past two years, it has been 2 percent, but now for 2014-2015 it will be substantially less because the CPI is lower. Although I understand the need to provide relief to our taxpayers, it should not be at the expense of providing our children with a high-quality education.
Dramatic decreases in state aid have forced districts to make inconceivable decisions. For example, the Orchard Park Central School District is projected to receive $3.2 million less in state aid in the 2014-2015 school year than it received in the 2008-2009 school year, despite dramatic, uncontrollable cost increases over those six years.
The result? School districts have been forced to make unfathomable cuts, reducing academic, advanced and enrichment opportunities, foreign language, music, the arts, athletics, clubs and activities to name a few – ironically, the same things that colleges and employers are looking for in prospective college students and employees.
I believe that most people are aware of the outrage and anger over the implementation of the State Education Department’s education reform initiative. Busloads of parents and educators have sent a loud and clear message to the State Education Department.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent budget proposal sharply criticized the implementation of the Common Core curriculum, but secured no funding for improved implementation of this unfunded mandate.
The Race to the Top and the Common Core curriculum are unprecedented initiatives in education, with expectations for school districts to ensure that students are “college and career ready” – to be accomplished with historically low levels of funding.
Without proper funding to schools, regardless of the initiative, we are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I urge all school districts, parents and community groups to send an even louder message to our local and state elected officials to reinforce the fact that adequate school funding is needed to accomplish what school districts are being asked to do, and provide our students the kind of opportunities they deserve. We have posted their contact information on our website (www.opschools.org) under the community tab.
Matthew P. McGarrity is superintendent of the Orchard Park Central School District.