The East Hampton School Board announced last week that it is likely to seek voter approval to exceed the state cap on tax increases for 2014-15. The move is not entirely unexpected, and appears justified, at least for the coming year. But this should not be the end of the discussion about taxpayer support of public education.
Thanks to holding expenses in check for several successive years, the district has been able to meet the so-called 2-percent cap, but there is very little left now to cut from the budget in East Hampton — or in other large South Fork districts that have met the cap. Students already seem to have been negatively affected. Going further would mean seriously undermining educational quality.
As we have noted before, the pressure comes from the top, specifically from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s often-stated interest in property-tax relief. As Mr. Cuomo sees it, the state has too many small taxing entities, which results in too much money coming from state residents’ pockets. The governor believes that trimming school spending through shared services is the best way to meet the challenge.
On eastern Long Island, where the schools take in the largest portion of the money raised by taxes, the governor’s ideas for reform appear to have plenty to recommend them. Each of the often small districts seems top-heavy with administrators pulling in six-figure salaries and ample benefits. While some resistance is to be expected from those who might see their fiefdoms reduced, a new, hard look at consolidation, particularly at the top of the pay scale, should be taken.
Voters, we suspect, will be supportive of districts that seek to go above the tax cap this year, and perhaps for one or two more cycles. Beyond that, however, patience as well as wallets will begin to get thin. Looking toward the long term, seeking ways to reduce the administrative costs of education by consolidation is something that must be considered.