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Monday, May 11, 2015

It's in the Fine Print

2 billion (with a "B") dollars (that's $2,000,000,000) for schools in the state of New York to allow them to upgrade technology and also address needs of pre-kindergarten programs and facilities.

Wow! Who could be opposed to that opportunity? Especially since it was entitled the Smart Schools Bond Act? Who wants anything less than smart schools? And, our school district would be eligible to receive $257,106 dollars for the following four areas: equipment; Internet connectivity; high-tech security; and/or facility renovations for prekindergarten programs.

I was not in favor of the proposal.

I voted against this bond act when it appeared on the ballot last November. I felt there was insufficient substance supporting the initiative beyond the catchy title (everything made public as an explanation is contained in the second paragraph of this blog post), and worried about bonding money for technology that could be obsolete years before the taxpayers repay the money. However, a majority of the voting public approved the proposal.

It appeared to be another case of the public making decisions on bumper-sticker explanations of important issues. That is, the reduction of a complex issue to a phrase or identity that could either fit on a bumper-sticker or a media headline. Perhaps the interest/attention span of the general populations has "twitterized" to the point that everything must fit in a minimum number of characters.

At any rate, the proposal was overwhelmingly approved months ago - 62% yes, 38% no. The idea originated in the Governor's office as opposed to the State department of education. As a result, superintendents, leaders of school districts and stewards of the public funds, only recently received some general parameters of the Smart Schools Bond Act.

Chief among the stipulations that have emerged to govern the access and use of the funds is the requirement that the school districts purchase the products/services and then seek reimbursement from the state. While that may not seem much of an obstacle on the surface, you must understand that public school districts are limited in their budget by another state initiative that restricts increases in the district budget to no more than 2% of the tax levy or the actual computed limit derived from a mandated formula to determine the limit. Exceeding the threshold amount of increase would require a 60% majority of voters affirming the budget.

So, since our identified tax levy limit for the upcoming 2015-16 school year, per the state formula, is 0.48% (or approximately $15,000 dollars) if we wanted to replace outdated technology the only way we could add more than $15,000 to the general budget and avoid exceeding our tax levy cap, would be to reduce the budget in other accounts, with the subsequent decrease matching the amount above the $15,000. That is extremely difficult considering our school system, like other public schools throughout the state, has experienced several consecutive years of declining state aid and tax levy caps that restrict growth.

Two billion dollars certainly sounds impressive, but it remains out of reach,

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