Many times, when school district or government officials talk about spending, there’s an assumption they’re playing loose with public money and have no respect for hardworking taxpayers.
That assumption spurred the 2-percent state-imposed tax levy cap that Governor Andrew Cuomo says is vital to controlling property taxes.
But it was a gimmick then and is a gimmick now.
To find ways to tighten spending is one thing, but to meet a 2-percent cap in the tax levy is quite another. The Albany-mandated freeze has now shrunk, in many cases, budgets to close to zero increases in spending, making it nearly impossible to fund improvements and upgrades in services and infrastructure.
How did the Shelter Island School District hold the Albany line for the past three years? It wasn’t magic. District officials, under former Superintendent Michael Hynes and current Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, did the only thing they could do to keep from piecing the cap — applied money from the school’s fund balance.
That money is meant to be put aside to meet unanticipated emergency expenses.
This year, that fund balance can’t possibly fill the void. The only way the district can hope to keep from piercing the cap would be to start cutting staff and programs.
Our students are fortunate to be taught by some of the most talented and creative staff members of any district in the state. These are not just people who put in the required hours per day, but steadily show a commitment to working overtime, instructing students who need extra help and advancing those who are capable of greater challenges than the required course work involves.
What should the district eliminate?
Science and technology programs that have been highlighted in feature stories in these pages? The student newspaper that allows talented students to develop writing skills? Sports that have not only produced winning teams, but athletes who shine when it comes to sportsmanship? Transportation for field trips — so urgent for students from this small and remote district — to experience more of the world, such as Broadway theaters and Metropolitan Opera productions?
The usual answer most give is cut everything but the program in which they have some personal interest.
Our answer is different.
Pierce the cap, not to spend wildly, but to maintain important programs and retain the talented staff so vital to ensuring Island students are well prepared for their futures, whether in college, technical training or an immediate job after high school.