On June 30, 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the two percent property tax cap into law. Because of this, schools statewide are being restricted dramatically in their ability to raise taxes. One of the hardest-hit regions of the state is Long Island, where many schools have already begun to make cuts in the budget by removing programs and teachers, and where some school districts were already struggling before the tax cap was made official.
However, each Long Island school district has been trying to combat the tax cap differently. The Levittown School District, located in Nassau County, has taken a broad approach to surviving the tax cap; it involves things like teacher and administration layoffs, voluntary salary freezes, increased class and enrollment sizes, and more.
Levittown had to make numerous cuts, and one of the cuts that appears to be of the largest concern to many people within the district involved layoffs. A total of 108 people working within the Levittown School District–including teachers, teacher aides, and administration members–were given layoff notices for next year, and 66 people were officially laid off.
However, regardless of layoffs, property taxes are still rising. “The way that taxes go up is very, very complicated,” explained James Grossane, the newly-appointed superintendent for the district. “How those taxes are gathered is set by the county. The county says, ‘Well, the residential homeowner will pay a certain portion; the business will pay a portion; and other entities [will pay a portion]. There are four types of…property in Nassau County, so the county determines if the homeowner’s going to pay 70 percent, or if they’re going to pay 60 percent of [the tax levy]…That’s changed over the course of time, so that’s why [the homeowner] might say, ‘Wow. They said my taxes were only supposed to go up three percent, but it went up ten percent.’ Even though the county sometimes says they have nothing to do with it, they have very much to do with it.”
Another area where the district had to make cuts was in the technology budget. “[The technology cuts] will affect us in the fact that we won’t be able to move forward as quickly as we would like to; however, we’re still moving forward with the technology plans [for the district],” said Grossane. The district will still replace outdated computers annually, as well as invest in buying SmartBoards and funding laptop computer labs. “We’re keeping up with the technology; [the technology cuts] just slows us a little bit,” he said.
An increase in class sizes is also worrying parents. From kindergarten up to and including eighth grade, all class sizes were to increase by one student, as compared to the class sizes of the 2010-2011 school year. Also, enrollment sizes for high school courses have gone up as well. Seventeen students must sign up for a course in order for it to be held the following school year. Last year, the minimum enrollment was 15 students.
“Parents are always concerned about the size of the classroom,” Grossane said. He said that there is a class-size cap set for the districts that limits the size of classes. Right now, some classes are below this cap. “Some classes increased,” he said, “but some classes didn’t.” He also said that there are five elementary school sections in the district that are nearing the class-size cap, and that the district will decide by August whether sections will be added to help decrease the number of students in each of these sections.
There is one change that the district made that will help enforce better safety regulations while also saving the district money: a change in school start and finish times. Classes for all grade levels will start approximately 30 minutes earlier than they did during the 2010-2011 school term, to avoid the ordinary rush hour. “Salk Middle School and McArthur High School are located on the same campus,” Grossane elaborated, “and it was approximately 2,500 kids being dropped off by their parents, and the busses [were] coming in. It was rather chaotic, and the traffic flow was really an issue. By separating the middle schools and the high schools by a half-an-hour, all [of] those traffic flow issues should be relieved.”
The superintendent said he also sees this as an opportunity for “the district to make better use of its buses” by forming more logical bus routes. He said that this made it easier for students to travel to school, and that it also helped save the district some money as well.
Grossane is hoping that the district would be willing to adopt plans to make the school buildings more energy efficient. He believed that, even though projects such as fixing the heating in the buildings will cost money, it will save the district a lot in the long run. Also, he and two of his assistant superintendents have chosen to take a salary freeze as a method of saving money.
“It’s a very challenging time for all school superintendents and for all school districts,” Grossane said, “but I really feel that the two percent tax cap is something that I’m pleased that the legislature said would be renewed in five years…We’ll be able to see five years from now [where we] are, [if] this is someplace where we want it to be, [if] it’s good operationally for us, or [if] we need to appeal to the legislature and say, ‘You know, we need to make some kind of modification here.’”