Some schools will fail, will Red Hook’s?

Parents crowded into the Mill Road 3-5 Library on Tuesday night to hear the annual State of our Schools presentation sponsored by the PTA and PTSA.

Superintendent Paul Finch kicked off the presentation by reminding the audience of how Red Hook schools excel in almost every measure from academics to sports while still spending less than the county-wide average per pupil.

Paul Finch (left) and Bruce Martin discuss the challenge of dealing with the tax cap
But it wasn’t long until the Superintendent and Budget Officer Bruce Martin moved on to the bad news: the short- and long-term impacts of the “2% tax cap” on Red Hook schools.

The picture, according to the administration, is grim for all schools in the state.

“There are two laws right now on the books at the state level…. that don’t play well together,” explained Bruce Martin. “One law is the Taylor Law which is the law that dictates how we negotiate with our bargaining units and there is something called the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor law which dictates that even after our contracts expire we still have built-in cost increases from the parts of those contracts that linger on….And the new thing that’s put on the books by the state is the tax cap.”

“[The] bottom line to why all schools in the state are going to be in crisis in the next few years is that the tax cap legislation will not fund the costs driven by the Taylor law,” continued Martin.

“…ultimately the strategy here has to be to try to outlast other districts that will begin to fail…” – Bruce Martin

The Taylor law is one of many state mandates and requires increased spending at a rate higher than the 2% tax cap will allow. Mandate relief has been talked about by legislators for years. When the tax cap was being considered, many critics warned that passing the tax cap without mandate relief would be a disaster for schools. Mandate relief was again promised by those who voted for the cap but as of yet has not been delivered.

“The administrative staff is hopeful that we can pull together a budget for 2012-13 that does two things: it brings us forward with the kind of school that we’ve become used to – it’s not devastating to the program – and second at the end of 2012-13 we’re still in a position to survive because ultimately the strategy here has to be to try to outlast other districts that will begin to fail and folks at the state level will hopefully realize what they’ve done and start to fix it.”

There’s an old joke about two campers hiking through the woods when a bear jumps out of a bush and starts chasing them. The campers are running for their lives but one stops and starts to put on his running shoes. His friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” The other replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you!”

It appears that the Red Hook School District needs a good pair of running shoes.

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