On May 15th, less than two weeks from now, New Yorkers across the state will be out once again exercising their democratic right to vote, this time on their local school budgets.  At the end of April we posted a number of blogs on things to think about before casting your vote for your local district.  Be sure to read them, they will help you understand how budgets are affected by laws.

Earlier this week we learned that 92 percent of New York school districts have proposed budgets that are under the new property tax cap.  The 8 percent that exceeded the cap did so, in many respects, due to pension issues as well as construction projects.  Much of that should go down as the market evens out and, over time, as Tier VI comes into play. 

If you ask local school officials if they have enough money to sustain and run their programs, the answer you should get most often, is yes.  Read most articles on the subject and odds are you’d think they would say no.  You read about layoffs, and program cuts, but local officials do have enough money to run and sustain their districts.  The problem is they are not allowed to decide for themselves what to do with this money.  Why is that? Unfunded mandates.

Unfunded mandates are the real budget problem in New York, and they are exactly what Unshackle Upstate has set to work to eliminate this year.  An unfunded mandate is a statute or regulation from the state that requires an action from the local government, but provides no funds for local governments to fulfill the requirement.  The only way for local governments to satisfy these requirements is to pass on the cost to you, the tax payer. We at Unshackle Upstate understand that this is a complicated problem, but we believe that small changes can make a big difference. 

To keep our communities successful under the property tax cap, and make our school budgets as successful as possible, we need to turn our attention to reforming the unfunded state mandates that burden our schools every year (“Let New York Work”).  So vote on the 15th, because every resident deserves a say in how their tax dollars are handled.  But remember, even after budgets are passed, there is still more we can do to strengthen our schools.  By reforming unfunded mandates, taxpayer money can go further towards making our communities what we want, and deserve, them to be.