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For Release — Friday, May 30, 2003

SCHOOL BUDGETS WOULD RAISE SPENDING BY 2.5 TIMES INFLATION RATE, STUDY FINDS

ALBANY—School districts across New York State plan to raise spending more than 2.5 times the rate of inflation, and increase property taxes more than 7 percent, a new "School Tax Watch" study by The Public Policy Institute finds.

The increase in property-tax levies, more than four times the rate of inflation, comes despite the Legislature's imposition of a $1.6 billion, or 7 percent, increase in the state's personal-income tax that supporters claimed would hold down property taxes. The inflation rate for 2002 was 1.6 percent.

Overall, both spending and school taxes would rise by more than $1 billion statewide under the proposed budgets, according to data compiled by the state Education Department and analyzed by the Institute, the research affiliate of The Business Council of New York State. If school districts held spending increases to an inflation-level increase, property tax levies could be reduced by more than $700 million, cutting the typical tax increase by more than two-thirds, according to the Institute.

Voters in some 678 school districts around the state will consider 2003-04 budget proposals Tuesday, June 3. State law requires each district to inform the Education Department of its current and proposed spending, tax levy, and enrollment. The Public Policy Institute used the data to calculate per-student tax and spending figures, and the percentage increase, for each of 658 districts with more than 200 students. The "Big 5" school districts where residents do not vote on school budgets -- New York City, Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester and Syracuse -- are not included in the SED data or in the Public Policy Institute study.

The total, statewide spending increase in districts with budget votes is up by more than $200 million from the total increase of a year ago, based on data that districts reported to the Education Department in 2002 and this year. A year ago, districts reported a total spending increase of $849 million, compared to this year's figure of $1.06 billion. The higher increases proposed this year occur as inflation is at its lowest level in years.

Among districts where budget votes are scheduled, spending will average $13,477 per student, an increase of 4.1 percent. Local school taxes will average $7,979 per student, an increase of 7.4 percent, according to data school districts submitted to the Education Department.

Most school districts have reflected the Legislature's additional school aid in the tax-levy projections submitted to the Education Department. Some, however, may adjust projected tax levies before setting tax rates this summer.

For the coming year, more than 140 school districts are proposing budgets with double-digit tax increases, on a per-student basis. Some 37 districts would raise per-pupil spending by 10 percent or more. Many of those districts have relatively small enrollments, so that per-student figures may fluctuate from year to year.

Another 63 districts, however, are planning to spend less in the coming school year, after adjusting for enrollment changes, than they are spending in the current year. And 13 districts are reducing property taxes, on a per-student basis, compared to the current year. Those districts are Union-Endicott, in Broome County; Peru, Clinton County; Pawling, Dutchess County; North Collins, Erie County; Willsboro, Essex County; Amsterdam, Montgomery County; Kiryas Joel, Orange County; Morris, Otsego County; Rensselaer, Rensselaer County; Madrid-Waddington, St. Lawrence County; Gilboa-Conesville, Schoharie County; and the Brentwood and Eastport districts, Suffolk County.

School taxes make up the largest share of the local property-tax bill for most property owners in New York State, representing roughly 61 percent of total property taxes statewide. New York's property taxes are fourth-highest in the country, at $1,361 per person, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Public-school spending among all districts in New York, including those that do not vote on budgets, was among the highest in the nation at $11,204 per student in 2000-01, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That year, state aid to public schools in New York, at $5,548 per student, was 26 percent above the national average.

For a PDF file of tables showing proposed tax and spending increases in individual school districts in New York State, see http://www.ppinys.org/taxes/Schooltax2003.pdf

Data that school districts submitted to the Education Department, on which the Institute's analysis is based, are available through the department's website at http://stateaid.nysed.gov.

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