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For Release — Thursday, May 13, 2004

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

Editor's note: 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/schooltax2004.pdf.

ALBANY—School districts across New York State plan to raise spending by 2.5 times the rate of inflation, and increase property taxes an average 8 percent, a new "School Tax Watch" study by The Public Policy Institute finds.

Property-tax increases, averaging more than three times the rate of inflation, would add nearly $1.2 billion to New York's overall tax burden, the highest in the nation.

Overall spending 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 $800 million, cutting the typical tax increase by two-thirds, according to the Institute.

Projected property-tax increases in most districts total more than spending increases. As in previous years, school districts are unable to make definitive tax-levy estimates because the Legislature has not adopted this year's state budget. In previous years, some districts have used additional state aid to reduce the property-tax increases they projected before adoption of the state budget.

Voters in more than 700 school districts around the state will consider 2004-05 budget proposals Tuesday, May 18. 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 some 650 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 proposed 2004-05 budgets represent the second consecutive year that public schools outside the Big 5 districts would increase spending by a total of more than $1 billion.

Among districts where budget votes are scheduled, spending will average $14,409 per student, an increase of 6.2 percent. Local school taxes will average $8,684 per student, an increase of 8 percent. Inflation for the past year was 2.3 percent. The state Budget Division estimates inflation will be 1.8 percent in 2004.

For the coming year, more than 150 school districts are proposing budgets with double-digit tax increases, on a per-student basis. Some 65 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 Green Island, in Albany County; Canisteo, Steuben County; Ellicottville, Cattaraugus County; LaFargeville and Indian River, Jefferson County; Margaretville, Delaware County; Newfane and Lockport, Niagara County; Alden, Erie County; Miller Place, Suffolk County; and Amsterdam, Montgomery 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 $1,328 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 $12,388 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.

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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