Readers Write: School aid formula unfair to Port

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Following is a letter I just sent to our state Assemblyman Tony D’Urso, our state Senator Elaine Phillips and to Gov. Cuomo as well.

I am writing to ask for your help on behalf of Port Washington’s school district students and taxpayers.

Our Port residents can no longer afford to bear more than our fair share of the overall school tax burden. Our Port taxpayers are currently paying 89 percent of the cost of public education through our real estate school property taxes, while our school district only gets 6 percent in state aid compared to the average state aid provided of 41.6 percent.

Our key objectives are these:

1. Fully implement the Foundation Aid program which for years now we’ve only partially received.

2.  Change the Foundation Aid formula currently based on “mean” or average income to one based on “median” income, which is a far better and more fair measure of typical community income.

“Average” income can be, and is, grossly affected by a few wealthy families, while ”median” income, the middle income level for the community,  is far more reflective of the large majority of residents.

3.  Revise the tax cap calculation to account for changes in enrollment.

Specifically, increase or decrease the tax cap every 2 years by 1/4th of the net percent increase or decrease in enrollment over the two years. If, for example, enrollment increases 2 percent, then allow a 0.5 percent increase in the tax cap.  If enrollment decreases 2 percent, then reduce the tax cap by 0.5 percent.

The major problem is clearly the gross inequity in our current state aid formula. Currently, some low income school districts receive about 75 percent of the average state cost per regular student in state aid, or about $15,000 per pupil, while other higher income districts receive only 5 percent of the average cost/student in state aid, or only $1,000 per pupil.

While I fully agree low-income districts should receive more aid than high-income districts, I also believe a fair ratio of state aid per student for low-income districts to high-income districts should be 5 to 1, not 15 to 1.

And, I do not want to reduce state aid to low income districts, but rather gradually (over 5-10 years) increase the unfairly low aid now provided higher income districts from 5 percent to 15 percent of the average cost per New York State pupil.

This would result in a range of 15 percent to 75 percent in state aid for school districts, not 5 percent to 75 percent.

Unless this is done, most families with typical incomes in some school districts (e.g., Port Washington) will continue to be unfairly burdened with having to pay an unfairly high share of their school costs compared to families with the same incomes in other school districts.

Our community looks forward to working with you as our legislative representative on the urgent need to reduce the tax burden on our residents by ensuring we receive a fair share of state aid.

I’d also like to ask you whether it’s the governor or certain state legislators who are holding up this clearly needed correction of the current unfair formula?

Frank J. Russo Jr.

President,  Port Washington Educational Assembly