How much should taxpayers pay for their public schools? I have been interested in this question since I attended the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES presentation of the consolidation/shared services study commissioned last spring. The findings from this study were very intriguing relative to school district mergers. It is my belief that given the number of students in this county, it makes great sense to reduce the number of school districts. Instead of 17 school districts, why not have ten or seven or one? It seems clear that there are financial incentives and the potential for excellent educational opportunities.
There are many potential advantages so why doesn't it happen? One major reason is the differing amounts of the tax rate in each school district. Let's look at an example. One could logically envision the Canton and Potsdam school districts combining forces to offer fabulous educational opportunities. The communities are very similar. While there would be many stumbling blocks, the first reason is that Canton school district taxpayers would not support it. Why not? Canton school district taxpayers currently pay about $18.63 per thousand of assessed value and Potsdam school district taxpayers pay about $23.81 per thousand. If the district voters agreed to merge, Canton taxpayers would see an increase in their taxes. No one in Canton would support such a proposition.
So back to my original question, how much should taxpayers pay for their public schools? I used Canton and Potsdam in my earlier example because they are very similar in terms of community (both have two colleges), number of students, amount of money spent per pupil for education, amount of assessed property which is tax exempt, to name a few. Yet there is a difference of almost $5.00/per thousand of assessed value that taxpayers pay for their school taxes. I could have used a different school district to merge with Potsdam, such as Parishville-Hopkinton. But the difference in tax rates is even greater, about $10.00 per thousand. Should taxpayers be expected to pay a similar rate no matter where they live in the county or even the state?