Friday, March 2, 2012

Downstate vs. Upstate

Many of you have been shown a slide comparing a downstate school district's cut in state aid with that of a St. Lawrence County school district.  It has been shown in several presentations with at least three school districts.  The downstate school district is Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County.  While I was watching the presentation of this information, it occurred to me that the St. Lawrence County public who have seen the comparison might think that ordinary residential taxpayers in that district pay lower taxes than we do. I decided to try to find out.  After researching the school tax rates for Dobbs Ferry and re-calculating because their equalization rates are very different, the true tax rate per thousand appears to be $24.55.  That amount is very similar to Potsdam's so one might think that all is comparable.  However, the assessed value of homes is very different in Westchester County when compared with those in St. Lawrence County.  When Potsdam published their 2011-12 budget newsletter, they used homes valued at $70,000 and $100,000 to illustrate how much taxes would change.  When Canton published information about their capital project prior to the recent vote, they used a home valued at $100,000 to illustrate how the capital project would affect the taxpayer's bill.  What value of a home did the Dobbs Ferry school district use in their 2011-12 budget newsletter to illustrate the impact of the increase in the tax levy? $597,000.  Since school districts typically pick an average value of a home for the budget newsletter, this is likely an average assessment for a home in the Dobbs Ferry school district.

So what?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the tax rate per thousand in the Potsdam school district is about $23.81 so a taxpayer with an average home assessed at $100,000 would pay $2,381 before the STAR rebate.  On the other hand, that taxpayer in Dobbs Ferry with an average home assessed at $597,000 would pay over $14,000 before STAR in school taxes, over six times as much as the Potsdam taxpayer. That is a much bigger commitment to a school district budget than most anyone in St. Lawrence County.  So I thought, OK, a taxpayer in Dobbs Ferry must earn much more money than a taxpayer in Potsdam.  Not true.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau's quick facts, the median income for households in Potsdam is $50,000 and, for Dobbs Ferry, the median income is $100,000.  Now that is twice as much, but can that household afford more than $1,000 per month just in school taxes? 

What's my point?  I don't believe that we should be making comparisons about state aid received by wealthy downstate schools and St. Lawrence County schools. There are many different issues.  Let's talk about how we are going to solve our problems without expecting the State to bail us out. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the comparisons on that slide are meant to pit "us vs. them", but merely show that all else being equal (district size, tax rate, etc.) how a decrease in state aid is devastating to our district and barely makes a dent in DF. This is of course because something like 48% of our budget is from state aid, whereas that % is MUCH lower in DF schools. The slide also shows that because of a wealthier tax base (higher property values), increasing taxes just 1% can generate much more money that raising our taxes 1%. It's just pointing out that state cuts affect different wealth districts inequitably. I can understand, though, how the message may be misleading. "Expecting the state to bail us out" assumes that our district has sole responsibility in the financial mess we're in- I don't think that's possible when we depend so heavily on the state for aid. I'm not saying that things couldn't have been handled better locally- you and your extremely well-informed blog partners have shown that well, I think. I just think that true local control of education in St. Lawrence Country is an illusion. Any real fix is going to have two components: advocating for our equitable share of resources from the state, and making sure our local officials do their very best to make the most of the money we have.