“We were not expecting a 50 percent cut,” says Jody Siegle, executive director of the Monroe County School Board Association, “they are angry, they are very angry, they feel they are being unfairly focused upon.”
The School Board Association is now threatening a lawsuit against the County in response to the new budget plan County Executive Maggie Brooks has proposed to solve the $102 million dollar budget gap. Siegle says the districts will vote next Wednesday to pursue legal action against the County.
“What we expected is that if they were going to do something, it would be more akin to what was discussed a year ago, which was a 42-percent across the board adjustment in sales tax revenues for all the sharing partners,” says Siegle who says the 50% cut proposed by Brooks is completely targeted at suburban schools.
The districts have obtained the same Syracuse law firm as last year when it fought the county's intercept sales tax plan. While all of the details are still coming together, the bones of the lawsuit are based on the following:
1.) Whether the County can legally move sales tax revenue from the schools to pay for Medicaid
2.) Whether Monroe County is violating a sales tax distribution law that went on the books nearly 15 years ago
While it may not be part of the lawsuit, the schools say new state aid to schools is specifically earmarked for programs and can't be spent freely. Another problem, the districts say this move by the county, took them completely by surprise.
“We were frustrated, certainly surprised, angry at the way that it was done, without even a dialogue with the education sector,” says Steven Achramovitch, superintendent of Greece Public Schools.
If the brooks budget fix plan does go through, it leaves all suburban school districts in a pinch.
“We're looking at a fiscal impact in a 2008-2009 budget year of $2.2 million dollars and in a regular fiscal year of about $4.5 million dollars,” says Achramovitch, “if we're not successful in that, then we're going to have to look at what we have to do internally, from a revenue and an expenditure, certainly this could have a profound effect on students.“
The plan, if found to be legally sound, could have a greater effect on taxpayers. If the school districts cannot cut enough money internally from their budgets, it will be up to residents to make up the difference. Greece, for example, could see a 5% school tax increase according to Achramovitch and more rural districts such as Wheatland and Brockport could be hit harder. The school tax rate in rural districts could be higher because there is less of a business revenue stream in those areas according to Siegle.
“And in this case, we're talking about an amount of money that is equivalent to a significant piece of property taxes.”