I PLAYED FOOTBALL in high school, but I didn’t have what they call natural ability. I left the bench if somebody bigger couldn’t remember a play. I liked other sports better.
These days, high school football has led to a bitter debate in the Ichabod Crane Central School District as the Tuesday, May 17 vote approaches, clouding the prospects for passage of the budget proposal. And while this year football is the issue at ICC, three other school districts in the county field teams, and voters there undoubtedly will soon face similar dilemmas.
The chart on Page 11 lists the budget proposals for the six public school districts in the county. On average, spending by school districts is the down by 1%. The average tax levy increase is up by 3%. How could spending go down but taxes go up? The schools point to the state, which has balanced its books by cutting state aid. Less revenue from Albany means property taxes have to make up the difference. Taxpayers can’t shift the burden down the tax revenue food chain, because nobody’s there… except the kids we’re supposed to educate.
New Lebanon, Chatham and Germantown districts have kept their proposed tax levy increases at or below the 2% “tax cap” called for by Governor Cuomo. Taconic Hills is not far off the mark, with a proposed increase under 3%. Ichabod Crane proposes a 3.9% growth in the levy, but that needs some perspective.
The ICC budget proposal would cut over 30 positions and shut two schools for an overall reduction in spending of more than 10%. The district is way out ahead of others in energy efficiency, and officials are planning to save money by consolidating services with the Schodack District. And the process of drafting this budget served as a model of open government. Then, at the last moment, the board stumbled.
An ICC football program was revived and paid for over the last three years by a booster club. By previous agreement, the upcoming school year is when the school district said it would decide whether to devote public funds to the sport. Throughout the painful budget process, as cuts were considered and adopted, it seemed as if football was off the table. But just before the board approved the proposal, board members suddenly added funding for the sport.
The boosters have done an amazing job raising money and mobilizing public support. They were politically savvy enough get their program in the budget proposal. Maybe they and the board thought the decision would slip by unnoticed, especially because the $31,000 cost was offset by a booster club contribution that the board estimates will bring the district’s costs down to about $10,000 in a $34milliion budget.
The cost the board didn’t consider was measured in trust, not dollars. By adding the program at the 11th hour, they put at risk all their hard work and the confidence the public placed in them. It was a reckless act and those who participated owe the taxpayers an apology.
But thoughtless as it was, voters should separate this unfortunate misstep from the overall proposal. Much more than football is at stake. And voting down the budget could yield worse results, with only kids punished for the mistake.
Let’s hope that the economy of the state comes roaring back, allowing restorations of state aid and less stringent school budgets. But that seems less likely for the near term than continued austerity. Football won’t be immune from future cuts, not at ICC or any other school with a budget the puts education first. Leave the football fight for the future. Every one of the school budgets but one in this county is as practical as possible given the circumstances. I urge you to vote for yours.
Then there’s the Hudson district’s budget, which calls for a tax levy increase of nearly 10%. Spending would rise less than 1% and 27 positions would be cut. The board has already closed one building. In a district with more than its share of challenges, it’s unfair to students and taxpayers that the options come down to this, a maybe that’s why the board has gambled that the public will support a double-digit increase in these tough times.
I would be overcome with admiration if Hudson taxpayers vote yes, thumbing their noses at the state and federal governments for forcing this choice on them and their kids. I’d be more stunned if they can afford to accept the board’s decision that this is the only alternative.