UTICA — North Fork community members had the opportunity Wednesday to learn why the school district is asking them to renew the current 1 percent earned income tax levy. The renewal would be for three years and does not apply to Social Security benefits, pensions, interest and dividends, or capital gains.
Superintendent Scott Hartley began by highlighting the recent academic achievements of the students. The high school and Newton Elementary have earned excellent ratings on the state report card, and Utica Elementary is effective. Comparing results from 2006-07, Hartley said, “We are showing sustained improvement and growth on our grade cards, and our ACT scores are equal to or better than the state average.
“This district is on the verge of moving forward in great leaps and bounds both academically and culturally,” Hartley continued, “but we need your help to maintain the quality education we have at North Fork.”
He said revenues from the local property tax have been relatively flat and the district has had no increase in state funds since 2006. In fact, he said, the state has cut over $1 million from the district’s budget in spite of inflationary costs for things like electricity and fuel. In 2006, he said, the state provided 65 percent of the district’s operating budget. By 2010, he said, that will have dropped to 52 percent, and the state expects local taxpayers to make up that difference.
“Without the continued 1 percent earned income tax,” Hartley said, “the North Fork Local Schools will have to make massive cuts in the near future that will result in a very different district than we have today.”
Hartley listed the cost containment measures taken over the past five years, and said more cuts — drastic cuts which will affect the education of the students — will have to be made if the levy fails.
Answering questions from the audience, Hartley said the district has the lowest per pupil spending in the county and he believes taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. He does not expect the state budget situation to improve in the near future. He said the board and administration are trying to be fiscally responsible, but the current economic situation makes it very hard to do.
Despite the stagnant state funding, he said, the state continues to expect schools to do more and more with less money. He cited as an example the Legislature’s mandate that kindergarten through grade three class sizes be reduced to 15 pupils in a class. That means school districts, including North Fork, will have to find more classroom space and hire more teachers with no increase in state money.
“This [1 percent earned income tax levy] is still a Band-Aid and will not solve the problems we are facing,” Hartley said, “but we need this Band-Aid to keep us from bleeding out.”