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Q: What are the district’s budgeting principles?
A: They are as follows: Educationally sound to maintain scope and quality programs, equitable to ensure incremental resources are provided where needed to ensure similar outcomes at all schools, and fiscally responsible to remain under the tax cap, reasonable budget increases.
Q: What is the property tax cap?
A: In 2011, New York state established a property tax cap that limits how much a local government or school district can increase its property tax levy each year. The cap was made permanent in 2019. Under this law, the growth in the property tax levy – the total money to be raised through property taxes charged on a district’s taxable assessed value of property – will be capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Sometimes, a district is allowed to propose a tax levy increase in excess of 2 percent based on a complicated, eight-step formula created by the state. For example, in addition to the base 2 percent limit, school districts are able to add the value of new property development. They also can add to the cap for certain exemptions, including voter-approved local capital expenditures; increases in the state-mandated employer contribution rates for teacher and employee pensions that exceed 2 percent; and court orders and judgments resulting from tort actions of any amount that exceeds 5 percent of a district’s current levy. Local communities have the ability to override the cap, by a super majority vote of the public, but Rush-Henrietta has not chosen to do that. Although this was publicized as a 2 percent tax cap, there are many factors outlined in the law that cause the final cap to be lower or higher than 2 percent, and this amount varies in each school district. Significantly, the cap constrains a school district’s ability to raise new revenue to support programs and services.
Q: What are unfunded mandates and how to do they drive costs?
A: Unfunded mandates are legal requirements placed upon school districts without the specific funding source to offset their cost. Many of these mandates are well-founded, but they are expensive. Both the federal and state governments impose unfunded mandates upon school districts. A good example of unfunded mandates is for special education costs where the federal government mandates that appropriate, least-restrictive educational services be provided to special education students “regardless of cost.” The state has imposed further special education requirements that add to this expense so it now costs more than three times as much to educate a special education student as it does a general education student. Another example of federal mandates is reflected in transportation. Bus prices have increased more than 45 percent during the past five years because of mandated pollution control and upgraded communications equipment. Employee wages and benefits also are affected by state mandates. In addition to these major unfunded mandates, there are hundreds of smaller ones requiring much administrative cost to implement and ensure compliance. Recent state budgets included more of these, including requirements to provide feminine hygiene products to all students in grades 6-12. In a typical year, a recent requirement would require us to provide a full lunch to students even if they have no money to pay. Legislative mandates continue to add new state programs and millions of dollars of associated costs to our school district budget. In conjunction with the tax cap, these unfunded mandates could result in reduced opportunities for our students. New mandates put significant pressure on school budgets, the growth of which is already capped.
Q: How will the proposed budget affect homeowners?
A: The Board of Education’s $151.6 million budget proposal calls for a tax-rate increase of less than 1.98 percent. Taking into account the STAR exemption - for which all homeowners are eligible - a district resident owning a house assessed at $150,000 would see school taxes rise by $57 annually.
Q: How are school taxes determined?
A: Your school taxes are determined by three factors– the school tax levy, property assessments, and equalization rates.
The school tax levy is the total dollar amount the district must collect from property owners to support the annual operating budget.
In terms of property assessments, Rush-Henrietta uses property values provided by the four towns in the school district – Brighton, Henrietta, Pittsford, and Rush – to levy taxes. Each property within a town is assigned a value by the town assessor.
Each year, the New York State Office of Real Property Services evaluates each town’s assessment practices and sets specific equalization rates to ensure a fair tax burden distribution across the district. For this reason, an 8 percent increase in property assessments in one town does not mean that all four towns within our school district would experience the same increase. If the school tax levy increase is greater than the increase in property assessments for the district as a whole, the district’s true value tax rate increases.
Q: How has COVID impacted this year's proposed budget?
A: Fortunately, this year’s budget development process was not as challenging as it has been in recent years. Despite the chaos that COVID-19 continues to bring to communities throughout the state, the significant amount of financial aid made available by both the state and federal governments has given the district some breathing room. These additional funds will be used to provide additional academic and social-
emotional support to our students. Given the availability of these monies, and our full awareness that many people in our community are still facing big challenges, the Board of Education has adopted a budget that will increase the tax rate by 1.98 percent or less. This increase will be among the lowest in Monroe County.
Q: What should a community member do if they have questions about the budget?
Detailed information is available on the district website here. Any questions may be sent to Andy Whitmore at email@example.com. Thank you for your interest!