Seven Reasons to Vote for a School Tax Increase

For results and reflections, see Oneonta and Center Street School, 1981-2012.

Elementary education in Oneonta is in a bind. On May 15, 60% of voters must approve an additional 5.18% tax levy–if not, one of the four elementary schools will close.

For most property owners in the Oneonta City School District, the 5.18% property tax increase would result in an additional $120-$260 per year, with an $120 tax increase at the median to average assessed property value, and $260 for relatively high property values. In other words, for the vast majority of property owners this represents a $10-$20 per month increase to maintain four elementary schools.

First, let’s be clear that the planned school closing is entirely budget driven. Center Street School has plenty of students and is performing well. If it were not for NY state cutbacks in school aid, we would not be having this discussion at all. Please sign the petition to Governor Cuomo on school aid. It’s also important to hold State Senator James Seward accountable for failing to redistribute aid to Oneonta.

Additionally, we should note that using local property taxes to fund schools is an antiquated and unfair system, creating bizarre incentives for families to seek to move to high wealth districts. In the long run, we need to address these funding formulas.

However, all that said, we are still in this bind and facing down a May 15 vote that could shutter one of our neighborhood schools.

Reasons to vote for the school tax increase:

1. Property Values. In a paper titled How Much is a Neighborhood School Worth? two economists estimated “that disruption of neighborhood schools reduces house values by 9.9%” (2000:280). In other words, by saving that $120-$260 per year, we could very well be risking a corresponding $8400-$19,800 decline in house values. If that happens it will take over 70 years to recoup the property value decline! Now, of course, it is impossible to forecast exact effects, but this seems like too much of a gamble. Even at a modest decline of 3%, it would take over 20 years to recover the tax “savings.”

2. Reputation for Education. Instead of seeing the potential decline in property values, we could turn this vote into a selling point for the district. Imagine being able to tell prospective buyers that when our backs were against the wall this district came through with an over 5% tax increase. At a time when elementary education is suffering across the state and nationwide, this becomes a point of pride and reason to locate in Oneonta: a place that supports neighborhood schools. We are one of the only places for miles around that offers urban amenities in a rural setting, and our neighborhood schools are anchoring magnets for maintaining downtown vibrancy.

3. Walking. Closing a central neighborhood school will put more students on buses, increase time for students already on buses, put more cars through urban intersections. The short-term cost may not be great, but the long-term effect is increased costs, pollution, and health effects of sedentism.

4. Jobs. The projected cuts will result in layoffs in an already economically depressed region. That income loss has a multiplier effect for town businesses and for house values.

5. Educational Quality. We have four very good schools and the district has been committed to maintaining relatively small classes. However, this change is a significant potential disruption to educational patterns. While class size may not increase in the near term, it becomes more likely in the future.

6. Planning. As of just a few months ago, there was no talk of closing a school. Voting for a tax increase now allows us to construct a more careful long term plan. It could be that redistricting and consolidation is our best alternative–but at present this is not proceeding from a plan but from a rather immediate reaction to budget cuts.

7. Taxing rental properties. It’s no secret that many houses are owned by non-residents and rented to college students. This increase will in part be paid for by these properties–that is, it is a pass-through tax on student rentals that will support local education.

Let’s Support Oneonta Schools on May 15!

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