May 03, 2006
Legislative Forum Spotlights Education
Scores of residents crowded into Mattituck High School auditorium on Saturday for a legislative forum on a subject near and dear to their hearts — school funding for Long Island.
The panel at the forum consisted of Senator Ken LaValle, Congressman Tim Bishop, Assemblyman Marc Alessi, and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
The event, said Bishop, was the brainchild of concerned parents. Topics of discussion included school financing, and property tax and federal issues.
"The primary concern of a lot of people was funding, getting their fair share," said Bishop. "Are there mandates either the federal or state government are imposing that aren't properly funded? How can you hold down property taxes?"
LaValle said the concern lies with "a school district that has increased its spending by over 10%," and who are now "trying to look for ways to help themselves or get help from someone."
LaValle pointed out that, in fact, state aid has increased by $900,000. "I thought that would be a great help. I didn't realize that their increase in expenditures was over 10%."
Another topic of discussion advocated by LaValle was reorganization, with the possible merging of school districts. "Speakers indicated that it's worth exploring, to see whether it's feasible," he said. "I do believe that there should be sharing of programs between districts," including distance learning for advanced placement courses.
"There are a lot of things in terms of savings that can come about by reorganizing," he said. One example, would be reorganizing or merging a district such as New Suffolk, which has fewer students, a move that might help the districts receive an increase in reorganizational aid.
Also brought up at the meeting was the proposal for a new 2% transfer tax, similar to that used for the community preservation fund, to benefit education. LaValle said he was not in support of "creating another new tax."
"That's not what people want to hear," he said.
Russell said he was pleased to be a part of the conference. "Locally, we need to address some of these issues on a regular, ongoing basis. I do not think that there is a silver bullet that will solve our tax problems but many smaller initiatives by all jurisdictions, including the town, will be able to make a difference."
However, said the supervisor, "this is the only feasible action absent a large shift statewide on property tax policy, i.e., an income or sales tax option. Instead, I am looking forward to working with the schools and other taxing jurisdictions to do our part in easing the burdens placed on homeowners under the current fiscal climate."
Bishop also addressed the public on the ongoing battle to save the endangered NJROTC satellite program at Mattituck. Thus far, he said, the Department of Navy has turned down the request for a waiver, which would save the program. "We are now working on some other areas to preserve the program," and results will be known in the next few weeks, he said.