SUPERINTENDENT DISCUSSES TAX IMPLICATIONS OF POWER PLANT DEMOLITION, OPTING OUT AND OTHER ISSUES AT “CHAT” FORUMS
May 5, 2015 -- The tax implications of the Glenwood Power Plant demolition, teacher evaluations, opting out, and the budget were among the many issues discussed at two “Chats with the Superintendent” held last Tuesday, April 28. About 20 residents attended the informal forums hosted by Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick at Glenwood Landing School and the high school, with Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi and School Board Trustee Sara Jones on hand in the morning to also offer their thoughts, and Trustee Toni Labbate and Assistant Superintendent for instruction Robert Cheblicki joining the group during the evening session at the high school.
Power Plant Decommissioning
Dr. Melnick stated that the decommissioning of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant would have “no impact” on residents’ tax bills in 2015-16. With all other things being equal, he said, the average taxpayer should only see a 1.9% increase in his school taxes over the current year. The 1.9% increase in the overall school tax levy is $139,900 below the tax levy limit established by New York State.
Although the county had reduced the assessed value of the power plant property by 50% last year, the Superintendent explained, under New York State Real Property tax law 1803, the shift in apportionment from one tax class to another is limited to 5% (in this case from utility to residential). However, for nearly a decade, the state legislature has each year amended the legislation to reduce the maximum shift to 1% thereby protecting residents from a significant hike in property taxes in 2014-15. He said that with no change in the assessed value of the power plant property for 2015-16, there will be no shift to the residential class as a result of the demolition this coming year, but that he expected there to be a 1% shift again in 2016-17, assuming that 1% amendment is renewed.
The Superintendent advised that National Grid was likely working to find a way around 1803, and as a result the District has been lobbying Albany to provide an alternative approach to protecting residents should 1803 not hold in the future. The sought remedy would provide a “glide path” that would provide the district with state aid to offset the loss of tax revenue from the power plant property, with that aid gradually reduced over the next decade as the residential taxpayers take on a greater share of what the power plant had been paying. One resident said she was concerned that taxes would double over next ten years as a result of the tax shift. Ms. Buatsi replied that that would not happen, explaining that the shift would cause a resident’s tax bill to rise about 20% over the course of decades if the 1% amendment to 1803 continues to renewed, or over 10 years with the alternative remedy in place. National Grid still maintain a substation at the southwestern portion of the property, and there will continue to be a considerable amount of infrastructure in place, and so the overall assessed value will not be insignificant
Teacher Evaluations and Opting Out.
With regard to teacher evaluations the Superintendent explained the new regulations that the State legislature, following Governor Cuomo’s lead, passed into law early last month, and that will greatly change the way teachers are rated. Currently, 20% of a teacher’s rating must be based on test scores with the district having control over 80% with measures such as observations by building administrators, as well as evidence of meaningful and authentic learning including lesson plans, portfolios, and student work being taken into consideration. However, under the new law, districts will no longer be permitted to use those measures, with the new system focusing exclusively on student test scores, and observations, one of which must be done by an outside “independent” evaluator. The superintendent said that he strongly opposed the new regulations, and that the district would continue to look at student work and portfolios to evaluate teachers.
Asked what parents could do about the emphasis on testing and other changes taking place, Dr. Melnick replied that many parents are doing something about it with 40% of the students in the district scheduled to take the exams opting out of both the math and ELA state assessments. Additionally, he said that many have spoken up at forums and written letters to Albany pushing for changes to the system. He encouraged parents to continue to write letters and make phone calls to legislators.
One parent said that she had moved into the district last year because of the District’s position on standardized testing, which was articulated in its “High StakesTesting Resolution” that she saw on the District website. The resolution, emphasizes the importance of authentic learning experiences and minimizing the impact of testing in the classroom.
Another parent said that she opposed opting out, and that she believed it wasn’t fair to students who took the test. She asked why the district could not just have students who opt out stay home on that day and asked Dr. Melnick for his thoughts about the testing. The Superintendent replied that “Opting out is a very personal choice” and that he was “empathetic” to her point of view. He said that state law prohibited the school from telling children to stay home from school, and that the district had developed a procedure so that opting out would cause as little disruption as possible to students taking the exam by have parents notify the district in advance so that those children not taking the exam can be placed in an alternative location. State law requires the child to sit quietly throughout the duration of the test, he explained, but that he was “not willing to have a child sit there and do nothing.” During that time, students are to do something meaningful such as reading or writing.
As for the tests, he said that they are “a very two dimensional, single, flat measure of how a child is doing – it’s a snapshot.”
“I am not in favor of doing away with standardized testing,” he said, as it can give districts and parents one piece of information about how the child and the district are doing. He added that he believed that what the test is trying to accomplish can be done in a single day of testing for each exam rather than a total of six days of testing, and that they ought to be given only in two grades, perhaps 4th and 8th, so that the state “could see if we are meeting their standards.”
“My second biggest complaint about these tests,” he continued, “is that they were not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. It would the same as my measuring the quality of your driving based upon the quality of the meal you cooked the night before. It makes no sense to evaluate a teacher using an instrument that wasn’t designed for that purpose.”
THE BUDGET AND CLASS SIZE
With regard to the proposals on the ballot on May 19th, Dr. Melnick stated that the proposed budget for 2015-16 represents a 1.83% increase over the current year’s spending plan. All existing programs will be maintained and that a science research teacher was being added at the high school and two teachers at Glen Head School in grades 4 and 5. The average class sizes he said would be as follows district-wide: k-2 – 20-21 students; 3-5 – 22-23 students; middle school and high schools - 24 students.
If the budget does not pass, $1.6 million would need to be cut, the Superintendent said.
In addition to the budget, and Board of Education trustees election, residents will also have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to grant permission to the School Board to utilize existing funds not to exceed $3,146,154 in the capital reserve for the following projects - Boiler Replacement at the Sea Cliff Elementary School; Heating and Ventilation work at the Glen Head Elementary School, North Shore Middle School, and North Shore High School; and, Duct work at the North Shore High School including all labor, materials, equipment, apparatus, and incidental costs
The Capital Reserve is a fund set aside to use for specific projects that are long-term investments. Since this money is already in the Capital Reserve Fund, it will not increase taxes for residents.