BY DIEGO AVILES
Thiells resident, North Rockland Central School District parent
Since January, I have been attending North Rockland District’s Board Meetings and been listening to all the 2013-2014 Budget presentations. While I applaud the board’s efforts to reduce more than $40 million from the budget in the last five years through innovation and consolidation, I believe more can be done.
I will be voting “No” on May 21 not because I want to cut teachers or program, but because I believe the only way to get out of the North Rockland District’s fiscal hole is to stop digging. Given that Rockland County has the third highest property taxes in the nation in, of which school taxes represent more than 70 percent, a tax levy increase of 3.62 percent is simply unacceptable and will only make things worse for our North Rockland residents and businesses.
A $206 million budget to educate 8,129 students is unsustainable and as previous board meeting presentations have shown will approach a fiscal cliff in 2015 if we don’t act now. We must keep the tax levy at zero to attract “ratable” and spur economic development to alleviate the tax burden left by Mirant on our North Rockland residents and businesses.
Love it or hate it, the tax cap has shown us what can be achieved when our backs are against the wall. I remember several years ago before the $40 million in cuts were made, the school board would state that “the budget was bare bones,” “nothing else can be cut.”
Well, when the district’s back was against the wall that is when innovation has taken place and more than $40 million has been cut from the budget. And as Ileana Eckert said at recent board meeting, “The district is still operating effectively and efficiently.”
I believe we can further reduce expenses without impacting programs or teachers through a smarter playbook of innovation, consolidation and sharing of services. We must continue to think smarter and not be so quick to rely on an old playbook of increasing the taxes, because North Rockland will become a ghost town by 2015 if we don’t stop digging.