May 28, 2015
by Steve Levy
A number of taxpayer advocacy groups have called upon the state legislature to pass two important school district reforms before the 2015 legislative session wraps up at the end of June.
Leaders from the Center for Cost Effective Government (Center), Long Islanders for Education Reform, and Suffolk Tax Pac have been promoting reforms to the BOCES purchasing process, as well as the manner in which the public votes are cast on school bonds.
The advocates promoted the BOCES reform after a Long Island Business News article exposed how taxpayers were paying more for items purchased through BOCES than would be the case if they chose the product from a local bid. Because partial state reimbursement will be available for items purchased through BOCES, school districts are incentivized to procure through BOCES even though the product is more expensive than had they purchased it through the market.
For instance, a $700 conference table that could be purchased from a completive bid would instead be bypassed for a $1000 table purchased through BOCES, simply because the school district could possibly receive a $500 rebate from the state if the purchase was made through BOCES. While there is a smaller net outlay by the local district, state taxpayers make up the difference.
Steve Levy, former Suffolk County Executive and presently executive director of the Center, believes that it makes much more sense to have the state provide the reimbursement for the least expensive product, and not just if it were purchased through BOCES. Said Levy, “This reform would significantly lessen the incentive for districts to purchase a more expensive item simply because state aid might be available.” Said Anita MacDougall of Long Islanders for Education Reform, “Ultimately, with this reform the local district will continue to reap the state assistance while state taxpayers will no longer have to subsidize a more expensive product.”
Earlier this year, Levy worked with Senator Phil Boyle to draft legislation that would provide the aid for the lowest bid, regardless whether the BOCES procedure was used. The bill was later picked up by Assembly majority member Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
The taxpayer coalition also called for a change to the system that permits school districts to schedule public referendums on bonding resolutions at any time during the year. Advocates, such as Andrea Vecchio of Suffolk Tax Pac, believe that mid-year bonds may circumvent the intent of the 2% property tax cap. “People go to the polls each May to pass a school budget with a finite level of expenditures proposed,” said Vecchio. “Then, several months later, a huge interest obligation could be imposed by the passage of a bond. The voters should know at the time they vote on the overall school budget exactly how much is planned to be spent during the year on both operational and capital projects. This is why it is so essential that any bonding resolutions be voted upon at the same time voters are considering the overall budget plan for that district.”
The reform to restrict the vote to the same day as the budget vote has been introduced in the state senate by Senator Kenneth LaValle and in the assembly by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (Bill No. A02025A).
Levy noted, “This is a golden opportunity where we have majority sponsors in both houses of the state government in support of these important reforms. The time is now to pass these bills and make them law.”