"As has happened so often in recent months, a critically important policy decision has been made in a rushed, secretive manner, with limited opportunity for careful study or public input. Moving so quickly is the height of irresponsibility; school and municipal budgets which will be affected by this legislation will not even be set until next year....
Yeah, OK, except this: even if a district's budget is under the cap, the voters still get to vote on the budget - right?The consequences of this deal will be grave. It contains no exception for rising special education costs in local districts, so parents of students with special needs should prepare for fights with districts over the services their children need. It contains no exception for inflation, including the cost of fuel, textbooks or supplies. As school budgets, which have already been slashed this year, are stretched tighter, deeper cuts in staff and even larger class sizes are inevitable. Parents should prepare to see extracurricular programs eliminated and higher fees imposed on previously affordable activities.“This is a dark day for democracy and public education in New Jersey.”
So how is this different? The cap is arbitrary, isn't it? You have to go to the voters if your tax levy increases by 1% or 3%, don't you?
Am I missing something? Someone tell me, please.
UPDATE: Bruce replies in the comments:
Under the current system, a budget rejection vote is not the final word. Rather, it sends the budget to be negotiated between school and municipal officials, and that negotiation can still result in a property tax increase even without subsequent vote. Even this last round, most of these negotiations resulted in significant tax increases.Bruce makes a good point about town councils being the ones to cut budgets if they are rejected by the voters; will this usurp their prerogative to do so?
I believe that the legislation would be written such that the same type of system would continue to apply up to the cap, but if a district wanted to go above the 2% cap, that would require majority voter approval - voters having final word. A no vote would mean no more than 2% increase. Done - regardless of consequences - except those specifically identified as exceptions.
This would be very problematic in terms of equity in that some communities could regularly exceed their caps while others might rarely if ever. Students don't have much say in the matter and their parents may have only minority say. Yet, the obligation for the public schooling system lies constitutionally at the state level, not local district level.
Further, the unevenness of education quality that would likely re-emerge would serve to highlight differences in not only school quality, but voter behavior and tax capacity across municipalities... likely reducing the likelihood that any "advantaged" small community would ever consider consolidating with even marginally less advantaged neighbors.
I've emailed with a reporter today who says his understanding was the cap takes the place of a vote - you don't vote if the budget's under the cap. He's doing further reporting and will seek clarification.
I understand what Bruce is saying about towns regularly rejecting or accepting caps. Are we going to have "school communities," where you move when you want good schools because everyone votes to exceed the cap? And when your kids graduate, do you move to a "cap community," where the cap is strictly enforced, but you're happy with that because your kids graduated? It would be like retiring to FL because even though the schools suck the taxes are low.
There's a lot to this proposal: does it usurp the function of the towns to cut school budgets voters reject? Does it get rid of elections if a school is under the cap? Will voters still have the opportunity to reject a budget that comes in under the cap? Does it encourage more capital spending and lavish health benefits for staff because those are exempt from the cap?
And did anyone think about this stuff before they came up with the proposal?