Preliminary data: Proposed school tax levies to rise by 1.9 percent on average

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 4:22 pm by

The State Education Department has compiled most of the school property tax card data filed by school districts for their May 19 budget votes.

The data confirms what we have been telling reporters and policymakers for weeks:  that despite a relatively low state aid increase, most districts are proposing local tax increases below what they sought a year ago and far below what has been common in past years of lean state aid.

Statewide, proposed changes in tax levy average 1.9 percent, compared to 3.3 percent last spring.*

Last year district efforts to hold down tax increases were assisted by a near record increase in state aid (8.9 percent).

This year, state aid is increasing by only 1.9 percent, mostly due to increases in expense-based aids.  Foundation Aid is frozen at last year’s level, meaning that most districts are receiving no additional help in paying for salaries, benefits, utilities and other general costs.

In 2003, the last time state aid was cut, proposed local school tax increases averaged 10 percent.

Proposed changes in spending average 2.3 percent, compared to 5.3 percent a year ago.

Over 80 percent of districts are proposing spending increases below 4 percent, the figure set as the maximum allowable increase in spending under a contingency budget before any exemptions are applied.  Districts are subject to this cap if they are unable to gain voter approval for a budget.  Exemptions can make the cap higher or lower than 4 percent for individual districts.

As more complete data becomes available, we will report on patterns among districts of varying wealth.

In past times of lean state aid, poor districts have commonly proposed the smallest spending increases, or biggest tax increases, or as happened after the 2003 state aid cuts, both.

*Figures presented here are calculated by averaging the percentage changes in spending and tax levy reported by each district.  Different averages would be produced by totaling the spending and tax levy for all districts for the two years and computing the percent change in those sums.

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