We write to urge approval by voters on May 17 of the 2022-23 Garrison school district budget as proposed by the Board of Education (Garrison School Lowers Tax Request to 9.2%, April 22).
As past presidents of the Garrison school board, we have collectively served the district for nearly 50 years and overseen the development of more than 30 annual budgets, all of which passed with strong voter support. We recognize the challenges inherent in delivering an excellent education for our students while at the same time being careful stewards of taxpayer resources.
It is with that experience, and from that perspective, that we have studied the administration’s budget presentation, questioned its assumptions and projections, and listened to the concerns of our neighbors. As Garrison taxpayers, none of whom have children any longer at school in the district, we too would be reluctant to pay more in taxes were there not a compelling need or a manifest benefit.
However, this year the board confronts a “perfect storm” of reduced state aid and sharply increased costs over which they have little or no control. Among the biggest cost drivers: high school tuition, special education, health care insurance and transportation. The plain fact is these are all essentially vendor costs that must be paid out-of-district and they are almost entirely resistant to economizing.
Where economizing has been possible, we believe the board has been diligent in containing costs without sacrificing educational quality. Instruction, by far the biggest line item, is actually down 5 percent in the proposed budget, thanks to retirements and the resultant strategic staff realignments. Administrative costs are up slightly year-over-year, largely because one staff position has been moved over from the instruction line.
Moreover, we believe it is important that voters maintain a proper perspective on the costs of running the district. Garrison school taxpayers have long enjoyed the lowest true tax rate in Putnam County, far lower than in surrounding counties, as well. To be specific, the average true tax rate for the five other Putnam school districts over the last six years has been $23.44 per $1,000 of full property value. Over the same period, the average in Garrison was $9.56, some 60 percent lower.
We remind voters that while they enjoy a lower school tax burden than in neighboring districts, they also realize unrivaled educational value for their dollar. Garrison students consistently excel by every measure of academic performance. The relevant data on standardized tests and state Regents scores, as well as class size and student/teacher ratios, are carefully scrutinized by prospective homebuyers on the many online school-rating sites. Those buyers will pay a sizable premium for homes in a highly rated district like Garrison.
In sum, we believe the board and administration of the Garrison school district have addressed a uniquely difficult set of circumstances with a budget that is fair and responsible — one that maintains educational quality and preserves the substantial advantage taxpayers enjoy relative to other districts.
Raymond O’Rourke, Garrison
This letter was also signed by Marit Kulleseid, Stan Freilich, Cathy Lilburne, Anita Prentice and James Hoch.