Falling mandates, rising taxes

State mandates are coming under attack from local governments feeling pain from shrinking state payments. This paragraph in the New York Times' recent article on Texas schools is worth highlighting:

Terry Grier, the superintendent in Houston, said the city stood to lose 15 percent to 20 percent of its total budget. The district could still raise the local property tax rate a few cents and stay under the state-imposed cap, but it would produce nowhere near enough to cover the loss of state money, Mr. Grier said. One way to cushion the blow, he said, would be to lift state rules on class size and to let administrators single out unproductive teachers for layoffs, regardless of their seniority. ?Let us get out from under some of these state mandates,? he said.

Some other districts don't seem to be going down this path of looking for smart cuts, however. The?Wall Street Journal ran articles today ("Cities Act to Gain Budgetary Clout") and yesterday ("Tax Complaint: Too Low") detailing cities' efforts to raise property and income taxes above state-mandated caps, mostly to fill school budget deficits. Local governments and school boards who think the only way to avoid layoffs is to raise taxes should learn from supes like Dr. Grier who know that flexibility in the hands of smart district leadership is worth big bucks.

?Chris Tessone

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