Poloncarz pitches school consolidation to save on taxes

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – In his annual State of the County address, Thursday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz emphasized the progress the county has been making during his administration, including leading the way in the opioid crisis, and holding up the county’s end of the Paris Climate accords.

But in talking about taxes, at the Buffalo Museum of Science, Poloncarz pointed out the largest property tax bill for most New Yorkers doesn’t come from the county, their town or city—it is their school taxes, and he made a serious pitch for school consolidation.

Poloncarz zeroed in on the Town of Cheektowaga, calling it the “poster child” for school consolidation, having 5 different school districts within its borders.

But the school superintendents from those 5 districts issued a joint statement saying they “are disappointed that this matter was brought up again without any discussion with representatives from the Erie County school districts.”

The statement goes on to say, the school boards for 4 of those districts passed resolutions in 2014 asking the state to conduct a formal assessment of the economic impact consolidations would have on those districts, and “The application was turned down,” because the estimated cost savings, “did not warrant us moving forward.”

Meanwhile, the superintendents wrote, their districts have accomplished significant cost reductions by sharing costs with other districts through BOCES, which many school officials consider a more realistic option than consolidation.

In his speech Poloncarz noted the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools as an example of a one-town-one-school district, and estimated Cheektowaga taxpayers could save more than $2 million in the first year alone by merging the 5 school districts into one.

As an incentive to merge districts, Poloncarz stated the New York awards school districts that consolidate 40-percent more in state aid, but school officials said schools that cost share through BOCES also get additional funding from the state.

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