Councilwoman proposes new funding formula for public education

Posted: February 28, 2014

IN YET ANOTHER effort to hoist the beleaguered school district onto stable fiscal ground, City Council is floating a new proposal ahead of what's expected to be a contentious budget season.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced a bill yesterday that funnels a greater percentage of property taxes from the general fund to the schools.

About 45 percent of property-tax revenues now go to city coffers, while the remaining 55 percent goes dedicated to the school district. Sanchez's bill would tip the scales so that the city gets 40 percent and the school district 60 percent.

"Council has set aside . . . a pot of money that's potentially available," Sanchez said.

"The underutilization of the AVI [Actual Value Initiative] relief program gives us the short-term ability to put the money in the district. Whether this proposal goes as-is or we phase it in, we can play out how we give the district long-term, sustainable funding."

One week out from the mayor's budget address, the councilwoman wants her measure to be part of the conversation. She claims the shift could mean at least $50 million more in school funding without affecting tax rates.

Sanchez's bill faces an uncertain future in terms of both Council and mayoral support. For one thing, administration sources argue the next city budget is going to be tight and robbing Peter to pay Paul is only going to result in service cuts.

Earlier this month, Councilman David Oh identified a similar $50 million languishing. He proposes using that "cushion money," as he called it, to reduce the wage and net-profit taxes on residents without raising them elsewhere to offset the reduction.

"I think we've heard from parents that they'd like to see more of their property taxes pay for schools," said Sanchez.

Schools Superintendent William Hite "has a bold plan," she added. "He's made it clear what his 'ask' is, and Council now has to review it and provide some support so that we can get our district out of chaos and into a predictable stream of money."

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