CHEEKTOWAGA – As Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tours the county talking up school mergers – Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is also making stops providing taxpayers what he calls a “clear picture” of how the county shares sales tax with schools and towns and the actual cost breakdown of school consolidations.
Following an appearance at a school board meeting at Iroquois School District last week, Mr. Mychajliw was first to stop off in Cheektowaga with a presentation during a meeting of the Cheektowaga Town Park Community Association Tuesday. Mr. Poloncarz is scheduled to speak to Cheektowaga residents on May 29th at Julia Boyer Reinstein Library on Losson Road.
“Politicians are trying to fool taxpayers by not telling the truth about increased costs associated with forcing districts to consolidate,” Mr. Mychajliw said. “Taxpayers are being sold a bill of goods. No different than when families were lied to when told they could keep their doctor and keep their health care plan under Obamacare.”
“I am looking forward to meeting with residents of Cheektowaga on May 29 at the third installment of our ‘Erie County Leads The Way’ conversation on school districts,” said Mark C. Poloncarz. “These town halls are open to the public and provide an excellent opportunity to hear the facts and ask questions about an important topic that impacts all taxpayers in the Town of Cheektowaga.”
The Republican comptroller has been critical of the county executive’s call for school consolidations since the Democrat officially announced his administration’s study on April 16th. Mr. Poloncarz says the unnecessary administrative costs that exist in communities like Cheektowaga – with five individual school districts – are the prime example of why leaders should be having the conversation. Mr. Mychajliw doesn’t agree.
“Politicians should stop threatening to ‘hammer’ children and families if they do not consolidate. If taxpayers and school boards unanimously vote on their own to consolidate, that’s wonderful. I support that,” said Mr. Mychajliw.
The comptroller told residents that if districts consolidated, teacher salaries and health care costs would “bump up” to whichever district paid more. He says the merging of the Cheektowaga Central School District and Cheektowaga Sloan School District would “bump up” salaries costing taxpayers an additional $27,000 per teacher because Cheektowaga Sloan has a better union contract with their teachers than Central.
“The Cheektowaga community deserves an intellectually honest discussion. Families deserve facts, not scare tactics, about the sales tax sharing agreement, how it benefits them, and the increased costs of forcing school consolidation on taxpayers that may not even want it,” added Mr. Mychajliw.
“Cheektowaga is the case study. They should have addressed it in the past, but they didn’t,” Mr. Poloncarz said on April 16th. “I don’t have the power to force [consolidation] but these districts need to consider it because they’re losing population, and when you lose population there’s less people to pay for the cost associated with the district.”
Mr. Mychajliw highlighted a school consolidation study from Syracuse University that showed districts with 300 or fewer students can benefit financially from consolidating. Most recent data shows the Cheektowaga and Depew school districts educate 1,200 – 2,200 students according to the comptroller. He also said school districts that are in severe financial distress and using large amounts of fund balance to pay recurring expenses could benefit in the short term from consolidating with a financially sound district, but that is not the case in these districts.
“We’re not making recommendations saying these districts must do it,” said Mr. Poloncarz. “We know there are additional savings that could materialize in other places and moreover, we owe our constituents this work not only for myself but for the school districts and the students that they represent because it’s all our tax dollars.”
Both politicians agree that the school districts benefit from the county’s high sales tax. Mr. Mychajliw says the Cheektowaga and Depew schools received a total of total $9,909,520 in 2017 while the town itself received $9,430,977.
“The politicians can cancel this sales tax contract by only giving 12-months’ notice. Schools and local governments would be crippled without this revenue. While other politicians threatened to use a ‘hammer’ on school districts that don’t consolidate, our partners in education should not be threatened,” said Mr. Mychajliw.
“Erie County theoretically could reduce its sales tax by a substantial amount if we stopped sharing with the school districts,” Mr. Poloncarz said on April 16th. “Now, we’re not stopping the sharing with the school districts but I think people need to understand that the 8.75% does not all go to Erie County. The first 4% goes to New York State. The remainder of the 4.75% – Erie County roughly gets half of it – and the rest is shared with the cities, villages, towns, and school districts – and as you see – the school districts get a lot of money.”
Mr. Poloncarz said in April that he would be hosting three shared services panel discussions for school districts this summer to “talk about this and find ways for them to look at this issue, potentially consolidate, and if not even consolidate, find additional ways in which they can share services.”
Here is the comptroller’s breakdown of sales tax revenue, many of which come from Canadian shoppers spending money on our side of the border, for school districts within the Town of Cheektowaga:
- Cheektowaga-Maryvale: $2,398,339
- Cheektowaga Central: $2,377,197
- Depew: $2,099,840
- Cheektowaga-Sloan: $1,563,050
- Cleveland-Hill: $1,471,094
The comptroller’s breakdown of sales tax revenue to cities, towns, and villages:
- Cheektowaga: $9,430,977
- Depew: $1,717,347
- Sloan: $246,707