Rising costs are hitting all parts of Americans’ lives this year, and education is not being spared. In Springs, the school board may very likely seek voter approval for increasing taxes above a state-mandated safety valve for the first time. Under New York State’s so-called tax cap law, local governments, school districts, and most other taxing authorities must get to at least 60 percent “yes” in order to raise taxes above a certain threshold. This year, the tax-levy cap for Springs is 2.14 percent; if approved, the amount to be raised by taxes could increase by more than 5 percent.
Springs School District officials say the budget jump is mostly due to the rising fee charged by East Hampton for Springs students to attend high school, which was anticipated. With costs of special education included, Springs’s tuition payments to other districts were nearly a third of this year’s budget; if authorized, as proposed by a supermajority of Springs voters, the figure for the coming school year would be $10.8 million. This would include a contingency sum if the number of students from Springs going to East Hampton High School unexpectedly jumped. This is important insurance designed to protect programs if the amount due for tuition unexpectedly grows over the course of the 2023-24 academic year.
To pass its still-draft budget, Springs would need considerable buy-in from new parents who arrived during the pandemic, and who have been showing up in recent weeks to press the administration for answers about personnel changes and to talk about what they would like the school to provide. Springs voters already approved a five-year tuition contract with East Hampton, in 2020. Now that bill is coming due.
There is a misleading perception that Springs residents pay the most in taxes, and, while the tax rate itself might be high, it does not necessarily mean that an individual homeowner must shell out more for education than one in, say, East Hampton Village. This is a function of how houses and land are appraised by East Hampton Town and not something that Springs School officials have any control over. Importantly, the town’s decades-long refusal to complete a state-mandated reappraisal of all properties is starving some school districts of necessary funding. Springs has miles of coveted waterfront, for example, where home values have soared. A comprehensive revaluation could unlock millions of dollars and spread any proposed tax hit more equitably. However, if a townwide reappraisal were undertaken, it would take several years and be no help for Springs immediately.
Districts that have successfully pierced the tax-increase cap include East Hampton (2014), Amagansett (2016), Bridgehampton (multiple times, but not this year), Wainscott (multiple times, and probably this year too), and Sagaponack (2022). This year would be the first time that Springs sought to join that list. We see this as inevitable and largely beyond the Springs School Board’s control, and we hope that voters will, too.