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Letter: Understand Unfunded Mandates

What’s CACLA? That stands for Citizens Advisory Committee for Legislative Affairs.  Yes, that’s why we stick to using the acronym CACLA. The Manhasset Board of Education established CACLA in the summer of 2007 to review and analyze current and proposed federal, state and local laws and regulations that have an adverse effect on the district. CACLA also advises the board on strategies to bring about statutory and regulatory changes that would benefit the district as a whole.  

What’s An Unfunded Mandate? In 2008, CACLA wrote a “position paper” to help explain some of the complexities of many key issues challenging school districts, namely unfunded mandates.  Simply put, a mandate is an official order either coming from the Federal and/or State government which mandates that a school district do or take certain actions. Generally speaking, these governmental entities provide little to no funding to help school districts comply with these mandates, so the majority of funding is borne at the local level, which is you the taxpayer.

Why Does CACLA Oppose Unfunded Mandates? It’s simple. If a mandate is a good idea, then the government should fund it.  If the government doesn’t fund it, why should the school district?

In fact, if all unfunded mandates were funded, the school district could keep comfortably within the tax cap, continue to provide existing services, and actually put money aside (reserve) for a rainy day and/or possibly reduce its operating budget!    

What Has CACLA Accomplished In The Area Of Unfunded Mandates? A great example of CACLA making a positive impact on an unfunded mandate is in the area of school bus transportation.  Years ago, the state created a law mandating all districts to pay to provide bus transportation for each student entitled to ride the bus, (even if a student never used the buses) rather than allowing the district to plan its transportation needs around actual ridership numbers (Sect. 3635(1)(a) of the NYS Education Law).  In suburban school districts such as Manhasset, many eligible students do not use bus transportation for a variety of reasons.  In fact, the board studied our usage in detail and found that on average, district buses ran at approximately 55 percent capacity overall.  The added expense, pollution and traffic congestion from running more buses than needed, while providing no benefit to the district, put CACLA into action.

With the board’s approval, and under the leadership of past chairpersons Tom Maimone and Ann-Marie Fruhauf, CACLA drafted a bill that would grant school districts the flexibility to provide buses for their actual riders. The bill, which at the time (2009) was supported by Sen. Craig Johnson and Legislator Michelle Schimel, went to the Senate and Assembly.  CACLA also submitted its proposal for consideration by the New York State School Boards Association at its annual meeting, where it was unanimously supported. The bill was passed into law. Our district has realized savings every year since.

What Has CACLA Been Doing Since? Each year we’ve identified a number of unfunded mandates for discussion and investigation to see how we could again bring about a positive impact for our school district and community.  We’ve continuously met with local officials and other districts to see if “teaming up” would help us realize the same goal: have the state and/or federal governments fund or eliminate unfunded mandates.  

Superintendent Charlie Cardillo has recently stated that the district is unable to continue to provide existing services without breaking the tax cap. Along with the district, CACLA believes it is critical for the community to understand the extent of unfunded mandates, their cost to the district, and the impact on students and taxpayers.  As we’ve seen over the years, it’s become commonplace for our elected officials to pass the tax burden down to the local taxpayer level by not providing the necessary funding to carry out their mandates (to stay in compliance with federal, state and local laws).  This “approach” is unsustainable.

CACLA will be publishing a series of articles in the Manhasset Press, highlighting several key unfunded mandates, to help explain these issues and their complexities. It is our goal to educate and build awareness with a balanced and fact-based approach.  We hope you will find our efforts informative and helpful.  

The 2012-2013 Community Action Committee for Legislative Affairs

Paul A. Baumgarten, Chairperson

Marianne Tomei, Secretary

John Delaney

Tim Katsoulis

Thomas Kowalski

Christopher Nesterczuk

Chris Roberts

Mamie Stathatos-Fulgieri