Jeri Schopp Seeks 6th Term For
Board of Education
Election Day - Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Being a School Board member is the most important service that a Grand Island citizen can provide for our children and our community. Itís important to have competent, dedicated people offer their services unselfishly for this complex, important job.
What is a Board of Education member?
A board member must: Put children first; must truly care about children and are fervent advocates for high quality education for all students. The candidate must clearly understand the boardís proper role in the districtís governance structure. One must also support the boardís key role in policy, vision, and goals, community engagement, budget adoption, and fiscal responsibility.
I have served 15 years on the School Board including president for four years and vice president for eight years. During that time, the district steadily improved its academic program. Itís a much better school district now than it was when I was first elected to the Board. We have successfully completed major improvements and additions to the school physical plant, and over these years we have moderated tax increases for members of our community.
We think that we are over the worst period, but difficult times still lie ahead. We will face significant financial challenges for the next few years because of the stagnant economic climate in Western New York. Unless our community increases business and retail construction, taxes for homeowners inevitably increase.
If we had steady, moderate increases of 3 or 4 percent in assessment each year, including some non-residential construction, we could operate the schools with minimal tax increases. Unfortunately, annual increases in assessment over the past six or seven years have averaged less 1 percent, and almost of all of the new construction has been residential.
Over the last 10 years challenges to existing assessments by many businesses in the community were lost by the town and won by the plaintiffs. These suits decreased town assessments by more than $10,000,000. When businesses pay less tax, the additional burden is passed along to homeowners. Note, by the way, that town taxes increased at the same rate as school taxes which shows that the problem is systemic and not isolated to the school system.
The Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce face the difficult task of attracting new businesses that pay taxes. Increasing non-residential assessment is a challenge because residential construction increases school enrollment. Since most houses do not generate sufficient tax revenue to compensate for the increased costs, taxes on homeowners inevitably increase. If I am elected to the School Board, I will do everything in my power to cooperate with the town to help the Town Council attract new, tax-generating businesses.
Unfortunately, I donít think the likelihood for increased State aid is very good for the next few years. New York City is still recovering from the 9/11 tragedy and growth in State tax revenues is slow. The successful law suit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity will require major increases in funding for the New York City schools. Suburban districts will struggle to obtain a share what little remains of additional State funding. This is an area in which I would be willing to work directly with our State representatives to increase aid to our community.
Iíll also encourage them to maintain the current $2 billion funding level for the STAR program because there are rumors that these funds are a potential target for reductions. However, this year we will increase the depleted fund balance, so I think that the tax increase will be significantly lower next year.
I could discuss reasons for the school tax increase of 8.8 percent, but this topic has been clearly covered in the media and during recent School Board meetings. Most of the increase was caused by mandated charges in health insurance and retirement benefits. For example, the school district contribution of 4.5 percent of payroll for retirement was increased to 12 percent because of a declining stock marker. Iíll simply note that we examined the budget line-by-line and reduced small items in the $25 to $50 range to prevent an even larger increase.
Someone who has not examined the budget carefully might think that our budget could easily be reduced, but this is incorrect. The budget we have is bare-bones and necessary to maintain a decent academic program for our children and grandchildren.
But enough about funding. Tax rates are important, but the most important concern is that we use school funding to improve the educational program for children. I am very proud to say that during my tenure on the Board, we have used these monies wisely to develop a fine educational program.
The percentage of students who attend college has increased steadily. We have one of the higher achieving school districts in New York State and have excellent performance on the State competency examinations as shown by annual New York State ďReport Cards.Ē Our students have continually improved.
In the most recent rankings by Business First, Grand Island achieved a rank of 18th among all schools in Western New York. This is the best performance ever achieved by the school district, and I am convinced that we will continue to improve. We have superior extracurricular activities featured by our music and athletic programs and an excellent school staff. I could go on, but Iím sure youíre familiar with the school program.
During the past year we established a new practice of having School Board members serve as liaisons to the PTAs in each of our schools. It was my pleasure to represent the district with the Huth Road PTA. This was an invaluable experience for me, and I think that the parents enjoyed the improved communication with the Board.
I am also proud of our outstanding record in hiring topnotch, talented superintendents because this is the most important responsibility of the School Board. We are most fortunate that Dr. Thomas Ramming is here to help us weather the difficult challenges that we face.
In conclusion, I hope that you re-elect me as a School Board trustee. I have the experience, competence, and motivation to serve you well in that capacity for another term.