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Mamaroneck, Rye Neck Supers Talk Tax Cap Impact

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Local schools may start to resemble those in New York City because of the two-percent property tax cap, warned Peter Mustich, superintendent of Rye Neck schools.

Mustich joined Dr. Robert Shaps, superintendent of Mamaroneck schools, at Tuesday morning's meeting of the Mamaroneck local summit at the Nautalis Diner to address how the tax cap will affect their schools.

"What's going to happen over the next few years with the tax cap is we'll end up with schools like New York City," he said. "It will turn our schools and communities into burroughs."

Both Shaps and Mustich's said their school districts have cut where they could over the past few years, but the rising costs of pensions, health care and state mandates will further drain their resources and change the landscape of public education in Westchester.

The idea of consolidation troubles Mustich, whose school of 1,500 students and 200 staff members provides a niche for people who want their child to learn in a smaller setting. The tax cap, he said, could take away that identity by combining districts. Along with the character, Mustich and Shaps voiced concern that the quality of education would drop off. Currently, 97 percent of Rye Neck students, and 94 percent of Mamaroneck students go on to college.

"The biggest challenge we face is we've been inundated with a lot of top-down initiatives," said Shaps, who added they will have to get creative to find ways to handle those state mandates.

In Rye Neck, providing transportation to students who attend private and parochial schools cost $700,000 because the program's state funding dropped from 90 percent at its inception to 4 percent, he said. Over the last two years, the district has saved $300,000 by utilizing public transportation.

"I'm not optimistic there will be any relief coming from the state," Mustich said. "There's more of an interest in Albany in consolidation. This tax cap unfairly takes that local control away."

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