Thursday, April 7, 2011

School Tax Rate Rankings — School District Viewpoint

Which school district in Dutchess County has the highest tax rate? The lowest? Where does your school district stand in the rankings?  You're about to find out.

The winner by a landslide is the Spackenkill School District, whose 2010 aggregate tax rate of $24.75 per thousand dollars of market value is way “ahead” of second-place Arlington. Before we go any further, it's crucial to understand the meaning of the rankings in this post.  The most important thing to know is that these rankings are from the school district point of viewThe aggregate tax rates in this post measure how steeply each school district taxes its tax base.  These rates are useful to understand how school districts compare with each other, tax-wise.  They are generally not appropriate for comparing the taxes paid by individual taxpayers, because in some school districts, different taxpayers pay at different rates.  Subsequent posts will present rankings from the taxpayer viewpoint.  For more on school district versus taxpayer tax rates, see School Tax Rate Comparisons — Two Viewpoints.

Here are the aggregate tax rates for the 13 school districts in Dutchess County, which I compiled primarily from data in Dutchess County Real Property Tax Service Agency's 2011 Tax Rate Pamphlet.

The school districts' aggregate tax rates fall roughly into 4 groups:  low, medium, high, and almost-off-the-chart.  The low ranking districts include Millbrook — lowest of all in Dutchess County — Pine Plains, Webutuck, and Poughkeepsie.  The medium group include Wappingers, Rhinebeck, and Beacon.  The high group — the largest group — includes Dover, Red Hook, Hyde Park, Pawling, and Arlington.  Spackenkill comprises it's own almost-off-the-chart group.

How should these rankings be interpreted?

Probably narrowly.  It is fair to say that these rankings compare how steeply each school district taxes its tax base.  But aggregate tax rate is only one of a number of objective metrics for evaluating school district financial performance.  Although most school districts in Dutchess County get the bulk of their funding from the tax levy, the proportion of other funding varies considerably from one district to another.  A few districts — such as Poughkeepsie, in the low group — get less than a third of their funding from the tax levy.

Even if aggregate tax rate were a reliable measure of a school district's financial performance, does a low tax rate mean that the school district is short-changing its students and staff, or does it mean that the district is using its funds more efficiently than other districts?  Does a high tax rate mean the school is superior, or that it is more wasteful?  There's really no end to such imponderable questions.  Depending upon how one wants to look at it, there are many additional useful ways of measuring school district financial performance.  (Examples:  cost per student, market value per student, etc.)

BOCES Corrects Its Tax Rates

School officials and others who are familiar with the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) publication Contract Analysis 2010-2011 may notice some discrepancies between that publication's table, True Value Tax Rates for 2010-11 on page 32 of the Financial section, and my ranking chart above.  The data should be the same, because both are measuring the same thing.  Although most of the data in the BOCES table agrees with mine to the penny, I found 4 school districts with substantial disagreement:  The BOCES table's tax rates for Beacon, Millbrook, Poughkeepsie, and Spackenkill are lower than mine by 5 percent or more in most cases.  After consulting with a senior BOCES official about these discrepancies, I'm happy to report that BOCES has accepted all my tax rates as correct, and has adjusted its records accordingly.  BOCES has earned my thanks for its gracious and prompt handling of my inquiries.

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