Thousands of New York teachers are missing out on a helpful income-tax deduction.
With school back in session, Sen. Charles Schumer on Tuesday urged teachers when they do their income taxes each year to deduct up to $250 for their out-of-pocket classroom expenses -- which can average about $485 annually.
“Teachers are dipping into their own pockets all the time; schools are resource strapped," Schumer said on a conference call with reporters.
"When a teacher does dip into his or her own pocket, we should do something about it. Our taxes and our government is going to recognize this good deed."
The federal Educator Expense Tax Deduction was implemented in 2015, but Schumer cited IRS data that showed only 52 percent of teachers in New York have taken advantage of the savings.
Two married teachers filing jointly can each take the deduction -- which is limited to teachers who worked at least 900 hours at a state-certified public school in grades kindergarten through 12.
The deduction applies to classroom supplies and computer equipment, but not on food or clothing purchases. And the deduction can be applied to teachers who file either a standard deduction or an itemized one.
Schumer estimated that the deduction is eligible for about 215,000 educators north of New York City, saving them about $53 million a year.
In the Hudson Valley, Schumer said about 58,000 teachers could save roughly $14.5 million by applying the deduction.
Anxiety among some state officials was reflected in an exchange between Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican and a member of the Legislature’s joint information technology committee, and Katrin Osterhaus, an IT audit manager with the Legislative Division of Post Audit. Osterhaus recently testified before Hoffman’s committee, which includes House and Senate members.
Hoffman said he was puzzled by the state government’s shortcomings with the introduction of major computer systems that touched the lives of so many taxpayers. It will be distressing, he said, if the driver’s license rollout falls short of public expectations.
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“Do you have an answer whether or not you think we’re going to have those same problems?” Hoffman said. “Or, do you think because of the monitoring you guys have done we’re going to be relatively problem free?”
“I’m concerned,” said Osterhaus, who pointed to complexity of replacing an outdated mainframe computer with new equipment.
“It seems like this has been a long ordeal,” Hoffman said.
Osterhaus said a quarterly analysis of the revenue department’s KanDrive project indicated a company hired by the agency, MorphoTrust, repeatedly struggled to meet deadlines.
She discouraged talk by committee members, including the panel’s chairman, Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, about severing the contract with MorphoTrust and handing the work to another firm after so many years.
“I don’t know if that would be a good option,” Osterhaus said. “It’s so far into it.”
In March, Legislative Post Audit placed the KanDrive initiative on “caution status.” Problems included gaps in computer code and the necessity of workarounds to function. Auditors said staff from the revenue department, MorphoTrust and other contractors, Allied Global Services and Celtic, must complete tasks “on time and on budget.”
A separate report found the project’s security plan to be “significantly incomplete,” and the agency’s chief information security officer set a goal of completing that work by Sept. 30.
Charlottesville election officials last week reported that after the June 13 primary, they lost a small computer containing names, personal addresses and assigned polling places of voters in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The information on the computer is pared down from data that is publicly accessible in the city election office.
Officials said there is no risk of voter fraud, but the loss of city property and an apparent failure to properly manage and track the equipment has led to a few changes in the city registrar’s office.
After a more comprehensive inventory of its equipment this summer, election department staff discovered one of its electronic poll book devices is also missing, and could have been lost in 2015, according to recent Electoral Board meeting minutes.
“The inventory processes need to be improved and we are doing that now,” said City Registrar Rosanna Bencoach.
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In an interview Monday, Bencoach said an IT technician in her department is no longer working there. She declined to say whether the technician responsible for tracking the devices was fired or quit.
“Three Charlottesville precincts received two devices and the other six received one,” a news release from last week said of the Dell Inspiron 1012 minicomputer. “After initial review of the election materials, equipment and supplies returned to the office on election night and the following day, one of the devices could not be located.”
Bencoach said the “look up devices” are only used in elections at voting precincts to determine whether voters are at the right location. “It cuts down on phone calls to the office,” she said.
The news release last week did not mention the missing electronic poll book.
Bencoach said the EPB device only contains programming. On election days, she said, voter data is placed on a flash drive which is plugged into the computer. “After the polls close, the flash drive is removed, sealed and returned to the office on election night,” she said. “The EPB’s program accesses and interprets that data and then is used to mark the file to indicate who voted that day.”