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Elementary equations

Area educators decry lack of state aid, distribution inequality

Statewide School Finance Consortium Executive Director Rick Timbs was keynote speaker for the regional event “Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril — Running Out of Time and Options” at Columbia High School in East Greenbush.

Statewide School Finance Consortium Executive Director Rick Timbs was keynote speaker for the regional event “Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril — Running Out of Time and Options” at Columbia High School in East Greenbush. Photo by John Purcell.

— Schenectady City Schools Superintendent Laurence Spring said he discovered a “very disturbing fact” after looking into how the district only receives 54 percent of state aid it’s due.

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Schenectady City Schools Superintendent Laurence Spring

“When you look at what percentage of districts are fully funded … the whiter the district, the more likely it is to be fully funded,” Spring said. “I think that is egregious in the year 2013.

Guilderland Central School District Marie Wiles said while suburban schools might appear to have “endless” resources, they are just as limited as urban and rural districts.

“In the absence of adequate state aid and any real, meaningful mandate relief our financial and educational insolvency is not a matter of if, but when,” Wiles said. “Our costs are increasing and our revenues are not.”

Wiles said the costs that are increasing are mandated costs, with little respite for the district.

School districts have also been inflicting damage on themselves, according to Timbs, because of the perception surrounding the state imposed tax cap being 2 percent and districts’ attempts to stay under it. After a district uses a formula to calculate the maximum property tax levy they can impose, it regularly comes out higher than 2 percent.

“School districts this year did not collect $139 million in eligible exemptions, because they were fearful they would lose their budget because the public is convinced it is a 2 percent tax cap,” Timbs said.

While state aid is increasing this year, Timbs said it isn’t enough to fill in what has been taken out through the gap elimination adjustment (GEA) used to help balance the state’s budget. He said the state would have to add back $5.52 billion in foundation aid and almost $2.16 billion in GEA cuts to restore aid levels to 2010-11 levels.

“We will be fully funded in foundation aid in only 50 years” Timbs said. “If we keep the rate of reducing the gap elimination adjustment, it is six years. If we just wait 56 years we have this thing solved … but that is only on average.”

Schodack Central School District Superintendent Robert Horan said maintaining programs is becoming a struggle. His biggest concern used to be if the districts’ students could compete around the state, but now it is just competing with schools locally.

“Our parking lots are riddled with potholes. We have septic systems that are 50 years old. We have leaky pipes in our basement. Maybe that is my fault because over the last few years all of our attention has been placed on programs for kids,” Horan said.

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