Feb 05, 2014 Joe Genco Uncategorized
Attendees of a Feb. 4 education forum in Auburn were asked to consider: “Are our children any less important than other children in New York State?”
The forum was part of a recent effort to spread information and get residents involved in changing state law to end injustice in how state aid to public schools has been distributed in recent years.
The forum, held at Auburn West Middle School, aimed to educate the public on the negative impacts of the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) on aid to school districts. The event was hosted by the Central New York School Board Association and the Cayuga-Onondaga and Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES, which include local districts Skaneateles, Jordan-Elbridge and Marcellus as members.
The evening’s featured speaker was Rick Timbs, the executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, an organization dedicated to bringing equity to the distribution of public school aid to districts.
Timbs was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state law-makers for instituting the GEA, which is unfair and has had devastating effects on school districts and education across the state.
To reduce the state deficit, the GEA takes millions of dollars of aid away from school districts, despite that aid being already promised to them by a law, Timbs said.
“They figure out how much your school should get and then they don’t send it, they send another amount” Timbs said. “The cuts weren’t distributed properly, they weren’t equitable.”
The aid formula itself is also flawed and a combination of the two has led to inequitable distribution of aid, he said. Some of the wealthiest school districts in the state have been over-funded, while the poorer and average districts, such as those in the Cayuga-Onondaga and TST BOCES, have been underfunded. This underfunding has put many districts in serious financial trouble causing them to cut programs, cut staff or use reserve funds to balance their budgets.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announcing that he was increasing aid to school districts in the executive budget is misleading because state aid is still far below what districts were previously promised, due to the GEA. The GEA, originally implemented in 2010 is supposed to be in place for the next four school budget cycles, which could force many districts into bankruptcy, he said.
Districts are also limited by the state-imposed tax cap, which requires districts to get a super-majority (60 percent) approval if its budget calls for a tax levy increase greater than a percentage based on a growth factor. This year’s tax cap will be only 1.46 percent, Timbs said.
Locally, the lack of state aid coupled with increasing costs for healthcare and pension benefits has forced Skaneateles to deplete its reserve funds, which recently landed it on a State Comptroller’s Thomas DiNapoli’s report listing financially stressed districts.
Despite being thought of as one of the wealthier districts in Central New York, Skaneateles’ combined wealth ratio (a formula used by the state that combines income and property values) is only 1.463 with 1 being the state average and 82 being the wealthiest district, according to information provided by the finance consortium.
The Jordan-Elbridge school district has lost $8.9 million in state aid due to the GEA over the past four budget periods. The Marcellus district lost $7.8 million over that span and the Skaneateles district lost $3.9 million.
Timbs’ recommended course of action for the state is to immediately repeal the GEA and institute equitable distribution of aid. He also suggested passage of new legislation that would stop the education department from making unfunded mandates (such as the new testing requirements associated with the Common Core learning standards), promote district consolidations and make a more equitable STAR exemption system.
Charles Borgognoni, executive director of the CNY School Board Association, spoke to encourage people to advocate for education by spreading word of mouth and contacting their legislators and the governor about repealing the GEA.
“Interaction with the legislators is the most vital thing you can do, anyway you can do it,” Borgognoni said.
Bonnie Russell, New York State Parent Teacher Association vice president encouraged everyone to Tweet messages to Cuomo using the hash-tag “#NYSchoolsInPeril.” She also said email is a quick and easy way to be an advocate for education.
More information about school finance, advocacy and contacting state officials can be found on the CNY School Board Association website cnysba.org.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.