Schools hear bad news on future funding

E.GREENBUSH–More than 1,000 community members from all 47 school districts in the Capital Region came here January 31 to learn about the fiscal crisis facing their schools and find out what they can do to help.

Parents, students, educators, community and civic leaders, and state legislators filled the Columbia High School auditorium for a rally titled Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril–Running Out of Time & Options. Representatives from several Columbia County schools attended the meeting.

Featured speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, pointed to three major causes of the fiscal crisis facing school districts: cuts in state aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, inequities in how the state distributes school aid to school districts, and a lack of meaningful relief from state mandates that drive up the cost of education.

A report on the meeting issued by the consortium said that Dr. Timbs, a retired educator, explained that the Gap Elimination Adjustment is a cut in state education aid that former Governor David Paterson proposed as a one-time fix to help the state’s budget deficit. But the state has used it the past three years, costing Capital Region schools a total of $305 million in state aid they otherwise would have received, he said. It is included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget for 2013-14, which represents its fourth straight year affecting school aid.

The report said Dr. Timbs also pointed to the formula the state uses to distribute school aid to show what he said is an illustration of how upstate school districts are not getting their fair share of state aid. As a result, upstate schools are faced with cutting programs while the cost of education is increasingly being shifted to local property taxes.

“The truth is all kids should be treated fairly, no matter where they live. Shouldn’t everyone have a fair shot at an education, no matter their zip code?” Dr. Timbs said in the report. “The reality is that the Class of 2012 may have received the best education for the foreseeable future.”

Schodack Central School District Superintendent Bob Horan was one of three superintendents who spoke at the meeting. He said he is worried, because his rural district has done everything the state has asked, including studying a merger with neighboring Ichabod Crane Central School District, applying for state and private grants, cutting its budget three of the past four years and draining its reserves. But despite these efforts, he said, the district still faces steep cuts.

Ichabod Crane School Board Vice President Regina Rose, who attended the meeting last week, said in an email to The Columbia Paper, “Dr. Timbs provided us with a very somber look at the fiscal problems facing public education and the picture is grim. Even with the governor’s increases in state aid, full funding has not been restored to needed levels. Many districts will face three options, cut staff, eliminate programs, or use up fund balances.”

Ms. Rose went on to write, “We have already cut staff, eliminated programs and closed buildings. I am hopeful that we will at least be able to maintain existing staff and programs, but we will not know for sure until the final state aid figures are known.”

The Ichabod Crane School Board is hosting a budget forum Tuesday, February 12 at 7 p.m. in the High School auditorium.

Chatham School Board President Melony Spock said she went the meeting with other district parents. “It was a big slap of reality for some of us. The students will be the ones that suffer with less programs/an inferior education due to the financial situation that is affecting New York State’s public schools, if not already, in the near future,” she wrote in an email to the paper.

At the meeting last Thursday, East Greenbush Superintendent Dr. Angela Nagle ended the evening by stressing to the audience that they have the power to help. She urged them to learn more and contact their state legislators to ensure they understood their concerns about the future of their schools. She also urged community members to attend a February 11 event at Niskayuna High School at 6:30 p.m. where they can learn how to advocate for their schools.–Emilia Teasdale


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