Proposals would erode local control
On Board Online • February 5, 2018
By Julie Marlette
Director of Governmental Relations
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2018 executive budget includes two proposals that, if approved by the Legislature, would directly impact local school district budget practices.
"We see this as an attempt by state government to influence local decision-making and autonomy," said NYSSBA President William Miller. "The proposals are inconsistent with the long-standing concept of local control."
The first proposal would require certain school districts to create school building-level spending plans that would be subject to approval by the State Division of the Budget (DOB) and State Education Department (SED). It has gotten a cautious reaction from Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and a negative reaction from local school officials who might be affected.
The second proposal would create a cap on future growth in some expense-based aids, beginning with payments made in the 2019-20 school year.
Big 5 spending targeted
The goal of the spending oversight proposal would be to ensure that districts are distributing money equitably among school buildings, according to the governor.
Only the Big 5 school districts (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) would be affected in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
In 2019-20, that requirement would be expanded to include any school district that has at least nine school buildings and receives at least 50 percent of its total revenue from state aid.
Current data indicates this would impact 10 additional districts: Binghamton, Brentwood, Elmira, Hempstead, Jamestown, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Rome, Schenectady and Utica.
Impacted districts would be required to submit their school building-level spending plans, which would examine factors such as demographics, per-pupil funding and source of funds.
In the event that a district does not obtain approval from DOB and SED, it would be ineligible to receive its state aid increase for that school year.
"Though it initially impacts only a small number of districts, this proposal threatens the authority of locally elected school boards," said NYSSBA Executive Director Tim Kremer. "Moreover, it circumvents the will of the voters; it would take budgeting authority away from the individuals that voters have elected to set the school budget."
Initial review of this proposal by NYSSBA's Governmental Relations Department suggests a number of issues would interfere with implementation of the initiative. For instance, there is a tight timeline between when a district finds out what level of state aid it will receive and when it puts its budget up for a public vote.
Also, school districts typically publish a proposed budget long before final state aid levels are known. So, the local analysis regarding allocation of resources always would be based on less information than a subsequent state analysis.
The proposal does not specify when spending plans would go to the state for approval.
"NYSSBA opposes this proposal and will advocate for its removal from the final budget," Miller said. "I urge boards and individual board members to speak up against the proposal."
Proposed caps on BOCES, building and transportation aid
Cuomo also proposes creating a cap on future growth in some expense-based aids, beginning with payments made in the 2019-20 school year. If enacted, each district's BOCES aid and transportation aid would be capped, separately, at 2 percent annual growth.
However, building aid would be treated somewhat differently. If statewide growth in building aid were to exceed the 2 percent growth cap, all districts statewide would be reduced by an equal share of the excess growth.
"NYSSBA has opposed all prior attempts to cap growth in expense-based aids and is opposed to this proposal," Kremer said. "The governor argues that the 'savings' generated by this cap could be used to increase other aid categories, including foundation aid, but includes no language to accomplish this goal. Even if districts were kept whole, it's hard to grasp how a redistribution of school funding would accomplish anything."
School finance experts say that, if enacted, this proposal could negatively impact the repayment of debt service for school district construction projects. This includes projects that have already been approved by voters and may already be underway.
"District voters have already approved capital projects based on what they were told the state and local share would be," Miller said. "To change that, mid-project, would circumvent the will of the voters."
NYSSBA also has concerns about the impact of this proposal on transportation and BOCES aid, Kremer said. "Districts have entered into transportation contracts based on known aid ratios," he noted.
Also, capping growth in BOCES aid is inconsistent with the governor's commitment to expanding the state P-TECH program and other cutting-edge programs, he said.
"Districts use BOCES aid to give students new options to prepare themselves for college and career," Kremer said. "Capping BOCES aid is, essentially, capping innovation."