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Financial dramas of school districts reflected in comptroller's stress lists

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

What causes some school districts to be in significant fiscal stress one year but not the next, and vice versa?

If you talk to Tupper Lake Superintendent Seth McGowan, it's all about the fund balance.

Tupper Lake used nearly all of its fund balance in the 2012-13 school year to make up for shortfalls in state aid and the tax levy cap, only to find itself on the comptroller's list of schools under 'significant' fiscal stress. The comptroller flagged the district for - you guessed it - low rainy day funds.

"The district did exactly what Gov. Cuomo had encouraged - use fund balance," McGowan told On Board. "But because we did that, the comptroller labeled us as highly stressed."


Despite budget ultimatums, state, local officials move ahead

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Facing a plethora of potentially paralyzing policy ultimatums and financial question marks embedded in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2015-16 executive budget, state legislators and local school officials are finding ways to move forward with their work, anyhow.

Senate Republicans are among the first to ignore, at least for now, a list of conditions the governor said the Legislature would have to meet before he would agree to an education budget. The GOP lawmakers even are choosing to overlook a lack of preliminary state aid runs, which normally form a basis for negotiations and illuminate how a governor's aid proposals would play out in practice.

"This year, we are in a unique situation. We don't have school runs. But that's not going to dissuade us," Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan told reporters at a Capitol news conference. "In fact, in a weird way, it helps us to prioritize."

When he released his executive budget in January, Cuomo offered lawmakers two budgetary options.


Cuomo-nopoly

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

Timothy G. Kremer
NYSSBA Executive Director

Greetings, fellow members of the "education monopoly." Have you heard about the new game invented by our governor? Ironically, it's called "Cuomo-nopoly." When you pass go, you have no idea what you will collect. There is a cap on what you can spend unless you convince a supermajority of players to allow it.

Other players don't build hotels; they build charter schools. They are on your properties, but you have to pay them rent.

Don't land on the corner square or you'll be sent to jail, I mean, "receivership." Then you sit back for the next five turns as someone from Massachusetts throws the dice for you.

Jokes aside, public education is dealing with some very serious issues right now. And although he calls himself "the students' lobbyist," our governor does not seek to persuade but to dictate. He can't seem to decide what he feels more passionate about - improving public education or bad-mouthing it.


ECB recommends tax cap changes

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

After three years of experience with the state's property tax cap, a statewide advocacy group that includes NYSSBA has issued a report recommending dual ballot measures and other changes designed to improve rules on how school budgets are drafted and approved.

The recommendations of the New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB) include changes that voters will see and behind-the-scenes technical adjustments to how districts' tax caps are calculated.

The ECB is composed of the seven leading educational organizations that represent key stakeholder groups including school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents. The recommendations apply to school districts outside the five biggest cities in the state (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) and do not represent the position of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, an ECB member.


ECB: Let's flesh out these budget figures

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The Educational Conference Board, a group that includes NYSSBA and other organizations representing school officials, teachers and parents, has sought clarification from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders on what baseline state aid figures school districts should use in developing their budgets.

While the governor publicly advised using a 1.7 percent projected aid increase, a figure tied to personal income changes and a statutory school aid growth cap, the ECB's Feb. 9 letter pointed to bill language that would bar any increase. The group also noted that the overall statewide increase would not assure every district a 1.7 percent increase and that the state Budget Division projected a higher growth cap of 3.9 percent in October.


Is 12th grade all that it should be?

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Kenneth Hilton

I guess we'd all like to believe that 12th grade provides the "finishing touches" to K-12 schooling, ensuring that students are successfully prepared for college, meaningful employment and lives as adults. But a lot of grim data suggest that this may not always be the case:

Only 56 percent of four-year college students graduate within six years.

Only 29 percent of two-year college students earn diplomas or certificates within three years.

More than half of all college freshmen must take non-credit, remedial classes, requirements that discourage students and often derail graduation plans.


Why kindergarteners in NYS are learning about the Pilgrims in March, not November

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The frosty air and shamrocks of March are sure signs that it's almost time for kindergarteners in the Greece school district to start learning about Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims.

While the Columbus Day and Thanksgiving holidays of autumn might seem to be more sensible times for those lessons, the 15th Century Italian explorer and Plymouth Colony settlers actually are right on schedule to sail into many kindergarten classrooms around New York this month.

It's a change inspired by the Common Core and the concept of "core knowledge," which was conceived at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia during the 1970s. Rather than building their curriculums around holidays, teachers in early grades are covering topics in sequences designed to build on each other.

Using state-developed curriculum modules as guides, teachers in Greece spent the fall and early winter months leading kindergarteners through lessons on topics such as plants, farms, Native Americans, kings and queens, seasons and weather, said Suzanne Pettifer, literacy coordinator for the district.


Legislators interview 41 Regents candidates

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

State legislators heard from 41 candidates, including five incumbents, seeking appointment to the state Board of Regents during three marathon interview sessions at the Capitol in February.

Seven seats on the 17-member board are up for appointment, including those of Harry Phillips, who is retiring after representing the 9th Judicial District in the lower Hudson Valley for 15 years, and Geraldine Chapey, who resigned in June after representing the 11th Judicial District in Queens for 16 years. Ten candidates are vying for the Phillips seat, and two were interviewed for Chapey's seat, which has remained vacant since her resignation.

The incumbents seeking re-appointment are: James C. Dawson, a SUNY Plattsburgh geology professor who represents the sprawling 11-county 4th Judicial District; Robert M. Bennett of Erie County, who represents the 8th Judicial District and served as Regents Chancellor for seven years; Lester W. Young Jr. of Brooklyn, a retired educator and at-large member of the board; Roger Tilles, an attorney who represents the 10th Judicial District on Long Island; and Kathleen M. Cashin, a retired New York City teacher and administrator who represents the 2nd Judicial District in Brooklyn.


Is your school district serving free lunches to all eligible students?

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Courtney Sanik
Policy Consultant

Have your school policies kept up with changes in ways that your district's children can become eligible to receive free or reduce-price meals in school?

There are three ways this can occur:

  • The traditional way involves parents or guardians filling out a form in which they disclose their income.
  • A method called direct certification involves the State Education Department giving districts lists of children deemed qualified, without further application by households, to receive free or reduce-price meals households because of their families' participation in certain programs such as federal food assistance or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Medicaid benefits can trigger eligibility for those students from homes where the income is at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level for the family size.
  • All children in an entire school or an entire school district can receive free meals in what's known as community eligibility. The federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 allows low income/high need districts that meet certain provisions to elect to provide all students with free, nutritious breakfast and lunches, which New York State opted into during the 2012-13 school year.


Court strikes down local restrictionson locations of sex offenders' homes

On Board Online • March 2, 2015

By Kimberly A. Fanniff
Senior Staff Attorney

School districts may wish to review how they disseminate information about sex offenders living in the community in light of a ruling by the state's highest court.

Many municipalities across the state have adopted laws prohibiting registered sex offenders from residing within certain distances from schools, as well as day care centers, parks and other places where children congregate. However, the Court of Appeals has stripped school districts of protections provided by such local laws.

In People v. Diack, a sex offender challenged the validity of Nassau County's law. The Court of Appeals ruled that adoption of such local residency restrictions is prohibited by the state's "comprehensive and detailed statutory and regulatory framework for the identification, regulation and monitoring of sex offenders."

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