New York State School Boards Association

Only 2.6% aid increase proposed for district flagged for fiscal stress

by Paul Heiser

On Board Online • February 10, 2014

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

PhotoMost school districts recently identified by the state comptroller as being under fiscal stress won’t find much relief in Gov. Cuomo’s proposed state budget.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently evaluated 674 school districts with fiscal years ending on June 30, 2013 and identified 87 districts as “fiscally stressed” under a new monitoring system. Those 87 districts would receive aid increases averaging only 2.6 percent above 2013-14 levels, not including building aid, according to a NYSSBA analysis.

The 12 districts designated as being under the most fiscal stress, or “significant stress,” would see an average aid increase of 2.5 percent. The 23 districts designated as being under “moderate stress” would receive an average aid increase of 2.0 percent. The 52 districts identified as being “suspectible to fiscal stress” would receive an average aid increase of 2.9 percent.

One of the districts experiencing significant fiscal stress under the comptroller’s analysis is the Watervliet City School District in Albany County.

“Clearly the budget is underwhelming,” said Superintendent Lori Caplan. “We have already cut to the bone. You can cut only so much and still maintain an adequate educational program.”

Caplan said her district received less state aid in 2013-14 – $13.5 million – than it did in 2008-09, when it received $13.7 million.

Statewide, under the governor’s proposal, 68 percent of districts would still be receiving less total state aid than in 2008-09, according to a NYSSBA analysis.  If building aid is excluded, 83 percent would receive less state aid in 2014-15 than in 2008-09, according to the state Council of School Superintendents.

Watervliet has already cut 31 positions, including teachers, administrator and support staff, as well as maintenance, Caplan told On Board. She said the high school is operating with class sizes of 30 students or more.

“We physically cannot do much more,” Caplan said. “At the K-12 level there is practically nothing left we can do, except perhaps cutting JV and modified sports.”

Another risk factor for fiscal stress – a limited ability to raise necessary resources at the local level – has also hampered Watervliet. The Watervliet Arsenal, which is federally-owned and tax-exempt, comprises 70 percent of the City of Watervliet, a small sliver of land one mile wide by two miles long north of Albany. Thus, the remaining 30 percent of city inhabitants pay 100 percent of the property tax.

“We cannot raise enough locally to make up for the district’s needs,” said Caplan. “Even if we could raise enough in property taxes to meet the district’s needs, it would break the backs of taxpayers.”

The news isn’t any better in the General Brown Central School District in rural Jefferson County.

According to Superintendent Cammy Morrison, the district will see an increase in expenses of $711,000 for 2014-15 yet would receive a reduction in state aid of $33,000 under the governor’s budget proposal, exclusive of building aid. In addition, the 1.46 percent state mandated tax cap means that General Brown will be able to raise only an additional $97,000 locally. The district has no unassigned fund balance and very little left in reserves.

“The funding that Governor Cuomo is proposing is highly inadequate and if not immediately amended will result in additional cuts in staffing and programs at General Brown,” Morrison told On Board. “Those additional cuts will likely result in our inability to offer our students required courses, and will augment our inability to provide mandated programs and services during the 2014-15 school year.”

Morrison said that stakeholders in the district have repeatedly met with local legislators as well as the state comptroller’s office only to be told that there is no current plan for addressing the certain financial insolvency faced by the 12 districts that were identified as being under significant stress.

“New York State has clearly dropped the ball in regard to providing adequate funding for districts, and in particular rural districts,” she said. “Our students are suffering and without the immediate end of the GEA, our district will not survive.”

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