2018 legislative action ends with many vetoes
On Board Online • January 14, 2019
By Julie M. Marlette
Director of Governmental Relations
In the final weeks of 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took action on hundreds of bills, including a number that were important to NYSSBA members. Unfortunately for school district advocates, there were many more disappointments than celebrations.
First, the bright spots:
- Small group health insurance: approved. The governor signed NYSSBA-supported legislation to allow school districts with 51 to 100 employees to continue to be excluded from the definition of a "small group" for health insurance purposes. Originally adopted several years ago, this carve-out has prevented massive rate increases for more than 100 districts. Legislators passed a proposal that would have extended the provision for five years but a last-minute negotiation resulted in an agreement to make a chapter amendment that will extend the carve-out for two years.
- Shortened probationary period for administrators: vetoed. NYSSBA sought this veto along with the New York State Association of School Attorneys (NYSASA) and the State Council of School Administrators. If enacted, this bill would have established a shortened probationary period for administrators who had received tenure in a previous district. "We did not oppose this as a matter of policy," said NYSSBA President William Miller. "Rather, our Governmental Relations staff and NYSASA found a number of technical flaws." For instance, the bill failed to include the Big 5 and small city school districts, and would have retroactively applied to individuals whose probationary periods ended last year.
But most of the news out of the governor's office was sorely disappointing, especially the veto of a bill that would have raised the cap on BOCES district superintendent (DS) salaries. This bill had passed both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than a decade.
If the governor had signed the DS salary cap bill, no one would have gotten an automatic raise. Rather, the legislation would have empowered BOCES boards to negotiate with their top employees - some of whom are paid less than their deputies and other employees.
"The fact that the bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly was a significant accomplishment for NYSSBA and other advocates," said Miller. "The governor's veto is extremely discouraging to BOCES boards that want to attract and retain top administrative talent."
In his veto message, the governor indicated that the topic "should be dealt with in the context of state budget negotiations."
That was a recurring theme with the governor, with many vetoes being attributed at least in part to that rationale. These included:
- Excluding school districts' share of BOCES capital expenditures from the tax cap. If adopted, this legislation would have made an adjustment to the property tax cap by clarifying that a school district's costs related to BOCES capital expenditures could, in some instances, be exempted from the tax cap calculation. In his veto message, the executive stated that he had empowered state Department of Taxation and Finance to make such an adjustment. The governor suggested that since the department declined to permit such exemptions, his veto was justified, and any change should be part of the state budget.
- Adjustments to the payment of charter school tuition. If enacted, this bill would have made adjustments to the schedule by which school districts are reimbursed for charter school supplemental basic tuition. This is a cost intended to be borne by the state, but the district of residence must pay the tuition first and then be reimbursed by the state in the following school year. In districts where there is a concentration of enrollment, the cost of advancing this money can essentially wipe out any state aid increase awarded to the district. This bill would have adjusted the state payment schedule to reimburse districts in the same school year. In his veto message, the governor indicated this issue ought to be addressed in the state budget.
- Building aid amnesty. Four districts had pending legislation that would have addressed take-backs of aid they are facing as a result of clerical errors such as the late filing of final cost reports for building aid projects, or other administrative issues. Earlier this year, two bills offering similar relief were signed. In the executive's veto message, there was reference to earlier vetoes of similar legislation and provisions adopted to mitigate the impact of the penalties. But there was no explanation as to why some districts received amnesty in 2018 while others did not.
- Transportation aid amnesty. Three school districts were awaiting action on legislation that would alleviate penalties for errors in the filing for transportation aid. These bills were also vetoed. Once again this was identified as something that needed to be addressed in the context of the state budget.
- Special act school district methodology. If enacted, this legislation would have authorized the State Education Department to establish multiple methodologies for certain schools and school districts within the state that are funded outside traditional school aid and do not have taxing authority, including special act school districts. In his veto message, the governor stated, "SED currently has authority to establish a tuition rate 'methodology' for these schools which is 'based upon appropriate educational standards promulgated pursuant to regulations of the commissioner of education.'" In addition, he asserted that having two tuition rate methodologies for different groups of schools would only be appropriate if different schools were held to different educational standards, which they are not. He further stated, "Altering established educational standards for students for the purpose of bringing greater state aid to school administration would be an objectionable policy."
Many of these issues, though disapproved, remain important to NYSSBA members and partners. NYSSBA's Governmental Relations team will continue to work advance these bills, and stop others where needed, in the weeks and months to come.
"One thing we've learned is that advocacy requires patience and persistence," Miller said. "We have to keep the dialogue going with officials in Albany about the needs of our districts."
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