New York State School Boards Association

Goodbye 2018, hello 2019

by William Miller

On Board Online • January 14, 2019

William Miller
NYSSBA President

Last January, I became the president of NYSSBA. I blinked, and the next thing I knew, we were turning the calendar to 2019. Where did the time go? Where did the time go?

It's a universal truth that when time flies, you must be busy. And so it was in 2018. Public education had another hectic year that had us keeping our tentacles out in all directions.

In the wake of school shootings, including the shooting in Parkland, Fla., school safety remains an ongoing concern. President Trump assembled a panel to review school safety practices and determine how to make schools safer. Some of the recommendations issued by the Federal Commission on School Safety in December are commonsense measures that many schools are already doing, such as putting character education programs in place, improving mental health resources and addressing cyberbullying.

One of the recommendations was bold - and controversial. Echoing the president's belief that "a good guy with a gun" is a good deterrent and defense against school violence, the commission proposed arming school personnel. (In New York, the commissioner of education, Regents chancellor and attorney general oppose such as tactic.)

While not binding, the commission's recommendations will no doubt influence community discussions about school safety in 2019 and encourage school districts everywhere to review their own practices about how to protect the children in their care.

Meanwhile, the November elections produced changes in New York State that will reverberate well into 2019 and beyond. Democrats in New York now control both houses of the state Legislature as well as the governorship.

Democratic legislators have already suggested they will seek greater levels of state aid to schools by backfilling previous shortfalls which the state allocated as result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision. They also favor putting less emphasis on growing the number of charter schools and severing the link between test scores and teacher and principal evaluations.

While taking a "wait and see approach" to the new legislative dynamic, I am encouraged by what I hear about boosting funding for schools and modernizing the foundation aid formula.

Here is my take on several pending issues:

Evaluations. NYSSBA supports removing the mandate to use state standardized test scores in educator evaluations. But local school leaders should not lose sight of the need for teacher and principal evaluations to be fair and rigorous, using a variety of relevant measures as determined by your school board (without expanding collective bargaining).

Rural schools. I like that incoming Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer has talked about not forgetting rural school districts.

High-achieving schools. I applaud Mayer's stance that high-achieving districts deserve flexibility from the state to "do what does work."

Will the Democrats be unified in their approach to public education? Probably not. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for charter schools in the past and recently called foundation aid and CFE "ghosts of the past." This might portend choppy waters for a 2019 legislative session and budget deliberations for those of us who believe schools are chronically and systematically underfunded.

That brings me to the school budget vote. Federal legislation ending deductions of more than $10,000 of state and local taxes will be felt when taxpayers file their income taxes in April. With school budget votes looming only a month later, will taxpayers be in an angry mood and vent their frustrations on school spending plans? Or will substantial foundation aid increases for school districts result in much lower tax levy increases, keeping taxpayer angst at bay? Only time will tell.

School districts with at least four school buildings will face a new form of accountability in 2019-20 - namely, building-level financial reporting. School boards should be prepared to answer constituent's questions on these spending reports.

NYSSBA will remain vigilant in keeping you informed and representing the interests of school boards, taxpayers and students.

As I begin my second year as NYSSBA president, I am grateful to have the support of board members statewide and NYSSBA's board of directors as we pursue our shared goals for 2019. And remember, we do what we do because every child does matter!

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