Disappointment is a common theme among local educators responding to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2018-19 executive budget, unveiled Tuesday in Albany.
“While we understand that projected state deficits and uncertainty from Washington make funding public education a challenge, quite frankly we’re disappointed with the release of the governor’s proposed budget,” says Matt Frahm, superintendent of the Naples Central School District.
“The proposed increase for schools came in at about half of the amount the Division of Budget was projecting for 2018-19 as recently as two months ago, and under the current plan, Naples would only see a .2 percent increase in foundation aid,” Frahm continues.
Penn Yan Superintendent Howard Dennis says, “Our projected increase is $202,237 or 1.33 percent. Our current gap is about $1,564,093. We are hoping that with the limitations that are imposed by the tax cap the state budget will continue to be further refined and additional funding will become available.”
Whatever the final numbers are for Penn Yan, this year’s state budget will not have an impact on the capital project that was approved by voters last year, according to Dennis.
There’s a little different story in Dundee, where Superintendent Kelly Houck says it appears the district will receive approximately $100,000 more in state aid.
“Any increase is appreciated, however, such a small percentage of increase does not come close to mitigating the increases that the district is obligated to or has no control over such as contractual, energy costs, health care premiums, retirement system increases, etc.,” she says.
Dundee and other school districts are in the midst of creating budgets that voters will vote on in May, and it’s a challenge to create a spending plan that meets state mandates, incorporates the best educational practices and is fiscally responsible to district taxpayers, says Houck.
“We are working diligently to make all of these items come to fruition as we continue to prepare the proposed 18-19 school budget. We are constantly researching and investigating how to create the most efficient working environment while continuing to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” says Houck, adding, “Our students certainly deserve learning opportunities that reflect the challenges they will be faced with following their high school commencement.”
Frahm adds, “Without a more equitable system for distributing aid across the state, we would not be able to keep pace with rising costs involving health care, wage increases and pension obligations. In addition, we want to be make sure we are providing the same types of learning experiences here in Naples that are available to students living in more affluent parts of the state.”
Foundation aid is a formula designed to ensure all students have access to a “sound basic education” as guaranteed by the state Constitution. It is the base amount of money school districts receive to run their facilities.
The New York State Board of Regents in December called for a $1.6 billion increase in Foundation Aid and statutory reimbursement-based aids, but Cuomo is proposing a $769 million increase in state aid funding. Board Chancellor Betty A. Rosa expressed concern the proposed aid is less than half of what was recommended.
According to Cuomo’s budget proposal, the proposed $769 million in increased school aid doubles the statutory school aid growth cap, bringing the state’s total investment to $26.4 billion.
Cuomo said the proposed spending plan protects taxpayers from “Washington’s devastating federal attack,” a reference to the recently passed federal tax cuts that will heavily impact high-tax states like New York.
The state is facing a projected $4.4 billion deficit, which Cuomo proposes to significantly reduce through cuts and spending caps.
Frahm’s district has already begun to reach out to local representatives, last week sending a letter to state Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. The letter, signed by members of the school board, asks for full funding for the Foundation Aid formula, allowing districts to create special education reserve funds and modifying the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.
Joint legislative hearings, yet to be scheduled, will be conducted later this month going into mid-February for lawmakers to review the proposal with various departments and agencies to develop a final budget, due by April 1 when the next fiscal year begins.
Jeramy Clingerman, superintendent of the Marcus Whitman (Gorham-Middlesex) Central School District, agreed that although the governor’s budget proposal may call for a 3 percent increase in funding for K-12, it does not mean districts will see that level of increase.
His district projects an increase over 2017-18 of just over 1 percent and much less than 1 percent in Foundation Aid, noting the increase overall in the governor’s proposal for Foundation Aid is closer to 2 percent.
“The governor has added in new initiatives /programs and grant opportunities that benefit specific districts and reduces the overall amount of aid available to all districts,” he said, echoing Houck’s concerns about mandated and fixed costs. Clingerman said the level of student needs — whether social, emotional or academic — continue to increase. He said Marcus Whitman will continue to gather information as more details become available and continue to evaluate its needs and limitation of resources as it plans accordingly for the 2018-19 budget.
Includes reporting by Gwen Chamberlain