Mohawk Valley residents stand together at “Fight for Our Valley Schools” education rally #NYSchoolsInPeril

Rally_ANew York state’s formula for funding schools is cheating Mohawk Valley students, and residents must demand a change.

That was the message delivered to almost 250 school board members, school employees, residents and students at the Fight for Our Valley Schools education rally sponsored by Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES on Thursday, March 6, at Herkimer College. Statewide School Finance Consortium Executive Director Rick Timbs, Herkimer Central School District Board of Education Vice-President Robert Mihevc and Herkimer Student Council President Daniel Adamek each delivered an impassioned message to the crowd painting a factual, but bleak picture of the plight facing the area’s schools.

“The truth is: You’re getting the short end of the stick,” Timbs told the audience.
Mihevc emceed the evening, welcoming attendees, introducing guests and offering his perspective of how state funding has negatively impacted his home district.

Throughout the evening, attendees texted friends and tweeted their support of the initiative.
After the event, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney spoke with many to listen to their concerns and to also encourage their involvement.

Numbers speak volumes

Timbs spoke for more than one hour, delivering a data-packed presentation that explained how New York’s school funding process deprives poorer schools of much-needed money while continuing to supplement the already strong academic and extracurricular programs of wealthier districts.

The problem begins with the simple fact that the Valley’s school districts lack the resources necessary to support their schools, he said. Using the state’s measure of a district’s wealth, the average New York school district is 1.1 times wealthier than Poland, the area’s wealthiest district, and 2.7 times wealthier than Central Valley, the area’s poorest district. He shocked the audience when he revealed that one New York school district is 52 times wealthier than the state average, making it more than 100 times wealthier than the average school in the Herkimer BOCES. Without sufficient resources to fully support their own schools, local districts rely more heavily on state aid than the average state school.

So, when the state began cutting school aid in 2009-10 to close the state’s budget deficit, it hurt Valley schools and its students worse than the average school. These cuts, known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment or GEA, have totaled $42.1 million dollars over four years to the 10 Herkimer BOCES component school districts.

“If there wasn’t a GEA – if there wasn’t a cut – life would be a lot easier in schools,” Timbs said.

Timbs noted that the GEA hurts poorer schools more than it hurts wealthier schools because poorer districts lack a property tax base to make up for lost revenue. His data reveals that area schools would have to raise property taxes by 5 to 13 percent to offset revenue lost under the 2014-15 projected GEA, while wealthy districts would only need to raise taxes by less than 1 percent.

He also refuted claims that the schools will get more state aid than in past years as the state reduces the GEA. He explained that districts will receive more aid than last year, but still not as much as they were promised four years ago. According to Timbs, even the GEA restoration plan penalizes poorer districts. In 2013-14, the poorest districts received an additional $83 per pupil while the wealthiest districts received $220 per pupil.

Unable to further burden local taxpayers, local school districts have cut staff and program and spent their savings. He warned that districts can cut the same teacher once or spend their savings once; schools are running out of options.

Repeatedly, he asked the crowd if they were beginning to see a pattern.

More than state aid and the GEA

Timbs said two other state initiatives are crippling schools.

The tax levy limit, mistakenly called the 2 percent tax cap, takes even more money from Herkimer BOCES school districts.

“None of the districts in this auditorium can raise their budgets more than 1 percent and still stay within the (2014-15) 1.46 percent tax levy limit,” he said.

He also decried the unfairness of the STAR property tax exemption saying that the state has increased the exemption in wealthy districts. The increase lowers the taxes of those living in the state’s wealthier communities, despite the fact that these communities enjoy high incomes and schools with broad academic and extracurricular programs.

A call to action

Timbs closed by encouraging everyone to ask elected officials to end the GEA and to develop a school funding plan that ensures students in all areas of the state, regardless of community wealth, of the high quality education they deserve.

Herkimer High School Student Council President Daniel Adamek took the microphone to present a student perspective on school funding. During a special summer program in Vermont, he had the opportunity to meet with students from throughout New England. Those conversations led him to fully realize how little his school could offer compared to other schools.

He stood before the audience and recorded a brief video of himself saying, “Governor Cuomo, my name is Dan Adamek, and I have a message for you.” Then, he turned the video camera toward the audience who chanted in unison, “Save our schools, save our schools!”

 

He invited everyone to visit a newly launched, student-run website Students for Fair Funding at www.fairfundingny.webs.com.

“We must tell our government that quality education is a human right – not a privilege reserved for the rich,” Adamek said.

Click here to visit the Herkimer BOCES website and learn more about advocacy efforts that you can get involved in.

Tonight: Herkimer regional advocacy event

Tonight, school leaders, boards of education and community advocacy groups from districts in Herkimer, Fulton, Hamilton and Otsego counties, will participate in a regional advocacy event called “Fight for Our Valley Schools.”

The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Herkimer College’s Robert McLaughlin College Center.

The event features guest speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, who will explain how the state’s current funding formula is depriving the area’s students of the high quality education they deserve. Since the GEA’s inception, the state has withheld almost $43.7 million from the 10 component schools that make up Herkimer BOCES.

If you cannot attend in person, you can follow the event’s official Twitter account: @herkimerboces, or keep an eye on our Twitter account, @edspeaksNY, as we’ll be re-tweeting some of the highlights from the event.

AQE & the Campaign for Fiscal Equity find constitutional violations in study

During the week of February 24-28th, the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center, visited 14 school districts across the state to begin documenting educational resource deficiencies resulting from the state’s failure to meet its obligations under the New York State Constitution.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, the two organizations released their findings, explaining that they found “substantial and compelling evidence” of failure by Gov. Cuomo and the legislature to provide the resources necessary for all students to receive a “sound, basic education,” as guaranteed by the New York constitution.

“Despite often extraordinary efforts by local school leaders and educators the State’s failure to provide adequate educational resources has impeded districts’ ability to provide all students a “sound, basic education,” a statement from AQE and CFE said.

From western New York to Long Island, AQE and CFE met with superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents who shared evidence regarding the educational impacts of the state’s under-funding of their schools. Among their findings:

  • Class sizes have risen to over 25 and in some cases over 30.
  • All of the school districts have cut staff in some cases as much as 20% — despite the fact that in many districts student enrollment has actually grown.
  • Some of the most dramatic cuts have been to academic interventions for students not performing at grade level including severe cuts to summer school and to state mandated tutoring.
  • School libraries have been closed, cut hours or have no librarians.
  • Guidance counselors are substantially overloaded and there is a shortage of social workers and school psychologists.
  • Some elementary schools offer no art or no music, foreign languages and elective courses have all been cut—with some districts replacing academic courses with study halls.

Click here to read the full report 

“The State’s school funding cuts are causing severe educational harm to New York’s school children, especially in high need, underfunded city and rural districts” Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity David Sciarra said. “The resource deficits in some districts are so palpably inadequate as to deprive children of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.”

With the two houses of the state legislature preparing their education budgets – to be voted on March 12 – AQE and CFE are preparing for a potential school funding lawsuit if the state does not live up to its constitutional obligation this year.

POV: The math just doesn’t add up #NYSchoolsInPeril

This Point of View was submitted by Queensbury Central School District superintendent Dr. Douglas Huntley and Board of Education president Raymond Gordon.

Points_viewFor New York’s public schools, the math does not add up: More than 70 percent of school districts, including Queensbury, are currently receiving less state aid than they did five years ago. Queensbury alone has lost $16 million in promised state aid since 2009-10. Now, the governor’s 2014-15 budget places new mandates on schools while maintaining an aid-reduction tactic known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

With state projections of a $2.2 billion surplus, it is time to make schools whole by honoring the government’s commitment to educating its children.

In recent years, school districts such as Queensbury had to cut personnel; reduce programs, services, reserves, fund balance; and increase class size to remain fiscally solvent. Additionally, the board limited the local tax levy increase to an average of 1.47 percent over the past five years. We have already lost 85 teaching, support staff and administrative positions. This cannot continue without serious deterioration to the quality of education.

The property tax cap came with promises of relief from the mandates driving up the cost of education. Unfortunately, mandate relief has yet to be realized in any significant way. In fact, the New NY Education Reform Commission appointed to examine issues related to education funding, among other things, actually proposed many initiatives, or mandates, similar to those proposed by the governor. While initiatives like pre-K and a $2 billion technology plan sound intriguing, it seems ill advised to spend huge amounts on new programs when existing programs must be cut due to inadequate state funding.

We call on the N.Y.S. Legislature to restore the funding lost to the GEA and to ensure any new education initiatives do not become more un/underfunded mandates for schools.

Raymond Gordon, President, Queensbury Board of Education
Douglas W. Huntley, Ed.D., Superintendent

POV: Governor Cuomo’s budget raises concerns for future

This Point of View was submitted by Ravena-Coeymans Selkirk Central School District superintendent Dr. Alan McCartney.

Points_viewGovernor Cuomo’s proposed state budget includes initiatives that could have long-term positive results for our students and the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District. It’s next year that I am very concerned about.

Gains that might come from funding new initiatives for prekindergarten, after-school programs, and technology upgrades will most likely not materialize for us due to the fact that our district may not be able to maintain our current program next year.

According to the preliminary estimates provided, under the executive proposal, the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk CSD would see a 2.26% ($278,831) increase in state aid excluding building aid. A preliminary analysis of our Tax Levy Limit indicates that we would be able to generate $319,469 in tax revenues without having to have a super majority vote.

A review of estimated increases for pensions, health insurance, the Affordable Care Act, heat, lights and the overall general costs associated with running a school district indicates that we would need to generate $ 1,064,006 to maintain our current programs as they are today. This creates a gap between available estimated revenues and estimated expenditures of $465,706 without adding new initiatives or programs.

Our community, yet again, will be forced to look at making program and approximately six staff reductions that will affect programs and services to close the gap between available revenues and needed expenditures. Our voters will be forced to make tough choices concerning programs for their children and their ability to pay.

Remaining in the executive proposal is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced in 2010 as a way for the state government to close its budget deficit. It did so by spreading the funding shortfall around to all school districts through a GEA reduction to the overall Foundation Aid due to schools. Despite New York’s anticipated surplus, the governor’s proposal calls for only a partial restoration ($323 million) of funds withheld from districts through the GEA.

While a partial restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment is helpful, it does not nearly go far enough to solve a problem that is devastating our district and dismantling our educational programs. The rationale originally used for creating the GEA no longer exists; schools throughout the state should receive the aid that they are owed and desperately need.

RCS is slated to lose an additional $2,024,472 to the GEA in 2014-15, bringing the district’s five-year total loss to $12,247,008 under the governor’s plan.

chartDespite School Aid increases in the last two state budgets, we are still getting less help this year than we did in 2008-09. The following chart shows a decrease of $3,991,655 less than we were in 2008-09 or 24.07%.

The Executive Budget also proposes a two-year property tax freeze for homeowners residing in school districts that meet certain conditions. This proposal would force district’s to become involved in a complex time consuming task that will tear districts and communities apart. This an attempt to force consolidations and the large scale sharing of services and costs while leaving the local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) out of the equation.

During the first year of the freeze, a district would have to pass a budget with a levy that stays within its property tax levy cap. During the second year, in addition to again staying within its cap, a district would have to agree to and implement a state-approved plan for shared services and consolidation. Our budget already includes shared services savings through BOCES and this proposal would shift this responsibility to the largest school district in our BOCES region.

Again the promise of “No Tax Increases” is shifted to the school districts and local governments across our great state. If the program is not successful, school districts and local governments will be blamed for not achieving the savings, not the governor or the state. Creating turmoil at the local level will take focus away from the real issues of educating our students and how we currently fund public education in New York State.
This proposal will create a rift between our district and the community we serve. Taxpayers will now be asked to choose between funding education and receiving a tax break. The financial outlook for New York State government has improved under Governor Cuomo’s leadership. But that has yet to translate into wide gains for our schools. Too many districts still have real fears of insolvency. Too few, like ours, have been able to restore programs and opportunities for their students.

I and the board of education look forward to working with Assembly Members, Senators and the Governor to develop a final state budget that protects and improves the capacity of all districts to continue the practice of teaching and learning that is so important to the future of our state and country.

Friday Rundown: 1.31.14: #NYSchoolsInPeril edition

We’re incredibly excited by the events at Colonie High School last night. The regional forum had upwards of 1,000 attendees, including parents, teachers, state legislators, students, board members and school administrators. Everyone there had one thing in common — they care about public education in New York. Here’s a recap.

Click here to watch the recording of the event in full.

#NYSchoolsInPeril Twitter Timeline


Photo Gallery

View a Facebook photo gallery courtesy of our friends at Questar III

TV News Coverage

Radio News Coverage

  • WCNY - Rick Timbs and Jim Hoffman discuss forum with Susan Arbetter on Capitol Pressroom radio show.

Print News Coverage

We’ll be updating this post today as more information and local news recaps become available.

Timbs, Spring discuss Governor’s budget, GEA

Yesterday afternoon, Statewide School Finance Consortium director Dr. Rick Timbs and Schenectady City School District superintendent Dr. Larry Spring sat down with Susan Arbetter of the Capitol Pressroom to discuss a variety of education topics, including the Governor’s budget proposal.

Timbs categorized the budget proposal as ‘anemic’, explaining that he doesn’t think Gov. Cuomo understands the mission that’s been given to schools over the last five years.

“[The aid proposal] is a decrease of a decrease,” Timbs said. “[Schools] just lost $8.5 million, so by giving an increase of a couple hundred-million dollars, is not an increase. They (the state) still owe us money.”

Timbs cited the Gap Elimination Adjustment as a tremendous burden on school districts, as the GEA has cost school districts $8.5 billion in aid since it was introduced in 2010.

“It’s an immediate problem,” he said.

Larry Spring echoed Timbs’ concerns as it relates to Schenectady City Schools. The district is facing a $10 million dollar budget gap and only expects to receive about $700,000 in aid from the Governor’s proposal.

“It’s a nominal increase,” Spring said. “We’ve been fighting for quite a while because we’ve been shorted about $62 million from what we’re entitled in aid every year.”

When asked if he believed Gov. Cuomo should feel obligated to fulfill a constitutional requirement to provide a sound, basic education to all students, as well as the promise from 2007 to fully-fund education K-12. Spring said he believes the Governor has other intentions.

“I think he’s looking at education as a political lever and he has things he wants to accomplish on his agenda and I think education and the players around it are a way to make those things happen.”

To listen to the entire interview, click here and skip ahead to the 23-minute mark.

Assemblyman John McDonald previews Jan. 30 advocacy event

Yesterday, Ed Speaks had the chance to sit down with Assemblyman John McDonald and discuss the regional advocacy event taking place on Thursday night at Colonie High School.

McDonald, who will be one of a number of legislators in attendance on Thursday night, acknowledges that there is a lot of confusion surrounding many of the key topics in education today and he hopes that the forum will serve as a place where community members can become better informed on those issues.

“Nothing is better than sitting down, having a discussion, looking at the facts and numbers, and listening to professionals tell us what is going on in the classrooms,” he said.

With that added knowledge, McDonald hopes that coalitions are built in response to the advocacy event, allowing stakeholders the chance to work together to support bringing fairness and equity to districts.

“If you want to see defeat, try to separate people into different groups. Separate and apart, they’re not as strong as one group united.”

McDonald said that the response to last year’s event was very powerful and it made a lasting impression on both he and many of his fellow assembly members. He encourages those in attendance to do it again.

“We need the education system to be strong and we need it to be solid, because a failing education system is a failing community; and a failing community is a failing state.”

Are you going? There’s still time to commit to attending Thursday night’s advocacy forum at Colonie High School. If you care about fair funding for all schools and want to learn more about what’s at stake if state leaders don’t eliminate the GEA, you will want to be in attendance. The event gets underway at 6:30 p.m. We hope to see you there!

Governor to present budget this afternoon

Two weeks ago, Governor Cuomo outlined his vision for the coming year in his annual State of the State Address. Under the heading of education, we learned the Governor is placing a heavy emphasis on added technology in the classroom, full-day universal pre-kindergarten and a respite in property tax increases.

Today, we find out how he intends to pay for it all.

Update: According to an exclusive in the Daily News this morning, Gov. Cuomo is set to unveil a universal pre-K plan without hiking taxes in budget address.

There was also no mention during the State of the State of changing the funding formula for a more equitable distribution of state aid, despite recent calls to do so; ending the gap elimination adjustment, mandate relief for schools or the biggest hot-button education issue as of late — the Common Core State Standards.

We’ll find out together today at 2:00 p.m. Follow us on Twitter, as we’ll be live-tweeting the address, @edspeaksNY. You can also watch the address live here.

 

SSFC calls for more equitable funding, Cuomo says calls are “industry propaganda”

A lack of educational financial expertise and failure to grasp the current needs of school districts are the prime reasons why the Statewide School Finance Consortium (SSFC) believes the Education Reform Commission’s report falls short in achieving actual reform.

On Tuesday, the Commission, charged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with issuing recommendations for improving education issued its report, 19 months after it was launched and four months after it was initially expected to issue the report.

The Commission issued six recommendations, including expanding early education, expanding the use of technology in the classroom, rewarding top teachers, replicating programs that connect high school to college in order to create greater college opportunities, strategically investing in higher education, and focusing on efficiencies to reinvest administrative savings into the classroom.

According to SSFC Executive Director Rick Timbs, the report offers nothing new in terms of ideas.

“The report is underwhelming,” he said. “It just falls so short. It’s a loss of two years’ time. There is nothing new here. We’ve been hearing about these things for years. There are some nice ideas and suggestions for schools in the report, but nothing to help schools survive and thrive.’’

Timbs argues that since the Commission held hearings throughout the state on equitable funding and state aid, there should have been some mention of it in the report.

“These are difficult issues that need to be confronted and this is one of the reasons the Commission was formed,” he said. “Instead, the Commission chose to avoid the most critical fiscal reform face by school districts, their students and their taxpayers. It’s an unfortunate missed opportunity.”

On Friday, Gov. Cuomo told Susan Arbetter on her radio show that calls for more money and aid are “industry propaganda.”

“Let’s not talk about money for the bureaucracy, let’s talk about results for the students,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo also dodged a question by Arbetter on the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“We need to end the GEA immediately and create a new Foundation Aid formula for 2015-16 that is equitable in its distribution, adequate in its funding and sustainable,” Timbs said in his response.

Timbs is also calling on the Governor to convene a new commission made up educational financial leaders to study the Foundation Aid formula and come up with recommendations for its overhaul.

Click here to read the SSFC response to the Commission’s report.