About 500 community members from 50+ school districts in the Hudson Valley came together on Oct. 2 to learn about the fiscal crisis facing their schools and find out what they can do about it.
Parents, educators, community and civic leaders from seven counties, and state legislators including Senator Bill Larkin, and Assembly members James Skoufis and Annie Rabbitt attended the “Fair Funding for Our Schools – Now is the Time for Action!” rally at Middletown’s Twin Towers Middle School.
Featured speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, pointed to three major causes of the fiscal crisis facing school districts: cuts in state aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, inequities in how the state distributes school aid to school districts, and a lack of meaningful mandate relief from state mandates that drive up the cost of education.
Dr. Timbs, a retired educator, explained that the Gap Elimination Adjustment is a cut in state education aid that Gov. David Paterson proposed as a one-time fix to help the state’s budget deficit. But the state has used it the past four years, costing Hudson Valley school districts $128 million in aid this year alone.
Dr. Timbs also pointed to the state aid formula New York uses to distribute school aid. Using the state’s own budget figures, he illustrated how many school districts do not get their fair share of state aid. As a result, those districts are faced with cutting programs their communities value while the cost of education is increasingly being shifted to local property taxes.
Dr. Timbs demonstrated that schools in our region (Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties) have lost a combined $636,225,316 in promised aid since 2010-11. He calls this “The Lost Promise” because it was state aid due our schools that the state took back to balance their own budget.
“Your students are being shortchanged, folks,” was the message Timbs had for community members. He urged those in attendance to contact local legislators to demand that the Gap Elimination Adjustment be eliminated, and that state money for education be sent where it’s needed most through a fair distribution formula.
To help illustrate the deep concerns of our area schools, three superintendents spoke about what is happening in their own districts – citing inequity of school aid, lack of mandate relief and a push to open charter schools whether or not there’s a need for them. Each of these superintendents, Ken Eastwood from Middletown, Richard Hooley from Valley Central, and Warwick’s Ray Bryant, shared their concern for their own students and the reality that, without immediate relief from Albany, their districts will continue to face steep cuts with little else to eliminate but student opportunities.
Dr. Hooley, who has been an educator in other states, took exception to the Governor’s stance that New York’s public education system is subpar, saying that from his perspective, New York employs exceptional teachers who deliver a high quality education. He said that, contrary to what the Governor has said, many professional institutions consistently rank the public education delivered in New York State as number two or three in the nation, with Massachusetts leading the pack.
Closing remarks and a call to action were made by Warwick Board of Education Vice President Lynn Lillian. Ms. Lillian, saying, “This is not an event, but a process,” urged attendees to stay involved. The organizing committee is planning a follow-up workshop on November 13 at Orange/Ulster BOCES in Goshen on how to advocate effectively, and another session in January as the Governor lays out his budget plans for next year.