School superintendents from across seven counties in the Greater Capital Region have come together to outline the changes needed at the state level to spur a period of progress and achievement for New York’s students and schools.
The priorities are detailed in a legislative position paper, “New York’s Schools need a foundation for success,” that is being released by the joint Superintendents’ Legislative Committee for Capital Region and Quester III BOCES. The two BOCES serve 47 districts across Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie counties.
“Schools are focused on preparing students for a rapidly changing world, and superintendents are prepared to lead the way,” said Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., who co-chairs the Capital Region BOCES Legislative Committee. “We need a strong state partner that provides stability, proper resources and the flexibility to implement improvements and meet student needs.”
The four areas addressed in the paper are:
- Adequate funding: Provide adequate funding for schools, through the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) and a significant increase in Foundation Aid;
- Sensible tax cap modifications: In a year when many schools may face a tax cap near zero percent due to the complexities of the law, adjust the formula to allow for a stable 2 percent;
- Teacher evaluations: Rebuild a teacher evaluation system that is fair, credible and reliable – and keeps the focus on improving classroom instruction; and
- State Education Department Capacity: Invest in the capacity of the State Education Department to guide school improvement efforts and fulfill basic functions, including the timely review of capital projects.
The superintendents cite the Educational Conference Board’s recent recommendation for a $2.2 billion increase in school funding in 2016-17 to continue current school services and provide targeted funding for a series of needs and initiatives, including supporting struggling schools and expanding graduation pathways. The paper provides financial data for each district in the region, including the amount of the GEA state aid cut and Foundation Aid they are still owed.
Superintendents are particularly concerned about the implications of the tax cap in the year ahead. Based on current projections for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the allowable growth factor in the tax cap formula will be two-hundredths of one percent. This leaves many districts bracing for the damage a cap close to zero percent would do to student programs.
The position paper calls for lawmakers to do away with the volatility of CPI in the tax cap formula and replace it with a consistent 2 percent, the figure widely associated with the law. Absent a change in the cap or sufficient school aid, student programs will be in jeopardy as school leaders plan budgets for next year.
The report notes that changes are in progress to diminish the role of state assessments in teacher evaluations, at least for a transition period. The superintendents say this is a positive first step, but they encourage the state to start working with educators now to ensure they have the time needed to properly rebuild an evaluation system that is fair, credible and keeps the focus on improving classroom instruction.
The superintendents also detail how a lack of capacity at the State Education Department (SED) has impacted its ability to support schools. In particular, understaffing in the Facilities Planning Unit has led to a serious backlog of district capital projects awaiting approval – 950 projects are currently in the pipeline and there is an average review time longer than 40 weeks. This delay impacts students and taxpayers and slows down the local economy.
According to the paper, the budget cuts of recent years, the prospect of a new chapter in education reform, and the intense demands of the global economy demonstrate that the partnership between the state and schools is more important than ever.
“In the long run, New York cannot prosper without strong public schools,” said Schodack Superintendent Robert Horan, who chairs the Questar III BOCES Legislative Committee. “The stability of our finances and our programs is vital to communities, families, taxpayers and students. Positive state action is the key to building more momentum in the effort to give all students a chance to succeed and to ultimately contribute to our economy and society.”