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