School districts get increase in state aid in governor’s budget

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 January 2016 at 12:00 am

File photo by Tom Rivers – An Albion school bus makes a stop Tuesday afternoon on West State Street in the Village of Albion.

Local school districts would receive about $2.6 million more in operating aid in 2016-17, according to the governor’s budget presented last week.

Local school superintendents welcome the additional money, but they also said the state needs to do more in this era of tax caps to help districts provide a quality education without burdening local property taxpayers.

Here is a breakdown of the operating aid for local school districts:

District 2015-16 2016-17 Increase
Albion $22,148,076 $22,613,231 $465,155 (2.1 %)
Holley $12,952,601 $13,973,110 $1,020,509 (7.9 %)
Kendall $9,340,355 $9,909,923 $569,568 (6.1 %)
Lyndonville $6,947,301 $7,172,378 $225,077 (3.2 %)
Medina $20,238,422 $20,575,185 $336,763 (1.7 %)
Orleans County $71,626,755 $74,243,827 $2,617,072 (3.7 %)

Source: NYS Division of the Budget

The governor announced he would work to restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was implemented during the state budget crisis in 2009. However, Cuomo said it would take two years to restore those funds, not all in the 2016-17 state budget.

High-needs and low-wealth districts have already had much of those funds restored. Medina and Albion are considered by the state to be low-wealth and much of their GEA funds have been restored. That’s why Albion is proposed to only receive $4,875 more in GEA money and Medina $11,537 in 2016-17.

However, three other districts in Orleans with higher wealth will see significantly more in 2016-17 in restored funds through Gap Elimination Adjustment. Holley would receive $141,247 more, Kendall would see an additional $117,348, and Lyndonville, $89,700.

“I am pleased that the Governor’s proposal includes full restoration of the GEA over a period of two years,” said Robert D’Angelo, Holley school district superintendent. “For Holley, that is approximately $284,000. The state aid runs show us receiving an increase of 7.8 percent in state aid. However, it is more attributed to expense driven aid such as transportation and BOCES than foundation aid which is proposed at an increase of 1.4 percent for Holley.”

D’Angelo said he would reach out to state legislators about more equity in foundation aid for school districts and elimination of some non-funded mandates “which place a financial burden on public school districts and that burden is further magnified by the tax cap restrictions as well as the small increase in foundation aid.”

Julie Christensen, Kendall school district superintendent, said the state still owes Kendall about 40 percent of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“In essence Kendall Schools will be receiving approximately the same amount of operational aid at we did in 2008-09 with this projection,” she said. “Overall, the state aid is better than years past, which is positive as the tax cap will be zero this year. However, the increase in minimum wage becomes problematic as that increases impacts our expenses without an increase in revenues.”

Kendall will get more in building aid as it begins to pay down the debt on its capital project.

“We saw an increase in expense-based aid, mostly BOCES aid,” Christensen said. “This was also expected as we purchased new technology and equipment with the initial phase of the project last year and will use this increase in aid to offset the remaining purchases required to complete the technology upgrade in the second phase of the project.”

Mike Bonnewell, the Albion school district superintendent, said the governor’s budget includes, for the first time, “Community Schools Aid.”

“Little information is out about this new program yet, but it does seem it is dedicated to new student and family support services,” Bonnewell said.

He noted that the tax cap, which was supposed to allow up to 2 percent in tax increases, could be very close to 0 percent for districts.

“This year, even more than past tax cap years, state aid and Albion Central’s continuing commitment to conservative budgeting decisions will be very important,” he said.

Medina also would receive $135,337 in Community Schools Aid, as part of the governor’s budget, said Jeff Evoy, Medina school superintendent.

“Being a new revenue source, we need to review how these funds can be allocated,” he said.

The district saw a sizable restoration in GEA funds in 2015-16, but would see far less in the new state budget.

“We were prepared for our Gap Elimination figure to be lower than other larger districts in WNY,” Evoy said. “The adjustment for MCSD for 16-17 is $11,537 compared to over $300,000 in 2015-16. The overall impact of our budget year to year is $260,900 or 1.7 percent.”

Jason Smith, the Lyndonville school superintendent, said restoring the Gap Elimination Adjustment “will allow schools like ours to explore ways to improve programming for students.”

Smith said he is pleased the governor didn’t bring up teacher evaluations and Common Core. “That is best left to State Ed and local districts to handle and negotiate,” Smith said.

He noted last year the governor “held hostage” state aid due to negotiations about teacher evaluations.

Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Assocoation, said Cuomo’s budget “falls short” for school districts.

“Increasing funding for struggling schools, expanding prekindergarten programs, enhancing school safety and implementing the recommendations of the Common Core Task Force are all positive and sensible goals that lead us in the right direction,” Kremer said. “Unfortunately, the governor’s proposed state aid increase is much less than what schools need to maintain current programs and services – especially in the face of a zero percent tax cap – and will leave districts wanting as they attempt to implement these ambitious programs.”

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