Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES says state plan hurts poorer schools more

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut state education aid by $1.5 billion has put full-day kindergarte

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut state education aid by $1.5 billion has put full-day kindergarten on the chopping block for some of the school districts served by the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES.

HFM BOCES District Superintendent Patrick Michel said Cuomo’s proposal punishes rural poor school districts, cutting their aid per pupil by far greater amounts than wealthier downstate school districts.

Michel provided statistics during a news conference Wednesday that showed HFM BOCES’ non-city school districts — which is all of them except Gloversville, Johnstown and Amsterdam — face an average state aid cut of $1,609 per student, higher than the state average cut per student of $1,117. The average per-student cut for all HFM BOCES schools was $1,284.

Cuomo’s proposed state aid cut is equal to 5.6 percent of school budgets statewide, but on average it equals a 7.5 percent of the school budgets in the HFM BOCES service area, where cuts ranged from 5.3 percent in Wells to 11 percent in Fonda-Fultonville and Mayfield.

As a percentage of property tax levy, Cuomo’s proposed cut equals 9.4 percent statewide but a whopping 22.5 percent from the HFM BOCES districts.

Michel said the governor’s proposal hits the poorest districts the hardest, forcing them to make choices about non-mandated programming like kindergarten, while wealthier downstate districts discuss eliminating extra foreign languages for kindergarteners.

“Kindergarten is not a mandated subject. The cuts are getting to the point where the school districts in this region, and this is astounding to me, are really considering mandate-only budgets. They are going to cut things so far back that the only things they are going to be able to present is what the state requires and nothing else,” he said.

Of the districts within HFM BOCES, only the Northville Central School District is considering complete elimination of its kindergarten program. Amsterdam, Broadalbin-Perth, Gloversville and Wells are all considering reverting to half-day kindergarten. Almost every district is looking at teacher layoffs, severe cuts to sports and music programming and elimination or reduction of advanced placement classes.

Officials with the state Division of the Budget, responding to questions on behalf of the governor, said Cuomo’s state aid cut was meant to be progressive in that wealthier school districts received a much higher percentage cut in year-to-year state aid, but because rural poor school districts receive much greater per-pupil state aid, even a smaller percentage cut for them equals more money.

For example, the Cold Spring Harbor Central School District, on Long Island, which has a $56.8 million budget, would receive a $645,334 state aid cut, $317 per student, while the Broadalbin school district, with its $29 million budget, would be cut $2.9 million, $1,609 per student.

The key distinction is that Broadalbin-Perth is getting vastly more money this year in all forms of state aid than Cold Spring Harbor: $17 million vs. $3.13 million.

Ashley McDuffee, a junior at Fonda-Fultonville High School, was one of several students who spoke at Wednesday’s news conference. She said she fears that cuts to advanced placement classes will hurt students’ ability to get into the college of their choice, while students in wealthier districts won’t face that same problem.

“How are we supposed to compete with the kids downstate? Forget China, forget global competition, how are we going to compete with kids in our own state? We won’t,” she said.

Michel said Cuomo’s proposal should be changed to help poor districts.

“We’re not asking the Legislature to add one dime to the governor’s proposed budget for 2011-12,” he said. “What we are asking our legislators to do is recalculate how state aid is distributed so that the schools in greatest need are not asked to bear the largest cuts.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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