Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli has begun encouraging parents and other school district residents to complain to the state Legislature about a quirk in the state’s education aid formula that treats Gloversville as if it were a much wealthier community than it really is.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed cutting Gloversville’s state aid by $3.1 million, or about $988 per student. The district is considering laying off 15 employees, including elementary art and music teachers, as well as cutting kindergarten to half day or eliminating it. The district is also considering cutting a number of sports teams and all modified sports programs. These cuts would come as the district also looks to increase its property tax levy by at least 3 percent, meaning district residents would, as has been true for several years, be asked to pay higher taxes for significantly fewer services.
DeLilli said the cuts wouldn’t be as great if the state fairly calculated Gloversville’s wealth.
“The funding is not keeping pace with the level of poverty here. Part of this is due to a gross inequity in the funding formula. There should be people infuriated about this locally and we’re in the process of educating people about this,” he said.
The inequity DeLilli is complaining about arises from a component of the state’s foundation aid formula called the Combined Wealth Ratio. The Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) tries to calculate the wealth of the people living in a school district by looking at income levels and property values. A school district with what the state considers average income would have a CWR of 1. Niskayuna Central School District has a CWR of 1.106. Gloversville has a CWR of 0.33.
The problem for Gloversville, and some of the other rural poor school districts, comes from the fact that the state has set a floor for how low a school district’s wealth can be as a factor of the aid formula. No district receives additional aid for having less wealth than a CWR of 0.6.
“The average Combined Wealth Ratio is 1, but the state funds every school as if its CWR were at least 0.6. That’s false, we’re almost half that at 0.33. We end up being treated as almost an average school district in terms of wealth,” he said. “I can confidently say if we were aided at our appropriate wealth level we would … not be laying teachers off, … we wouldn’t be considering eliminating kindergarten. It would be enough to fund us appropriately at this time.”
Amsterdam City School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo has the same complaint. His district has a CWR of 0.43 and is looking at a potential state aid cut of $3.7 million, about $1,004 per student.
“We do have quite a high level of poverty in Amsterdam and the funding inequity does not address that in our area because of the floor in that wealth index,” Perillo said.
State Division of Budget officials interviewed about the Combined Wealth Ratio formula Wednesday said many regions in the state complain about the CWR formula for different reasons. Officials said some downstate school districts complain that 50 percent of the wealth ratio is determined by property values, which may or may not reflect the income and the ability to pay property taxes of the individuals living in them.
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he’s been complaining about the wealth-ratio formula for years. He said it’s very difficult to persuade downstate legislators to symphathize with upstate schools, which have school budgets that may be as much as 80 percent funded by the state when their own schools only receive 5 percent to 10 percent of their budgets from state aid.
Last week, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a budget bill that would restore $280 million in aid to schools, 70 percent of the additional aid going to rural poor schools like Gloversville and Amsterdam. Farley said the state aid cuts will still be very bad for poor districts, but he thinks the final budget won’t be as bad as Cuomo’s initial proposal.
“The governor’s aid proposal absolutely hammered the poor rural schools and also some of the Long Island schools. Now, everybody thinks everyone is wealthy as hell on Long Island, but there are some districts there where 87 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch. There aren’t any of mine that are that high,” he said. “New York City and Westchester also think this is vastly unfair to them. But we in the Senate Republican conference feel the people who are being treated the worst are the rural poor.”