The next step for school district administrators across the state: finish their districts’ budgets.
With district-level state aid figures coming out early Friday morning, district superintendents got their clearest picture yet of how much money they will have to work with in finalizing budgets that must be approved by school boards this month and voters in May.
The reaction to the funding levels in the state budget were widely positive, as school leaders and education groups lauded the over $1.5 billion increase in education aid statewide.
A diverse set of districts saw something they liked in the budget, with the final nail in the coffin of the much-loathed Gap Elimination Adjustment benefiting suburban and rural districts and a $627 foundation aid increase driving aid increases to urban districts as high as 10 percent.
District aid increases in new state budget
2015-2016 base aid/ dollar increase/ percent increase/ 2016-2017 aid
Albany: $60,850,781/ $7,384,896/ 12.1 percent/ $68,235,677
Berne Knox: $5,381,896/ $584,207/ 10.8 percent/ $5,966,103
South Colonie: $13,808,795/ $1,706,769/ 12.4 percent/ $15,515,564
North Colonie: $9,470,275/ $1,792,611/ 18.9 percent/ $11,262,886
Guilderland: $12,252,074/ $1,997,609/ 16.3 percent/ $14,249,683
Wheelerville: $950,764/ $40,199/ 4.2 percent/ $990,963
Gloversville: $26,268,267/ $1,549,567/ 5.9 percent/ $27,817,834
Johnstown: $14,230,689/ $382,942/ 2.7 percent/ $14,613,631
Mayfield: $6,304,997/ $374,773/ 5.9 percent/ $6,679,770
Broadalbin-Perth: $9,901,268/ $490,865/ 5.0 percent/ $10,392,133
Amsterdam: $25,634,175/ $2,660,986/ 10.4 percent/ $28,295,161
Canajoharie: $7,837,422/ $377,916/ 4.8 percent/ $8,215,338
Fonda Fultonville: $10,173,567/ $596,677/ 5.9 percent/ $10,770,244
Fort Plain: $8,640,812/ $350,270/ 4.1 percent/ $8,991,082
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville: $8,205,045/ $356,021/ 4.3 percent/ $8,561,066
Burnt Hills: $11,932,067/$936,725/ 7.9 percent/ $12,868,792
Shenendehowa: $24,422,804/ $2,608,835/ 10.7 percent/ $27,031,639
Galway: $5,541,174/ $567,722/ 10.2 percent/ $6,108,896
Mechanicville: $6,369,860/ $424,698/ 6.7 percent/ $6,794,558
Ballston Spa: $16,659,732/ $1,452,079/ 8.7 percent/ $18,111,811
Schuylerville: $10,325,433/ $419,298/ 4.1 percent/ $10,744,731
Saratoga Springs: $19,013,859/ $2,090,215/ 11 percent/ $21,104,074
Stillwater: $5,825,579/ $574,592/ 9.9 percent/ $6,400,171
Waterford: $3,976,695/ $255,709/ 6.4 percent/ 4,232,403
Duanesburg: $4,211,256/ $275,823/ 6.5 percent/ $4,487,079
Scotia Glenville: $12,080,643/ $760,241/ 6.3 percent/ $12,840,884
Niskayuna: $8,448,249/ $1,653,338/ 19.5 percent/ $10,101,587
Schalmont: $6,399,246/ $738,147/ 11.5 percent/ $7,137,393
Mohonasen: $12,160,277/ $738,103/ 6.1 percent/ $12,898,380
Schenectady: $78,927,316/ $7,911,967/ 10 percent/ $86,839,283
Middleburgh: $6,879,708/ $196,530/ 2.9 percent/ $7,076,238
Cobleskill-Richmondville: $12,761,348/ $761,166/ 6.1 percent/ $13,522,514
Schoharie: $6,486,529/ $408,094/ 6.3 percent/ $6,894,623
Sharon Springs: $3,259,835/ $92,190/ 2.8 percent/ $3,352,025
(Note: 2015-2016 base aid was calculated by subtracting Gap Elimination Adjustment cuts from each district’s foundation aid; the 2016-2017 aid includes foundation aid increases and GEA restoration.)
Schenectady schools will see an over $7.8 million — or 9.9 percent — boost in foundation aid, the core form of state aid, under the new state budget.
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring called the education funding levels a “really good step” and said the budget represented the first “meaningful investment” in foundation aid in a decade.
“This will ensure we are able to continue the path of progress and do some things we need to do for our kids,” Spring said Friday. “It means we don’t have to cut services to kids just because of a lack of revenue; we will be able to things that are significant and impactful.”
At the beginning of this year’s budget process, the district faced a $3.5 million gap in trying to maintain all of its programs. But the funding boost wipes out that gap, and gives the district around $5 million to invest in programs, services and staff, Spring said.
Spring and his staff were planning to work today and begin circling in on a budget proposal to present the school board at its Wednesday meeting. That proposal will draw from $11 million in budget requests from teachers and administrators across the district as well as look to shift funding from less effective programs. He said he hoped to have a “completed budget proposal” by Wednesday night.
Amsterdam will see a more than 10 percent increase in foundation funding, and Albany schools can expect a 12 percent foundation aid increase.
The second piece of the state aid increase came with elimination of the GEA, budget claw-backs that started in 2010 as a way to offset state financial deficits. Those GEA cuts had largely been phased out at the highest need districts but were a persistent drain on the budgets of suburban and rural districts. The cuts will finally be unwound with this budget, fulfilling a promise laid out by Senate Republicans at the beginning of the session and widely supported by both parties.
“I’m glad to put that behind us,” Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said of the GEA.
For Niskayuna schools, the end of the GEA means over $1.6 million more in its coffers compared to last year. Tangorra has already presented a budget to the Niskayuna school board that included a 3 percent spending hike, which increases social and emotional supports for students and maintains investments in curriculum and professional development. That budget was based on the assumption that the district would receive full GEA restoration.
Many districts throughout the Capital Region benefit from the end of the GEA. Scotia-Glenville will get nearly $700,000 in the GEA restoration; Schalmont schools will see around $735,000 more. Shenenedehowa and Saratoga schools each had over $2 million in outstanding GEA cuts that will finally be restored.
But lower-income rural and small-city districts, which didn’t benefit as much from zeroing out the GEA cuts or the foundation aid boost targeted toward small city districts, saw the lowest percentage increases of aid in the region. Johnstown schools, for example, saw a less than 3 percent increase in its underlying state aid total from last year. Wheelerville, Fort Plain, Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville, Schuylerville, Middleburgh and Sharon Springs districts all saw aid increases of around 4 percent or less.
Some superintendents were already looking toward the next budget, eyeing a conversation that focused more on developing a foundation aid formula that could be relied on to meet the needs of districts, rural, suburban and urban and all across the wealth spectrum.
“Going forward, I say to myself, ‘Gee, I hope they do better on foundation aid in subsequent years,’ ” Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, email@example.com or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.