State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Monday expressed reservations about a proposal that would subject around 15 school districts to budget approval by state officials.
The proposal was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget and would apply to districts comprising at least nine schools that also receive at least half of their money from the state. That would include Schenectady.
As a result, Schenectady would be required to submit spending plans that show how — school-by-school — money is allocated, demonstrating that the district's neediest schools are getting the most resources. The state education commissioner and budget director would have to approve those spending plans.
Schenectady school officials, as well as the New York State School Boards Association, have argued the proposal would step on local budget control and unfairly target a small number of districts.
“I think there are some concerns, clearly, on someone from state (Education Department) and or the division of budget, separated from a school and their community, saying you can’t do something on your budget,” Elia told reporters Monday during the Board of Regents meeting.
She also noted the complicated timing for districts, which must set up and publicize their budget proposals for voter approval in May of each year, often with little time remaining, once final state aid figures are approved.
Starting next school year, all districts will be required to publish school-by-school funding levels, an attempt to increase transparency about how districts are spending taxpayer money and to focus attention on funding disparities within districts.
“I do think it’s important for districts to be very thoughtful about providing the resources necessary for some of their most targeted schools,” she said.
Elia said she didn’t have enough information to say explicitly whether she supports the proposal, but she did suggest there were other ways state officials could monitor whether districts are focusing money on their neediest schools.
“There are many ways that we do already have input in the funding that goes into school districts … specifically for school sites,” Elia said. “I think those are the things we have to look at and strengthen, so that we know those schools that are at risk have the funding they need.”