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Schenectady schools likely face budget gap under Cuomo proposal

Schenectady schools likely face budget gap under Cuomo proposal

Proposed change to BOCES aid raises concerns
Schenectady schools likely face budget gap under Cuomo proposal
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget could present Schenectady schools with a budget shortfall.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY -- The Schenectady City School District would likely face a budget shortfall under funding increases proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, schools Superintendent Larry Spring said Wednesday.

The governor’s proposal would lift Schenectady’s foundation aid funding by just over $3 million – nearly 3 percent – but would still leave the district more than $3 million short of covering expected cost increases in order to maintain the level of services and programs the district provides students under the current year’s budget, according to a presentation district official Kimberly Lewis gave to the school board Wednesday night.

The budget gap estimates are based on conservative projections of the district’s expected cost increases and Spring expressed confidence that state lawmakers would boost Schenectady funding more than the governor proposed.

But Spring panned the governor’s proposal and his use of rhetoric imploring lawmakers to “fund the poorer schools.” Spring said Schenectady still remains far short of the funding the state’s own foundation aid formula says the district should get. He said at the pace of new funding under the governor’s proposal, it would take a decade or more for Schenectady to receive the funding he said it needs to offer students necessary support and tax relief to the city’s property owners.

“At this rate it would be a long time until we would really come anywhere close to whole in foundation aid,” Spring said.

Spring also pointed out that the overall funding levels of several other Schenectady County districts, not including building aid that can fluctuate dramatically from year to year, would see larger percentage increases in state aid than what Schenectady would receive under the governor’s proposal.

“As [the governor] says he wants to direct increases to the neediest schools, it doesn’t appear that Schenectady is on his list of neediest schools,” Spring said at the open of Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

The overall state aid earmarked for Schenectady in the governor’s proposal actually decreases about 2 percent compared to the current year because of a large drop in reimbursements for spending on the district’s ongoing capital projects. Spring said he was not surprised or concerned by the drop in building aid.

When it comes to the governor’s proposed foundation aid increases in the county, only the Mohonasen Central School District would see a larger percentage increase. The governor’s budget proposal called for boosting Mohonasen’s foundation aid by 3.6 percent. That district faces an even tighter budget picture than Schenectady, with a projected budget gap district officials expects to grow in the coming years.

Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine struck a cautiously optimistic note on Wednesday as he started to dive into the details of the governor’s proposal but said there were still a lot of specifics to better understand.

“It’s trending in the right direction,” Shine said.

Foundation aid increases across three dozen Capital Region districts ranged from a low end of 0.2 percent to a high of 4.7 percent in Johnstown. Thirteen of those three dozen districts do receive a larger percentage increase in foundation aid than Schenectady, under the governor’s budget, including Albany, Amsterdam, Troy and a smattering of rural districts.

Johnstown, which likely faces the most significant budget shortfall of any district in the region, would see the largest foundation aid increase in the region under the governor’s proposal. But North Colonie schools also score a proposed foundation aid increase of over 4 percent in the governor’s proposal.

The governor also proposed consolidating into foundation aid 10 funding categories that districts receive each year as reimbursement for expenditures from previous years. Education policy analysts argue the so-called “expense-based aids” offer districts greater predictability in financial planning than does foundation aid, which shifts from year to year at the whims of lawmakers and state finances. The categories also offer incentives for districts to use shared services through BOCES.

Eliminating the BOCES aid category, as proposed by the governor, could push districts away from utilizing BOCES services, which promote collaboration and efficiencies among districts, educators and analysts said. And small, rural districts, many of which have seen enrollment plummet over the past decade or more, have become increasingly reliant on BOCES programs to offer students basic academic options.

“They would have no way of predicting what increase in foundation aid they might receive, whereas BOCES aid is more predictable,” said Bob Lowry, who analyzes state education policy for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Spring suggested districts would move away from using BOCES services if they were not reimbursed directly for those expenses, over time resulting in a major hollowing out of BOCES programs.

“In the long run I think BOCES would atrophy and make it less and less likely for districts to use BOCES [services],” he said of the governor’s proposal.

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