Area school administrators have received initial state aid figures for 2013-14. While the state has promised a state-wide increase in education spending, not all school leaders are happy.
After several difficult budgets, Matt Boucher was bracing for a tough 2013-14 fiscal year at Putnam Central School.
But nothing could have prepared him for the news he recently received.
The “first run” of aid figures to school districts call for Putnam to take a 35 percent cut in funding from the state.
“I was very surprised to see a 35 percent decrease,” said Boucher, the Putnam school superintendent. “I anticipated a decrease, but 35 percent is not anywhere near equitable. We lost 17 percent last year as well.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2013-14 state budget calls for a 4.4 percent increase in state aid to schools. That’s not across the board, though.
Crown Point is slated to get a 5.5 percent increase, Moriah a 2.3 percent increase and Ticonderoga a 1.7 percent hike. Schroon Lake Central School is expected to have a 7.5 percent decrease.
The state aid figures are not final until a budget is adopted by the state legislature. Until that happens, local school administrators will lobby for increased funding.
The formula for determining state education aid is long and complex. A key factor is property values in a community. Communities with lakefront property — Putnam and Ticonderoga each have two lakes, Lake George and Lake Champlain — are often considered wealthy. Crown Point, Moriah and Schroon Lake all have lakefront land.
“Most smaller districts and districts with high property values took a big hit,” Boucher said. “I have spoken to Sen. (Betty) Little’s office and we have discussed talking points that they will take to the governor’s aid commission.”
Ticonderoga school district is considered the wealthiest in the region, but nearly a quarter of Ticonderoga students — 23 percent — live in poverty. That makes Ti the 623rd poorest district in the state. There are 684 districts. Crown Point is close. It has a poverty rate of 22.4 percent and ranks 618th.
“There’s a unique situation facing schools in the Adirondack Park and rural schools in general,” John McDonald, Ticonderoga superintendent, told state officials during a budget meeting in Ti recently. “The state aid formula doesn’t work for us.”
Boucher said the state is trying to get more aid to poor districts, but the formula is flawed.
“I believe much of this was intended to impact wealthy Long Island/Suffolk County districts, with our area receiving some of the blowback,” he said.
Boucher also believes local schools are being discriminated against.
“I am also very aware of the governor’s bias against small school districts,” he said. “So that may have been part of the plan as well.”
Moriah is slated to get increased state aid, but not enough to keep up with expenses, Superintendent Bill Larrow said.
“Even though any type of increase in state aid is welcomed, it still does not adequately fund our school based on the projected increases for next year,” Larrow said. “Our retirement contribution increase alone will consume any type of projected aid increase for next year, leaving the remaining increase portions of the budget to be essentially unfunded. Once again, the district will be looking for ways to maintain our current programs within the frameworks of the proposed state budget.”
Moriah expects to get an additional $245,000 in 2013-14.
“Most of this increase was due to expense driven services,” Larrow said. “For example, our High and Private Excess Cost had increased from the previous year due to student enrollment in these programs. When you factor this type of state aid increase into the overall picture, our state aid increase was minimal.”
State law limits local property tax increases to 2 percent, although levies can go higher with 60 percent approval by voters.
Voters will decide on local school budgets May 21.