Mohonasen Central School District administrators estimate Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2016-17 executive budget proposal, if approved, would provide a 1.2 percent year-over-year increase in total state aid above the current year’s budget, excluding changes in building aid. Based on the district’s analysis of the governor’s budget, state aid allocated to Mohonasen in the next school year, again excluding building aid changes, would total approximately $16.7 million, roughly a $200,000 increase over 2015-16.
Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Spring said the proposed amount includes a small increase ($64,000) in general operating aid known as Foundation Aid, and only a partial restoration of the gap elimination adjustment, or GEA ($245,000). In addition to these the district will see a reduction of approximately $100,000 in other expense-driven aids, such as BOCES Aid, High Cost Aid and Transportation Aid.
“We expected public education would be high on the Governor’s priority list when he referenced the importance of public schools, the positive economic climate and the surplus in the state in his address,” said Spring. “Our hopes were dashed when we received state aid runs. Under the Governor’s proposed budget we are facing a gap of approximately $700,000, which will force us to consider significant cuts.”
The GEA was approved in 2009 as a way to help the state balance its own budget. Every year since 2010, an amount of promised state aid has been withheld from school districts including Mohonasen. In that time, Mohonasen has lost a total of more than $13.4 million in state revenue to the GEA. The governor’s proposed executive budget would withhold another $416,585 in GEA for 2016-17, resulting in what would be a total GEA loss to Mohonasen of nearly $14 million.
This does not account for the fact that the foundation aid that should have been distributed to districts has been shorted by nearly $4.4 billion statewide this year alone. For Mohonasen the total aid withheld over the past seven years amounts to over $32.3 million, with a loss of $2.9 million in 2015-16.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Chris Ruberti said projected aid totals released by the state Division of Budget and reported by the media can be misleading.
“In our preliminary analysis, the state funds that will be used to operate educational programs would increase by only 1.2 percent under the Governor’s proposal,” said Ruberti. “While published figures may be different, the difference can be attributed to the complicated changes in building aid that affect our district.”
There are many factors affecting Mohonasen’s building aid for 2016-17, including projects that were completed many years ago as well as the $48.2 million Capital Project approved in November 2013 that is currently under way. Prior projects coming off the books in 2016-17 means a reduction of approximately $1.8 million in capital debt for the district. However, there is also a corresponding loss of building aid of about $1.95 million for these projects. The net effect on the district is $150,000 of increased net cost. In addition, the district will continue to finance the current project, which will add some capital debt to the 2016-17 school year. The district is currently working with its financial advisors to get an accurate estimate of this impact.
Governor Cuomo released his executive budget as part of his State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The proposed plan is regarded as the first step in determining the direction of negotiations in developing a final state budget in Albany, which is due by April 1. Final state aid numbers figure prominently in determining revenues available to the school district in developing its own budget. The school district’s budget is voted on annually in May – this year on Tuesday, May 17.
“Despite significant cuts to our budget since the GEA was enacted in 2009, we have continued to strengthen our programs for all students,” said Spring. “We have done all of the things the Governor advocated by reducing any remaining redundancies and by partnering with other schools and organizations to maximize efficiencies. Our new Center for Advanced Technology is a perfect example.”
Spring joined area superintendents and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara on Friday, January 22, to call for fair funding, including an increase in Foundation Aid and full restoration of GEA be included in the final 2016-17 state budget. The State Senate, on Monday, January 11, approved a bill calling for full restoration of GEA in 2016-17. The bill was approved with wide bi-partisan support and has been sent to the Assembly for consideration.
Spring encouraged residents to reach out to local leaders to voice concerns about financing for public education.
“The proposed budget threatens our progress in a way that is, quite simply, discouraging,” Spring said.
Learn more about how to reach state legislators: https://www.mohonasen.org/budget/advocacy/