Earlier this month, Superintendent Shannon Shine wrote to Sen. Shelley Mayer to discuss her NYS Education Funding Roundtables, where the future of Foundation Aid will be discussed. Shine believes the outcomes of these talks have the potential to significantly impact Mohonasen, so he has requested a seat at the table.
Mohonasen is currently an underfunded school district in terms of Foundation Aid, meaning that for the current school year, with an overall budget of $54 million, it gets about $4 million less than what the formula shows the district is owed.
“On the other hand, we take pride in having the lowest or second-lowest per-pupil expenditure in the region each year,” Shine wrote. “This used to be a sustainable model, even with the revenue shortfall from the state. The tax cap changed things for Mohonasen.”
For districts who had a large tax base at the time the tax cap went into effect, even for districts who run short on Foundation Aid, things remain sustainable. For districts like Mohonasen, which has a low tax base, the effects are dramatic.
Impact on taxes
Think of two districts: one with a tax base of $10 million and the other with a tax base of $5 million. If both districts go out with an actual 2 percent tax levy, the first district raises $200,000 in new revenue and the second district raises $100,000 in new revenue using the same rate of 2 percent.
If the districts’ enrollments are similar and if their Foundation Aid is similar, the first district can sustain programming and staffing levels while the second district may not have enough revenue to do so. In previous years, before the tax cap, if the first district had a shortfall they could more easily go to the taxpayer seeking additional revenue, without the need for a supermajority and without doubly penalizing the taxpayers who would no longer get a tax relief credit.
For districts like Mohonasen, whose poverty rate has been steadily increasing (free and reduced-price lunch in 2001 was 13 percent; today, free and reduced-priced lunch is 45 percent) the taxpayers are less able to make up the difference, leaving the district without needed revenue.
Impact on staffing
If a district is staffing heavy, then along comes the tax cap, and they have reserves in terms of human resources; they are “fat” instead of “lean”. For districts who are lean in terms of staffing the tax cap, coupled with a shortfall in Foundation Aid, is a double whammy. Such is the case with Mohonasen.
“During my first year as superintendent, I was forced to reduce over 20 positions while no district in the region, except Johnstown, faced a similar situation,” Shine wrote. “We’ve spent over $1 million in reserves during the past two years, an unsustainable trajectory. This was specifically due to not having staffing capacity, not having an inflated tax base, the imposition of the tax cap, and the shortfall in Foundation Aid.”
Shine said Mohonasen has been punished for doing a “great job fiscally and providing a superlative education for students while being highly responsive to the tax base wherein our taxpayers have become increasingly impoverished.”
“We have already taken the hard steps of reducing staff across all areas of the district resulting in disconcertingly high class sizes,” Shine wrote. “What we need now is an appropriate allocation of Foundation Aid. The ten funding bands, “A” – “J”, do not appear to adequately address districts like Mohonasen. It’s true that there don’t appear to be many districts like us in this regard, districts who have been exceptionally fiscally responsible, levying only what we need and keeping staffing at appropriate levels. The tax cap in and of itself is not responsible for our current challenges; it is the $4M shortfall in Foundation Aid.”
Shine was told he would be added to a list of recommended participants in the Syracuse roundtable.