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District NEWS

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January 24, 2014
Governor’s budget proposal still maintains GEA,
results in flat state aid for BH-BL

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed investment in New York State schools would increase by $807 million or 3.8 percent next school year, but BH-BL will not benefit from that increase. In fact, the district’s state aid will essentially remain flat with only an estimated increase of $63,417 over the 2013-2014 figures. Additionally, his budget plan fails to address the underlying problem facing all New York school districts--the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA.

Under Governor Cuomo’s 2014-15 proposed budget released Tuesday, Jan. 22, BH-BL’s state aid not only remains nearly stagnant but the district would face a loss of $1.6 million in aid due to the GEA. That, added to GEA losses since the 2010-11 school year, would bring the total GEA reduction at Burnt Hills to nearly $11.7 million.

The GEA was introduced in 2010 by former Gov. Patterson as a way for the state government to close its budget deficit. It did so by spreading the funding shortfall around to all school districts through a GEA reduction to the overall Foundation Aid due to schools.

VIEW A VIDEO ABOUT THE GEA

Despite New York’s anticipated surplus moving forward, the governor’s proposal calls for only a partial restoration ($323 million) of funds withheld from districts through the GEA next school year. That amounts to an estimated $186,427 returned to Burnt Hills, but a continued overall GEA loss for the district in 2014-15 of $1.6 million.

More of the governor’s budget proposal

The governor’s budget message also includes several new proposals for education. One of those initiatives is the phase-in of universal, full-day pre-kindergarten statewide. Although high-quality early education is one of the best investments to be made in education, many schools do not have the space, staffing or equipment for such a program, acknowledged the governor. He proposed spending $1.5 billion over five years to phase in the program.

Gov. Cuomo also proposed a $2 billion bond for a Smart Schools initiative to go before voters in November. If approved, the bond would give schools money for infrastructure improvements related to high-speed broadband access and classroom technology (e.g., smartboards, tablets). Schools could also use the funds to construct new pre-kindergarten classrooms, if the funds allow or if they prefer. The state would distribute the funds to schools based on the existing state aid formula.

Other new education initiatives in the Governor’s proposal include:

  • Investing $720 million over a five-year period in after-school programs. Districts would have to submit plans to the State Education Department for approval.
  • An $8 million SUNY/CUNY full-scholarship program for the top 10 percent of high school graduates. Eligible graduates must pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math and work in New York State for five years following graduation from college.
  • A $20 million Teacher Excellence Fund that would allow teachers rated as “highly effective” to be eligible to receive rewards of up to $20,000 annually.
  • Officially eliminating standardized tests for students in grades K-2. Currently there are no state assessments in those grades.

“Rather than funding general school aid, most of the Governor’s proposal includes funding earmarked for new programs, mandates or requirements that schools must implement in order to receive the additional funds,” explains BH-BL Superintendent Patrick McGrath. “We’d like to see the Governor’s budget include more general funding that isn’t tied to programs with timelines. When the state’s funding period expires, it’s the districts that are left with even more unfunded programs and a financial burden that falls to the taxpayers or results in program cuts,” he adds

Property tax freeze initiative

The Executive Budget also proposes a two-year property tax freeze for homeowners residing in school districts that meet certain conditions. During the first year of the freeze, a district would have to pass a budget with a levy that stays within its allotted property tax levy cap. During the second year, in addition to again staying within its cap, a district would have to agree to and implement a state-approved plan for shared services and consolidation.

Visit http://www.budget.ny.gov/ for more details on the governor’s budget.

What we can do to advocate for public education

As the district and Board of Education get ready to develop the 2014-15 budget, stakeholders from 47 school districts will converge on South Colonie Central High School on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 6:30 p.m. to continue the unprecedented regional call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools, an effort that began last year. The event, “New York schools STILL in fiscal peril: Our kids can’t wait another year,” picks up where last year’s massive regional advocacy effort left off, among other things, calling for a permanent end of the GEA. [LAST YEAR'S ADVOCACY VIDEO]

School leaders are encouraging parents, teachers, students and community members to attend this important event and hear what they can do to help schools during these difficult financial times.