Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to boost state spending on education by 3.8 percent next year, with more money for expanded prekindergarten, teacher bonuses and after-school programs.
But when it comes to the basic state aid used to keep schools running, administrators were disappointed Tuesday when they looked at district-by-district numbers.
“I’ve got to believe that there’s quite a few superintendents, business officials that cannot believe what they’re seeing here,” said Brian Schulz, treasurer for West Seneca Central School District. “The real key issue is there’s been no real attempt to eliminate that gap that was created four or five years ago.”
Schools in Erie and Niagara counties would receive an average of 1.3 percent more state aid than they do this year under Cuomo’s budget proposal.
Cuomo wants to increase school aid for the third year in a row. But that increase would not be enough to make up for deep cuts to schools that the state made when it hit a fiscal crisis under former Gov. David A. Paterson.
All but four local school districts would have less state aid next school year under the governor’s proposal than they did in 2008-09.
“It’s what you would call devastating news for us again this year,” Lewiston-Porter Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said.
In addition to state operating aid, Cuomo’s proposal for 2014-15 includes $100 million for pre-K programs that would be a starting point for a $1.5 billion state investment into early childhood education over the next five years. Teacher bonuses and after-school programs are also on his wish list.
“If you counted it all, it would be one of the largest investments in education that this state has made,” Cuomo said during a budget address Tuesday. “And we’re proud of that.”
The governor also plans to ask voters to approve a $2 billion bond act to pay for new technology in schools such as smart boards, tablets and high-speed broadband in schools across the state.
“It’s something I believe the people of the State of New York will pass,” Cuomo said of the technology fund, “especially if they know the money’s going to be well spent and the money’s going to be directed to the right causes.”
But education advocates across the state worried that Cuomo’s proposed budget would leave school districts still struggling with basic operating expenses.
The State School Boards Association called the governor’s budget proposal for schools “austere.” The state Association of School Business Officials said the budget delivered “very little of substance” for ongoing educational programs.
Find a searchable database of how each of the state’s 676 school districts fare under the governor’s 2014 budget proposal vs. aid last year and 5 years ago here.
The State Council of School Superintendents warned that the “near term” would be a problem for school districts.
“We’re grateful for the increases of the last two years. We appreciate that that’s an effort by the governor and the Legislature to prioritize education,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “But schools have still not gotten back to where they were with state aid in 2008-09.”
While Cuomo touted a 3.8 percent overall proposed increase for education, state aid to individual districts would vary widely based on formulas the state uses to distribute money.
Twenty-four districts in Erie and Niagara counties would receive an increase in state aid – ranging from a nominal 0.3 percent boost for Cleveland Hill to an 8.7 percent increase for North Collins. These figures were calculated by comparing Cuomo’s proposal for 2014-15 aid for each district to state aid figures for each district for 2013-14 that were approved last spring by the Legislature.
Eleven school districts in Erie and Niagara counties would receive less under Cuomo’s proposal than they do now – from a 0.1 percent decrease in East Aurora to a 2.7 percent decrease in Clarence. Three districts – Lake Shore, Cheektowaga and Maryvale – would see no change in their aid from the current school year.
Local school administrators on Tuesday were still analyzing what impact the budget numbers would have on their spending proposals, but many anticipated continuing to face tough choices as they craft school spending plans for the 2014-15 school year – especially given that a state limit on property tax increases will be lower next year for many districts because of the way inflation factors into the calculation.
“He’s asking us to move forward and reduce the tax levy every year,” Barbara Sporyz, director of administrative services for the Hamburg Central School District, said of Cuomo’s tax cap. “We have contractual obligations.”
While state aid will go up in many school districts, administrators had been hoping for larger increases. Cuomo’s proposal fell short of what the state Board of Regents had requested.
Many school administrators point to 2008-09 as a benchmark for education funding in New York state.
Before that, school districts had seen many years of steady increases in state aid. After the recession hit, aid was essentially frozen for about a year, followed by state aid cuts two years in a row.
In the meantime, costs such as employee health insurance and pension contributions have been increasing significantly, school officials say. Many districts have reduced insurance costs over the past couple of years through renegotiating labor contracts. Pension contributions, on the other hand, are established on a state level and driven by the health of the economy.
“We’re not even swimming upstream any more,” said Schulz, of West Seneca. “We’re floundering, and I think many districts will be if this is what other districts are looking at.”
Schulz, like other school administrators, was disappointed by Cuomo’s proposal. The amount the district would receive, he said, would do little to lessen the fiscal stress the district is facing.
In Erie County, Buffalo, Lackawanna and Sloan are the only districts that would receive more under the latest proposal than they did in 2008-09. Barker is the only district in Niagara County that would receive more than it did in 2008-09.
Lewiston-Porter, which was listed at the top of a state school district fiscal stress list last week, would receive 14 percent less under the new proposal than it did in 2008-09.
“That right there is the reason we’re in fiscal stress,” said Roser, of Lewiston-Porter. “You can’t take that kind of revenue away and think that they’re not going to have stress on a district.”