Sunday, February 3, 2013

Funding for Public Schools: It's time for voters to respond with their votes

When NYS politicians fail to protect the right of students to get a Constitutionally guaranteed sound basic education, maybe it's time for the public to respond with their votes.

Schools, like Potsdam Central and Canton Central, are facing extraordinary budget gaps for the next school year [$1.5 M for PCS and $2M for CCS] that will lead to crippling personnel cuts which, according to CCS Supt. Gregory, would make CCS "non-mission capable."

Potsdam Central has cut 15% of its faculty and staff while CCS has laid off 20% theirs. The public is reasonable: they understand that the fiscal crisis in NYS had to result in shared pain. However, 36% of school districts statewide have experienced no staff reductions at all. Isn't it time to re-think how we pay to educate NYS's students? If not, only wealthy communities will be able to offer a sound education to their children.

The NYS legislature enacted a 2% tax cap (thus restricting the ability of schools to raise taxes). Additionally, when legislators develop the state budget, and expected revenues do not cover expenses, they divide the shortfall among school districts - which results in huge reductions in aid ($) to schools. (This is called the Gap Elimination Adjustment - GEA).  However, if the ability of schools to raise taxes is greatly hindered, and if aid to schools is significantly reduced with the GEA, then there must be mandate relief.

Our politicians have not acknowledged that many schools cannot remain solvent if the State does not provide schools with relief from state requirements on health care premiums, pensions, and reform of the Triborough Amendment. State officials don't even have an answer to a simple question, What happens if we (school districts) become insolvent?

Gov. Cuomo sent a Mandate Relief Council around NYS for a year to gather information for proposed mandate relief. Despite this, the Governor has made no significant recommendations for mandate relief to schools. Some politicians may say that mandate relief is all about cutting the pay and benefits of public employees - a position that is incorrect. In actuality, mandate relief is about saving jobs for public employees and about safeguarding the education of students. I wonder if the thousands of teachers who have been laid off in NYS (and especially those let go from the PCS and CCS) think ignoring mandate relief is pro-teacher?  NYS needs politicians who are courageous enough to put the education of students first.

In the PCSD (and so many school districts), the biggest growth in expenses for next year is health insurance and pensions. According to PCS officials, $7.9M is needed for salaries and $5.1M for benefits.The Governor has proposed a way to deal with the extraordinary growth in pension costs - the Stable Pension Contribution Option- which basically locks in the contribution  rate for 25 years (like a fixed-rate mortgage). Critics have called it a gimmick. Local Superintendent Stephen Putnam said, "I think it's a really risky and tenuous proposition and I think there's some serious doubts as to whether it's constitutional." Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino is opposed to the pension plan suggested by Gov. Cuomo. "I think it is a bad scheme..." Furthermore, he said, "It's like crack cocaine. You're going to get a quick high today, but your're going to end up in the gutter." See:

Now is the time for concerned citizens to let legislators know that we expect our schools to be funded adequately or relieved of expensive mandates. As Dr. Rick Timbs, Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, said recently at a meeting at the BOCES in Canton, if politicians do not take the voice of the people to Albany, maybe it's time for new politicians.

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