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Most schools see aid increases in Governor’s proposed budget

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In Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2013-14 executive Budget Proposal, most schools are seeing increases in aid after years of budget cuts.

This year’s budget proposal takes less money out to offset the state’s deficit, also known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment, according to Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr.

“We were hoping they’d eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment completely, but they didn’t do that,” he said.

He said that while schools are receiving more money, many schools have been “teetering on the edge of insolvency” for several years.

“It’s not as good as we would have liked it,” he said.

Mr. Cuomo proposed aid ranges as high as $46.75 million for Indian River Central and as low as $2.3 million for Colton-Pierrepont Central.

In total:

n St. Lawrence Country schools are proposed to receive $187,696,927, a $7,883,541 increase from this year’s state aid.

The biggest losses in total aid were found in both Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties.

n Copenhagen Central is proposed to lose $192,714, a 2.6 percent decrease from what they received for the current year’s budget. The district has $ 7,270,210 in proposed aid for next year’s budget

n Clifton-Fine Central is proposed to lose $59,610, a 1.3 percent decrease from the current year’s budget. The district has $4,474,814 in proposed aid for next year’s budget.

n Colton Pierrrepont Central is proposed to lose $84,481, a 3.5 percent decrease from the current year’s budget. It has $2,310,469 in proposed aid for next year’s budget.

St. Lawrence also saw some of the biggest increases in proposed aid in the north country.

“Ogdensburg and Canton really stick out as the ones that got really good increases,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

Ogdensburg is looking at a 10.9 percent increase in proposed aid and about $23.4 million total. Canton has a 9.85 percent increase in proposed aid and about $14.3 million total.

Following the release of Gov. Cuomo’s annual budget, Norfolk-Norwood School District officials are looking at a deficit of between $1 and $2 million going into the 2013-14 fiscal year. The budget includes an overall increase of almost $400,000 in state aid to the school district, approximately $13.1 million for 2013-14 over the approximately $12.7 million it received in 2012-13.

Lisa Mitras, business manager of the Norfolk-Norwood School District, said rising costs in teacher benefits, such as health care and retirement, have created a gap of almost $2 million between the school’s projected revenues and its projected expenditures. To make up the difference, school officials are looking at options of utilizing fund balances, increasing the tax levy and making cuts to its budget.

Superintendent Eliabeth A. Kirnie fears if the state does not increase aid at a rate to cover rising budget costs, the school might not be able to be able to remain a functional educational institution within the next several years.

“Just about every district in the county is looking at how soon (backruptcy) may happen,” Ms. Kirnie said.

St. Lawrence Central Superintendent Stephen M. Putman was also unimpressed.

His district will receive an increase of roughly $365,792.

“That’s good, but it’s not fantastic. It’s not wonderful,” he said.

At quick glance the aid run for his district looks better than that, but Mr. Putman said the numbers aren’t exactly what they seem.

Looking at the bottom line of the district’s aid projections, the governor’s office lists them as receiving a 7.05 percent increase in aid, but that also includes hikes in transportation and special education aid.

“With special education and transportation, you’re getting aid based on last year’s expenses,” he said, explaining those aids are simply reimbursement for money the district has already spent and not a true increase to their operational aid.

That increase, $365,792, comes in the form of what is being billed as the gap elimination adjustment resotration.

While $365,000 is better than nothing, Mr. Putman noted his district is still facing a budget gap, with retirement contributions, health insurance costs, BOCES spending and salaries projected to increase $818,00.

Assuming the district’s tax cap ceiling is 3 percent, which will allow the district to raise $133,000, the additional $365,792 in funding still leaves a gap of $319,000.

“And that’s not everything,” he said, noting the budget will also likely contain other line items that must be increased.

Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said he’s still evaluating the numbers to see just what his district is working with.

“We received the state aid runs very late in the afternoon, so we’re continuing to analyze them,” he said, adding at this point, he’s not sure just how much of an increase in aid the district is slated to receive.

“While they do show a gap elimination adjustment of $310,000, there are other aids, such as building aid, which has decreased,” he said, explaining that’s likely because the district has a capital project coming off of the books next year.

According to the bottom line of Potsdam’s aid run, the district is looking at an increase of only 0.23 percent or $30,152.

“Within the next day we’ll have some analysis of it and we’ll talk about that at the finance committee,” he said.

In addition to another year of flat foundation aid, Mr. Brady also noted that nowhere in the governor’s budget address did he address inequities in state aid distribution.

“That concerns us,” he said.

NEW INITIATIVES PROPOSED

The governor’s proposed budget also reflects his support for full-day prekindergarten, increased time in the classroom, targeted aid for high-need districts and money to help offset increases in fixed costs like health care and retirement benefits.

“One of the things the school supers have been discussing is the spike in pension,” said Mrs. Russell. “What he’s proposing is to provide a long term stabilization program that would bring that down to 12.5 percent for the Teachers’ Retirement System.”

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, was happy to see that Mr. Cuomo wanted to funnel more money to needier districts.

“I applaud the Governor’s effort to steer more education aid to rural schools like ours,” she said in a press release. “I look forward to studying his proposal with a goal of making the aid formula more equitable and making sure our schools get their fair share.”

Mrs. Russell agreed that the state aid formula needed to change to be more equitable.

“We not only need to drive the money to high-need schools, but we also need to change he formula,” she said.

The 2013-14 Executive Budget Proposal school state aid figures can be found at: http://publications.budget.ny.gov/eBudget1314/fy1314localities/schoolaid/1314schoolruns.pdf.

Benny Fairchild and Tim Fenster contributed to this report.

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