A visit to Albany has given Fulton school district officials some hope that another year of severe cuts to programs and services may not be necessary.
Superintendent Bill Lynch and at least three members of the Board of Education made the trip within the last week. They met with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly and with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education representative.
They came away believing that a deal to provide more money to poor schools between the Legislature and Governor was possible. It goes like this: If the Legislature will approve the creation of a new public employee retirement tier, Cuomo will allow $200 million in aid to be distributed to the poorest school districts.
The new retirement tier, called Tier 6, would lower benefits to retirees and save schools, local governments and the state money. Cuomo has held onto $250 million in proposed state aid for a grant-based competition. The deal would see him converting $200 million of that amount to regular state aid, targeted at so-called “high need/low wealth” districts. Fulton and most of the schools in Oswego County fall into that category.
“We expect we will be getting additional state aid, but we don’t know what that will look like,” said Lynch.
Any aid would be very good news.
The first draft of Fulton’s 2012-13 budget shows that state aid cuts have blown another multi-million dollar hole in the spending plan.
Total state aid is up about $280,000, but the increase comes in types of aid that pay the district back for expenses they’ve already incurred. Basic aid for education is the same as it was last year and is lower than it was four or five years ago.
Keeping all programs and services where they are this year creates a deficit of more than $2.5 million. The district proposes using $2 million from its reserves, leaving a deficit of more than $500,000 that can only be made up by cuts if extra aid does not show up.
“To make further reductions will force us to take things away,” Lynch said. “Until the state addresses the inequity of educational funding, we will be in this position every year.”
Paul Brewster, a parent of three children, urged the board to avoid making further cuts to the music program. He called cuts to the arts, “an affront to the talented and motivated students of our district.”
As part of Music in Our Schools Month, orchestra students performed for the Board of Education at its meeting.
(You can find detailed information on the district’s budget process here.)