Aid Increase to Fulton Won’t Provide Much Help to Main Educational Program

At first glance, the $1.2 million increase in aid to Fulton schools in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget looks like good news.  A deeper look shows it’s probably not going to help the district avoid even more staff and program cuts.

“We’re still in a real rough spot,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch.

Lynch said the extra money is welcome and is more than he thought the district might get, but not a single dollar of the increase will go to the general fund for the district’s main education and extra-curricular programs.

About half the extra money will go towards what are called expense-driven aids.  These are mandated programs such as those for students with disabilities, transportation, and BOCES.  The extra money in those lines are reimbursements for money already spent in the last school year.

Those costs vary from year to year.

The rest of the extra money isn’t real money at all.  It’s a reduction in the amount of money the state is taking back from schools.  It’s called the gap elimination adjustment and was introduced last year by Gov. Cuomo to help fill the state’s budget deficit of more than $9 billion.

This year’s deficit is only $2 billion but the gap elimination adjustment remains.

The adjustment comes off the top of the money available for main educational programs and services, called foundation aid.

Foundation aid has not been increased in four years, which means that the adjustment leaves foundation aid significantly lower now than it was four years ago.

Lynch said that the district probably faces a deficit of $800,000, a year after using $2 million from its reserves to fill last year’s deficit.

Fulton’s Board of Education began the process this week of creating a new budget, holding a workshop to lay out the work to be done.

The biggest change for this year is the creation of a new deadline for setting the budget.  The new tax cap law mandates that schools report to the state by March 1 the tax levy for the next budget.

That will make crafting a budget more difficult.  Schools have to have budgets in place by mid-April, to give voters time to study them before the annual statewide budget voting day in May.

State aid isn’t made official until legislators approve a state budget.  The deadline for the budget is April 1, though legislators usually miss the deadline.  Even if they make the deadline this year, schools will still have to guess at their aid by the end of February to make the new March reporting deadline.

“We’ll have to make some assumptions about things,” said Lynch about meeting the March deadline.