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School Superintendents Meet With Aubertine On State Aid. The Result: ‘Not Good News’

It’s a safe bet that school superintendents did not hear what they wanted to hear when they met Thursday with State Senator Darrel Aubertine about state aid for next school year.

Hannibal Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio summed up Aubertine’s message: “Chances of an on-time state budget are slim and the Governor’s numbers (on state aid to districts) are about the best we’re going to get.”

State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, right, meets with school officials from around the region to discuss the impact of the state budget.
State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, right, meets with school officials from around the region to discuss the impact of the state budget.

In a statement issued after the closed-door meeting at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, Aubertine said, “Unfortunately, as one of the largest segments of the state budget, in these difficult financial times, cuts are inevitable. We’ve given school districts and local governments two years to prepare for this, holding off on mid-year cuts and using stimulus money to keep funding stable. Now the challenge is working with the districts to ensure that the needs of our children can be met without further burdening the taxpayer.”

Superintendents from Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties had hoped to hear that the Assembly and Senate will do what they have done normally — put more money for schools into the state budget than proposed by the Governor.  Now, DiFabio believes that districts will be lucky if the Legislature does not cut even more aid from schools.

The state is facing its second year of massive deficits brought on by the recession.  Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature cut billions of dollars from the current year’s budget. Paterson’s outlines for a 2010-11 budget show deep cuts in all areas of state spending to try to fill another $8 billion gap.

Paterson has said that school districts should spend their reserve funds to get through these hard times.  Schools districts that have been able to build reserves have been trying to save for the 2011-12 school year, when the worst of the recession-related increases show up.

DiFabio said he told Aubertine that the state’s formula for distributing aid to school districts — a formula so complicated that only a handful of people know how it works — treats small, rural districts like Hannibal unfairly.  He said that a 5% cut in aid across the board could require Hannibal to boost taxes 20% to make up the difference, while a wealthy Long Island district might only need to increase taxes half a percentage point.

“Our recommendation was to attack the aid formula” to make it more fair, DiFabio told Oswego County Today.  The proposed cut to Hannibal is more than $400,000.

The lack of an on-time budget will further complicate matters for school districts.  The state budget is due on April 1 but it is almost always approved later than that — sometimes, much later.  School districts, however, have to have their budgets ready for a vote in early May, on the first statewide school budget vote day.

If the state budget’s late, schools will have to take their best guesses at how much aid they will receive.

All in all, said DiFabio, the meeting was “not good news.”

“I feel like I got kicked,” he said.

“The first thing that Sen. Aubertine said that was most striking was that the governor’s number is likely the highest state aid number that will be brought forth from Albany,” Oswego superintendent Bill Crist told Oswego County Today. “As you may know, the legislative state aid number has historically been a slightly more favorable number for school districts. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year.”

Additionally, the senator told the group what we all knew; that “the state of the state is not good and we all will need to make some difficult decisions in the next year(s),” Crist added.

Specifically, for Oswego’s budget, there may be further impact to state aid numbers based on the governor’s announcement late last week that the deficit is deeper than first believed.

“That could be a smaller state aid number for us in Oswego and other districts,” Crist said.

Aubertine stated that he would be working to provide mandate relief, albeit unless implemented immediately this would have little impact on next year’s budget.

He also stated that he is looking at state aid redistribution due to the fact that his 48th district is much more aid dependent than many down state schools and a redistribution would be appropriate, the superintendent pointed out.

That will be difficult to reverse as the downstate senators and legislators have successfully kept that discussion in committee only, he added.

The final point was that because of the difficult budget crisis for the state, it would be unlikely that an on time budget would result.

“We will continue to move through the budget process knowing that we will have to work together, a point that the senator also reinforced with us, to get a budget that supports our community’s interest in a quality education at a cost that is able to be sustained and accepted locally,” Crist said.

SENATOR AUBERTINE’S PRESS RELEASE ON THE MEETING IS BELOW.

WATERTOWN, NY – State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine today (Feb. 18) brought school officials from more than 30 school districts in Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties together to discuss the 2010-11 New York State Budget and the impact of reduced funding locally.

“Throughout my time in public office, I’ve worked to increase school aid for our districts and we’ve seen record levels of funding in recent years,” Aubertine said. “Unfortunately, as one of the largest segments of the state budget, in these difficult financial times, cuts are inevitable. We’ve given school districts and local governments two years to prepare for this, holding off on mid-year cuts and using stimulus money to keep funding stable. Now the challenge is working with the districts to ensure that the needs of our children can be met without further burdening the taxpayer.”

In late 2008, Aubertine met with school officials to discuss proposed mid-year school cuts and the overwhelming consensus among administrators was that mid-year cuts were unfair because budgets had been set already.

The administrators said that if cuts had to be made, they needed time to prepare.

In 2009, Aubertine worked to protect aid for the school districts by using stimulus funding, which district wide provided a modest increase in aid.

Late last year, the senator, as chair of the Upstate Caucus, led the push against another round of proposed mid-year cuts on the grounds that not giving school districts time to prepare would lead to property tax increases, when cuts made as part of the budget process would give school districts the latitude to protect the taxpayer.

“Today’s meeting was intended to give our local districts the opportunity to share their concerns and ideas moving forward,” Aubertine said. “I am working to ensure that our school districts are in the best position possible to absorb these cuts, educate our children, and protect the local property taxpayer.”

To soften the blow of decreased aid, Aubertine has long been a proponent of mandate relief for school districts and supports many of the proposals by the governor to free up school districts to make better, locally driven, efficient decisions with the aid and tax revenue available. He has also called for the school aid formula to best reflect the ability of school districts to handle reduced state aid particularly for the poorer rural districts in comparison to wealthier districts.

“This is an unprecedentedly difficult time in our state’s history and there are no easy decisions to be made,” Aubertine said. “The fact of the matter is that we need to make targeted cuts across the board, beyond just education funding, to rein in spending and improve the way we put together our state budget so that we can be leaner and more efficient for the taxpayer. I am working with my colleagues to protect our interests, but at the end of the day, our state cannot support maintaining our current spending levels.”

2 Comments

  1. Fran Hoefer of Oswego is the only person who really speaks for the largely voiceless majority of suffering taxpayers… who are fed up with school district spending and annual budget increases.

  2. I agree with George and I feel that Fran Hoefer should have attended this meeting to represent the OCSD instead of Bill Crist. Reading the reports from recent board meetings show that Crist and our “business manager” Pete Colucci have absolutely no clue what they are doing. They become frazzled and upset when asked questions by Fran Hoefer and other board members. They are incapable of providing simple numbers. They are taking their sweet time and Mr. Crist is more concerned with twisting the board members’ arms to give him a raise, than he is with formulating a budget.

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