Earlier this week, Fulton Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch was hopeful that the extra school aid being added to the next state budget would fill about half of the more than $550,000 gap between income and proposed expenses.
Late Thursday, the final numbers more than exceeded his expectations.
Foundation aid, which is the money districts use for salaries, pensions and other basic expenses, rose by more than $200,000 in the budget approved by the Legislature this week. It had been flat in Governor Cuomo’s original budget proposal.
Other aid categories, which pay back the district next school year for bills they are paying this year, were also up.
And the amount of money the state will take back from foundation aid as a contribution towards the state budget deficit is down by more than $250,000.
Add it up and it means, as Lynch said, “We had a gap of $550 thousand. We’ve met that and got a little more.”
The first draft of the district’s budget used about $2 million from its reserve and a tax levy increase of 2% to bring the $62 million proposed budget within $550 thousand of balanced.
Lynch said it will be up to the Board of Education to decide whether to apply the excess to lowering the tax levy, lowering the amount of reserves being used, or some combination. He believes that the board will first lower the tax levy and then perhaps reduce the use of reserve funds.
The Legislature added funds for schools by taking money away from Governor Cuomo’s planned $250 million pot of funds for competitive grants for schools. They left $50 million in this year’s pot and spread the rest over districts considered to have a high need for state aid and a relatively low property wealth.
A court ruled several years ago that the state’s education funding formula favored richer school districts and ordered a change in the formula. There’s been no change since then, and critics argued that the money taken back from schools to fill the state budget deficit only made the inequality worse.
While the formula is still intact, the spreading of the extra $200 million did begin to address some of the inequity that leaves Oswego County schools at a permanent disadvantage. The Legislature also changed a funding rule that will allow it in future years to give less in increases each year to the wealthiest districts.