The Chautauqua County School Boards Association and Far West Council of School Superintendents see the unfair distribution of school aid as a crisis for our students. New York State's school finance laws have unfairly distributed state aid to poor school districts-especially those in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties and Western New York.
A comparison of two districts helps illustrate the unfair distribution of state aid.
District A is a wealthy community in New York state and District B is poor.
Expenses per pupil:
Advanced Placement Courses
College Level Courses
International Baccalaureate Courses
Special Student Projects
JV & Varsity Athletic Teams
State aid cut 2011-12
A. 14.56 percent
B. 14.65 percent
Tax Levy Increase to Offset Cut
A. 1.20 percent
B. 18.67 percent
In these two real school districts, it is obvious that the wealthy district offers many more educational programs and opportunities for its students than the poorer school district. The wealthy school spends $9,694 more per student,creating a truly inequitable difference in school districts. For the 2011-12 school year each district's state aid cut was relatively equal in terms of the percentage reduction in state aid. The impact each school's community taxpayers, however, was significantly greater in the poorer school district. The percentage increase in the tax levy needed to offset this state aid cut for the wealthy district was 1.2 percent. But in the poor school district, this cut results in a 18.67 percent increase. The shift of burden to the tax levy is larger in poor school districts across the state. Those communities least able to pay higher taxes are already struggling to maintain educational programs would be required to have the largest percent levy increases as the state aid cuts occur.
Over the last several years, the state's poorer school districts have been cutting programs and using their reserves to keep taxes somewhat palatable for the local taxpayer. In addition, these poorer districts have faced reduced state aid, escalating costs in the form of automatic salary increases growth in health insurance premiums, and dramatic pension cost increases.
In 2011, Gov. Cuomo enacted the Tax Cap with the help of our local state representatives. School districts are now constrained even more because there is a limit to raising revenue to balance all these increased costs. Schools will be forced to make even more drastic cuts in their educational programming. In the next two to three years we will see poor school districts face fiscal insolvency if something is not done.
The unfair distribution of state aid cuts to poor school districts along with the rising costs in pensions, health insurance and salaries has led to a "perfect storm" for fiscal insolvency. Since these cuts have started, school boards have been forced to make continued cuts in personnel, staff development, extracurricular clubs, and athletics.We are entering an era that will erode the quality of our educational system. What happens when a school district does not have enough cash to make its payroll, or pay its utility bills or its vendors for supplies or materials? What does a bankrupt school system do?
School boards and superintendents know their communities are paying too much in taxes. We are not advocating for more money in these difficult economic times. We do, however, believe that state aid money already in the system must be distributed more equitably. Adjustments must be made for more equitable allocations of state aid to upstate school districts such as the poor school districts in Chautauqua County. The legislature and the governor's continual lack of action widens the already large gap between the "Haves" and the "Have Nots."
Under the current distribution of state aid and the last three years of state aid cuts, high wealth communities have enjoyed the opportunity to maintain outstanding programs for their students while low wealth communities' students have suffered. Don't our children in Chautauqua County deserve the same chance as children in more affluent communities?
We encourage members of our communities to contact Senator Young's office and Assemblyman Goodell's office to voice your support for a more just and equitable distribution of state aid to our schools.
Gary Cerne is president of Far West Council of School Superintendents. Ray Fashano is executive director of the Chautauqua County School Boards Association. The Chautauqua County School Boards Association and Far West Council of School Superintendents are advocacy groups of local school leaders and school board members who seek to represent common positions to support the education of children in our region.