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Superintendents Question State Aid Reporting

School superintendents have expressed concern with the proposed school aid included in the New York state budget proposal. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

Included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal is a reported $826 million, or a 3% increase, in school aid across New York state. However, superintendents in the region are not pleased with how the state changed its reporting methods.

Much of the total proposed school aid is comprised of foundation aid, which in turn supplements many school districts’ budgets. In total, school districts across the state would receive $8,618,509,161 in foundation aid for the 2020-21 school year compared to the $8,086,444,591 distributed in the 2019-20 school year. However, Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bret Apthorpe said perceived increases in Foundation Aid could more accurately be attributed to the combination of several aid categories.

The categories for BOCES; hardware and technology; and software, library and textbook are no longer listed as line items for 2020-21 reports. Apthorpe believes those aid items were simply combined with foundation aid. So while the proposal appears to include a more than $5 million foundation aid increase for Jamestown, total proposed aid is about a $1 million increase from the previous year.

Additionally, Jamestown Public Schools has long been involved in a lawsuit against New York state, among several other schools stemming from claims against the state of inequitable funding of schools and the halting of the Foundation Aid Formula in 2009-10. During the 2009-10 school year, the state halted Foundation Aid and in 2010-11, the state created the Gap Elimination Adjustment in attempts to balance the state budget and effectively cut state school aid.

While there are only several small city schools involved in the “Small Cities Lawsuit,” every school district in New York state is impacted by the Foundation Aid Formula, including all Chautauqua County schools.

“I’m disappointed,” said Maureen Donahue, Southwestern Central School superintendent, regarding the combination of expense-based aid and foundation aid.

Donahue said Southwestern is currently set to receive a 0.01% increase, or $50,000 of new money, in 2020-21 if the proposal remains unchanged.

“It’s not good for any of our districts in the region,” Donahue said. “As a region, we should be concerned.”

In total, Chautauqua County schools would receive $211,176,067 in foundation for the 2020-21 school year. In the 2019-20 school year, local school districts received $185,486,804 in foundation aid. Total proposed aid for schools across the county is reported to be $279,539,629 for next year. In the 2019-20 school year, schools received $276,747,405 in total aid which includes expense-based funding for state mandates in addition to foundation aid.

When asked, Panama Superintendent Bert Lictus was hesitant to comment on the state aid runs when information was released Wednesday before fully understanding the changes in this year’s reports.

“My initial reaction is we’ll have to see what the details are,” Lictus said. “There’s a lot of our expense-based aid being combined with foundation aid.”

However, Lictus, Donahue and Apthorpe all acknowledged that the governor’s proposal is just that — a proposal. Typically, school aid numbers see an increase from the initial aid runs in January to when the governor’s budget is a officially approved in April.

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