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State Officials Talk Aid For Area Schools

State Assemblyman Andy Goodell and state Sen. George Borrello met with local school officials at the Chautauqua County School Boards Association Legislative Dinner. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

CELORON — State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, believe there is enough support in state government to change recent categorical changes in school aid reporting that local officials have recently criticized.

Goodell and Borrello addressed many local school officials’ concerns at Thursday’s Chautauqua County School Boards Association Legislative Dinner inside the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron. The two state representatives fielded questions from county board members regarding state funding, the state tax cap, the Foundation Aid Formula and unfunded mandates, among other topics.

Goodell and Borrello criticized Cuomo’s budgetary moves regarding school aid with the senator calling into question Cuomo’s progressive political stance.

“If he really wants to be the champion and progressive leader that he claims then he needs to start with education,” Borrello said.

In January when Cuomo announced the state’s executive budget proposal, the portion designated for school aid was criticized by many superintendents in the county.

“I’m disappointed,” said Maureen Donahue, Southwestern Central School District superintendent, in January at the time of the proposal’s announcement.

Included in the budget is a reported $826 million, or a 3% increase, in school aid across New York state. However, superintendents questioned the way the numbers were being reporting with reimbursable line items now being grouped into foundation aid, another significant line item. The categories for BOCES; hardware and technology; and software, library and textbook are no longer listed as line items for 2020-21 reports.

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.

For example Dr. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, said increases in foundation aid were due to the inclusion of other aid categories, often referred to as reimbursable aid. While observing a perceived increase significantly higher than last year’s, actual new funding for Jamestown schools was about a 0.6% increase in the current proposal.

However, Goodell suggested there was support to make changes to the recent amendment to state aid reporting.

“I think there’s strong support –bipartisan support — certainly in the Assembly and I think in the Senate to put reimbursable aid back as reimbursable aid,” Goodell said.

Goodell and Borrello also discussed the state tax cap, which is a yearly limit based on financial considerations that designates the amount a school district can raise its tax levy. The cap is often touted as a 2% limit, but often shifts from year to year higher and lower than that percentage.

“From my perspective, that formula can actually result in a negative tax cap as you know,” Goodell said of the state tax limit. “I support legislation that should never go down because your teachers’ salaries, your overhead, your utilities, they’re never going down.”

Goodell suggested that a financial floor of 2% be instituted to ensure school districts can raise their tax levy a given percent each year without concern of their cap decreasing. Goodell said he was hesitant to support a flat 2% cap, as one board member suggested, because he believed there should be room for increases.

Additionally, the Foundation Aid Formula that was created in 2009-10 was discussed. During the 2009-10 school year, the state halted Foundation Aid Formula and in 2010-11, the state created the Gap Elimination Adjustment in attempts to balance the state budget and effectively cut state school aid. Borrello said the conversation in Albany is based around the sentiment that such a formula was not realistic, which the senator questioned.

“We had a Foundation Aid Formula and (Cuomo) just chose not to adhere to it,” Borrello said. “If that’s not a dictatorial action — he’s literally not adhering to the foundation aid and I’ve seen how the formula versus what’s actually being (funded). … It’s to the tune of billions of dollars statewide now that is owed to school districts.”

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