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What does Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal mean to Central Valley?

A message from Central Valley Superintendent of Schools Rich Hughes

Last week, Gov. Cuomo presented his State of the State and budget address. His proposals were bold, to say the least. Some are good for schools and others are open to debate. Superintendent Rich Hughes’ offers his understanding of the proposals and how they will affect Central Valley School District.

Our response

Before I even begin talking about the governor’s proposals, I want to focus us on the most important thing—our students. This community took the bold step to join districts in an effort to give our students the very best education we could support. We understood that we could do better for our children and accepted that challenge. As you weigh the governor’s plan, please consider how each part affects our mission to prepare students for college and careers.

We can react like the Governor expects, by taking his proposal personally and acting defensively. Or we can turn to our legislators, explaining what the proposals mean to our students. For the most part, legislators are seldom swayed by how decisions affect teachers, principals and school facilities. They do, however, care about our students.

I plan to work with our school and community to advocate for our students. At the same time, I am going to encourage us—staff, teachers, parents and community members—to improve what we do each day, so that all of our students can find success now and in the future. Our students cannot wait; they have just one shot at an education. We owe it to them to give our best each and every day, in and out of the classroom. In my few weeks here, I have seen an undeniable passion and caring for our Thunder. I have no doubt we can do just that.

So here is my take on the good and less than good in the proposal.

The good

Additional aid:  He is offering a $1.1 billion increase in school aid. That would erase the last of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) that has robbed schools of promised state aid since 2008. Unfortunately, it would take $2 billion to fully return schools to funding levels that had been promised under state law. How that would translate for Central Valley is unknown until the state reveals how those funds would be distributed.

Starting education earlier:  He is proposing funding to begin pre-k for three-years-olds. The research is clear, the earlier children begin their learning, the better they perform throughout school. Central Valley has students who would benefit from a jump start to their academic careers. Unfortunately, the state still does not guarantee funding for kindergarten. Starting a new program without fully funding existing programs seems silly at best.

Free tuition for top teaching students:  He is proposing to pay the college tuition for those who graduate at the top of their college classes and who commit to teach for five years in New York. This is a great way to ensure the best of New York’s students stay in the state.

The questionable

New tenure rules:  He wants to change tenure, the process by which newly hired teachers move from a provisional to a permanent hire. Currently, new hires are evaluated for three years and then the board of education acts on the principals’ and superintendent’s recommendations to decide whether to give the teacher permanent status. The governor wants a more extensive five-year process during which a teacher must receive nothing but satisfactory marks. Failure to do so starts a new five-year process. Opponents argue that new teachers naturally make mistakes and it is unreasonable to expect perfection throughout those first years. Supporters argue the change is needed to tighten up a lax process that gives underqualified teachers permanent jobs and that once hired, schools have little ability to remove them.

More charter schools:  He wants to increase the number of charter schools allowed in New York. Charter schools are schools funded by local property taxes and state aid, but are operated by for-profit companies. Opponents of charter schools believe they siphon scarce resources away from public schools making it more difficult for public schools to do their jobs. They also cite various studies that say charter school students are not doing any better than public school students. Charter school supporters believe charter schools introduce competition, forcing public schools to become more efficient and effective. Supporters cite different studies that claim charter students are performing better than public school students. That debate rages on, but has little effect on Central Valley because our area is not a likely candidate for a charter school.

He wants to create a tax credit for those who send their children to private school. If that credit were to come directly off an individual’s school property tax bill, this move would reduce funding Central Valley would have to operate.

New rules for teacher and principal evaluations: He wants to increase the importance of state test results when evaluating teachers and principals (known as Annual Professional Performance Assessment or APPR). And he wants people from outside the school to play a role in this evaluation process. He claims the current evaluation system is ineffective, despite the fact that he pushed for its adoption just two years ago. How this would play out at Central Valley is unknown, but it will certainly place even greater focus on state tests—whose value many people question. Further, it would be more expensive to carry out and would force Central Valley to spend more time shuffling paperwork and less time helping students grow and learn.

The bad, clearly bad

Threat of no aid increases:  The governor made it clear that this is an all-or-nothing offer. If his proposals are not adopted by the Legislature, he threatened there will be no school aid increases for the next two years. Thanks to the merger incentive aid, Central Valley is partially insulated from the cuts other districts would be forced to make without new revenue to offset increasing costs. But that defeats the purpose of the incentive aid. Central Valley residents expect the district to wisely invest that aid to keep our school fiscally security well into the future. Residents expect that aid will improve the quality of education we offer—not simply maintain what we do. We merged because we expected better.

No news on fair school aid:  The governor offered nothing in his speech that addresses the state’s inequitable distribution of school aid. In fact, under his leadership, the gap between high needs school districts and wealthy districts has widened. New York consistently ranks toward the bottom in the nation when it comes to equitable school funding. Districts in the Mohawk Valley lack the resources to match districts with high-income residents and high property values. Continuing this practice of withholding from schools with high needs, such as Central Valley, robs students of their right to the quality of education guaranteed them under the State Constitution.

No school aid runs:  After the governor’s speech each year, New York State has traditionally issued schools aid runs—a projection of the state aid each school would receive under the governor’s proposed budget. Schools used this information as a starting point when building their budgets. The governor refused to issue those aid runs, meaning districts will begin their budget process without critical information. Central Valley Business Manager Ken Long will have no choice, but to budget as if we will receive no new aid. The resulting budget drafts will certainly look bleak. We hope the Legislature will soften the governor’s hard line, but for now we must anticipate the worst outcome and plan accordingly. It will be better to add to our budget if aid increases than to make last-minute or midyear cuts.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at 315-894-9934 or rhughes@cvalleycsd.org.