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Lack of state budget details leaves school pondering 2020-21 budget

Governor’s State of the State speech said little about school funding

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 9 only briefly touched on education. His corresponding “State of the State Book” included more general comments, but few details.

“The lack of details makes it difficult to develop the revenue side of our budget for the coming year,” said Central Valley School District Superintendent Jeremy Rich.

“We will focus on controlling our expenses and wait until April when the state adopts its budget to see how our revenues will change.”

The importance of state aid for Central Valley

New York State aid to education is designed to ensure that all students in the state have access to high quality schools, regardless of a community’s resources. Districts in areas where incomes and property values are high can raise revenue via school taxes. They receive little aid. Schools such as Central Valley lack those resources and receive a lot of state aid—for Central Valley aid makes up more than 78 percent of the district’s 2019-20 revenue.

“State aid gives Central Valley students the opportunity to attend modern, well-equipped schools with highly trained teachers,” said Rich.

“Without state aid, our district would not have the money to educate our community’s children to the same level as affluent communities.”

Schools receive aid in various categories, including:

  • Foundation Aid – aid given to schools based on measures of a community’s income and taxable property. This money can be used for any educational purpose – from salaries to supplies. Critics argue the need-based formula used to calculate the aid is outdated and does not reflect the district’s need.
  • Per pupil aid – aid based on student enrollment. This money must be spent on specific categories such as books or computers.
  • BOCES aid – need-based aid that reimburses a district for a portion of its previous year’s BOCES expenditures.
  • Transportation aid – need-based aid that reimburses a district for of portion of the previous year’s cost to transport students to and from school. Sports and extracurricular activities are not eligible.
  • Building aid – need-based aid that reimburses a district for a portion of the previous year’s cost of state-approved construction projects.

What was mentioned?

The “State of the State Book” included the following items, but without specific information about the level of funding for each proposal:

  • Ensure that state aid is distributed more equitably and to the neediest schools. In the brief explanation of this issue, no mention was made of the need for a stable foundation formula,
  • Further expand prekindergarten to the neediest districts,
  • Expand After School programs,
  • Expand the number of bilingual educators through We Teach NY,
  • Provide free AP access for disadvantaged students,
  • Expand access to college level courses in high school,
  • Expand the Master Teacher Professional Development programs,
  • Improve support for students with mental health needs by creating trauma informed educators.This initiative is envisioned as a competitive grant program for training staff, and
  • Create a STEM Entrepreneur in Residence program for high need middle schools. Districts in the pilots will receive grants to partner with local STEM companies.

How does Central Valley develop its budget?

Each year, Central Valley administrators and the board of education build a budget that they put before voters on the third Tuesday in May.

Steps include:

  • Compare the current year actual numbers to budgeted numbers. (Did we budget enough/too much for each expense or revenue category?)
  • Principals estimate their buildings’ needs based on conversations with their faculty and staff. (What supplies, equipment, books, etc. would we like next year? What staffing levels will we need to educate our students effectively?)
  • Estimate revenues based on the governor’s proposal (presented in January). The business administrator collects the requests, estimates cost increases and revenue changes, and adds up the numbers.
  • School administrators adjust expenses to match projected revenues.
  • Refine the budget based on revenues from the adopted New York State budget (usually occurs in April).
  • The board of education reviews the numbers, requests changes if needed, then votes to adopt a proposed budget.