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Schools could see state aid hike in '12

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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After three years of painful cuts in north country school districts, things could be looking up for next budget season: state aid to schools could be on the rise, according to projections from Albany.


And if district officials find out earlier how much money is headed their way, it could make the process in the future less painful.


"Historically, we've used the governor's numbers and there's a big time period between when they're released and when the budget is passed. Of course nothing is final in the process, but this is the first time they've ever really rolled it over into a two-year process," Sackets Harbor Central School District Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said. "There's at least some foresight in the budgetary process."


According to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's 30-day amendments to the executive budget proposal, aid to school districts could be rising from where it is now in future years.


According to the enacted school budget figures from the state budget website, school districts will receive $19.4 billion next year. That's down from roughly $20 billion this school year. It could increase to $20.2 billion for the 2012-13 school year, $21.1 billion for the 2013-14 school year and $21.9 billion for the 2014-15 school year.


North country school officials say a multiyear budget process would be helpful to planning. Some contracts have deadlines that require employees to be notified of layoffs by a certain date. Uncertainty about revenues late into the year make that difficult.


As officials make decisions about how much of their fund balance they should put toward next year's budget, the amount that will remain in the fund for next year's budget season weighs heavily on some minds.


"There's been a lot of discussion over the years about a two-year budget cycle. It's never gotten to that but it would be helpful. This year was better, because we actually knew before the April 1 deadline," said Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services. "We've had state budgets not passed into the summer, and that creates a lot of anxiety on the part of staff members if there are further cuts, they're sitting on the edge of their seat."


Many school boards adopted a budget last week or will do so this week. That's less than two weeks after the final state-aid figures were released.


Last year, when the state budget was late, districts had to plan on the worst-case scenario and adopt a budget months before the state budget was finalized.


But if state aid to schools increases, it may not solve all of the problems north country school districts are having because many of them already have spent themselves into holes to make up for cuts. Many school districts have spent the American Recovery and Reinvestment dollars they received from the federal government, but that money likely won't be offered again.


"We wouldn't anticipate that next year would be better than this year. If they survive this year and get budgets passed, they will be very judicious in how they spend their money," Mr. Boak said. "I think it's way too early and there are way too many unknowns for any reasonable degree of optimism going into next year's budget."


ON THE NET


Budget projections: http://
publications.budget.state.ny.us/eBudget1112/financialPlan/
FinPlanUpdated.pdf

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