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Superintendents: State aid isn’t going to be enough

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MASSENA - Despite receiving what could be perceived as the largest state aid increase of any district in St. Lawrence County, Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough II says his district is still facing a budget gap of $5.5 million.

A quick glance at Massena’s aid run shows the district receiving an aid increase of $1,005,060 or 4.89 percent, but Mr. Clough said if you take a closer look at the numbers that’s not really the case. In all reality, Mr. Clough said the district’s actual increase, their gap elimination adjustment restoration, is $637,145 or 4.09 percent.

“It’s true the district will receive more than $1,000,000 from the state, but what is deceiving is that more than $350,000 of that is reimbursement for expenses we paid last year,” he said through an emailed statement, explaining school district receive two types of aid each year.

“One reimburses the district for previous year’s expenses such as BOCES costs, extraordinary special education costs and transportation costs,” he said. “The second type of aid is the aid for the coming year.”

Mr. Clough said when those two types of aid are lumped together, as they are in the budget proposal, increases can end up looking bigger than they actually are.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re pleased for any increase in this economic climate,” he said. “We just don’t want people thinking we received more than we did or that this solves our district’s budget concerns. At the end of the day, we sill have an approximate $5.5 million gap between the governor’s promised revenues and our projected expenses.

The news was even worse for the Colton-Pierrepont Central District, which is receiving an actual aid loss of more than $80,000.

“This is not the 4.4 percent increase that Governor Cuomo described in his speech Tuesday,” Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash said in an emailed statement.

With projected expense increased reaching nearly $500,000, Mr. Kardash said crafting this year’s budget is not going to be easy.

“An overall aid loss of $84,481 is tough when we just projected an increase of about $475,000 in ERS (employee retirement system), TRS (teacher retirement system), social security, health insurance, BOCES and project salaries,” he said. “We will have to sharpen our pencils and try to find other savings where we can.”

Without knowing what the district’s tax cap levy is going to be, Mr. Kardash said it’s too early to tell just how bad things are going to be.

“It is early in the budget process, and we don’t really know our costs for BOCES or energy yet. We also haven’t tried to estimate the tax cap yet,” he said. “There are still too many variables to paint an accurate picture, but this news was less helpful than expected.”

As for their gap elimination adjustment restoration, the district is only receiving $24,741, easily the smallest amount of any district in St. Lawrence County. The majority of the district’s decrease comes from a $70,700 projected decrease in BOCES aid. That number is reimbursement aid, indicating the district spent less money through BOCES last year than they did the year before.

Parishville-Hopkinton Superintendent Darin P. Saiff also said in an emailed statement that he wants his district’s taxpayers to know that the bottom line of his district’s aid run is not an accurate depiction of what his district will be receiving.

“After reviewing the governor’s budget proposal, it appears that PHCS is receiving a $311,125 increase in state aid. It is important to know that the majority of that increase in aid is in the type of aid known as categorical aid, such as transportation and building aid, which is based an usage and need. The probability of receiving all of a district’s categorical aid is slim.”

Mr. Saiff noted Foundation Aid, which is expected to cover the bulk of a district’s expenses, once again did not increase.

“The true increase in aid in the governor’s proposal is in the reduction to our GEA (gap elimination adjustment),” he said.

The GEA has been imposed on school districts to help close the New York state budget gap. Schools have been losing aid to the GEA for several years and it amounts to millions of dollars in lost aid, even for small school districts over than time period.”

The GEA restoration for his district totals just over $109,000.

“The $109,456 proposed difference in the GEA is the ‘new money’ in the governor’s proposal, and we are happy for any financial help that we can get, but it should be clearly stated that all of our north country districts are still lagging far behind in the funding promised in the Foundation Aid formula.”

Until that changes, Mr. Saiff said district officials will continue to lobby the legislature for change.

“As school districts we will continue to ask the state legislature to remove the GEA and find a formula that more equitably distributes the state aid that is available to education.”

Although budget figures indicate Canton Central will receive a 9.9 percent increase in state aid, district Superintendent William A. Gregory cautioned that the financial picture is still grim. “We are facing some challenges that are not being faced by other districts,” Mr. Gregory said. “Potentially, we could still be facing significant program and staff reductions.” “It’s not reflecting our excess costs for special education,” Mr. Gregory said, noting the actual increase will be less than 9.8 percent. This year’s gap adjustment will cost the district $1.8 million. Two years ago, the assessment cost the district $2.4 million followed by $2.1 million last year. Making up for that shortfall will be difficult for Canton, which has cut nearly 50 faculty and staff jobs over the past two years. Lobbying efforts to get the state to change its state aid formula went unanswered. “It doesn’t appear our efforts had a direct effect on budget calculations,” Mr. Gregory said.

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