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Against the wall

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Officials of General Brown School in Dexter certainly know the math when it comes to the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Since being introduced in the 2009-10 academic year to reduce Albany’s budget shortfall, General Brown School’s funding from the state has been reduced by $6.7 million. For a rural school district in Northern New York, that’s a huge sum.

Representatives of the district have launched a letter-writing campaign to let state lawmakers know that enough is enough. They want to add their voices to the growing choir that the GEA must now stop and state aid to public schools must again increase. Federal funding that covered some of the losses of the GEA has dried up, and districts are now feeling more than a pinch.

No one can blame district officials for doing whatever they can to restore money they once had coming in. The budgets of governmental entities have been under intense pressure for years, and running school districts hasn’t gotten any cheaper.

But while those at General Brown comprehend the math of reduced state aid, they may not grasp the economics. State aid to school districts rose without question for years. And new school construction was covered for a period for about 90 percent by the state.

And then the state ran up a $10 billion deficit. The rationale behind the GEA was to help the state reduce this shortfall by spreading the loss among all school districts over several years. This forced school districts to dip into their reserve funds, some of which were considerable.

Reducing financial aid to school districts has contributed to the state achieving balanced budgets. This was the first crucial step in turning around New York’s sluggish economy and once again gets the state moving in the right direction.

Of course, this most likely doesn’t resonate all that well with school district administrators who are looking at how to cut their budgets to keep in the black. Some rural districts are in dire straits with few options.

But this doesn’t mean the state will be in a position to increase its funding by a noticeable portion. We cannot have Albany going back a time of spending like there’s no tomorrow.

Local taxpayers will be hurt just as much by increased taxes and fees from the state as they will by higher property taxes from school districts.

The stream of revenue for everyone is limited, and the question now becomes one of how to make the best use of available resources to provide essential services. For rural school districts, this heightens their need to strongly consider merging or creating shared services with each other.

In the meantime, state lawmakers should see if removing the GEA is at all feasible. Obviously school districts must learn to rely less on perpetually increasing aid from the state, but it serves no one’s needs if some of them go under. Albany may only be able to offer a tiny lifeline, but any help cold keep some districts afloat.

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