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Cuomo’s state aid proposal is not enough, say school superintendents

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POTSDAM - St. Lawrence County’s school superintendents have seen state aid projections, and say unless the state Legislature comes through with significantly more aid the 2014 budget-crafting season is not going to be easy.

Although the state provided 3.8 percent more for public schools in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, the average increase for St. Lawrence County schools was 2.7 percent, said Thomas R. Burns, St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services superintendent.

Also, the state continues to impose costly mandates and reduce funding through its Gap Elimination Adjustment, he said.

“This is the same old system and it appears to be as unfair as ever,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s not unexpected, but it’s disappointing.”

The Ogdensburg City School District will receive a $284,831, or 1.3 percent, increase in aid next year.

Ogdensburg Board of Education President Ronald N. Johnson said Wednesday he was “shocked” at the governor’s state aid proposal.

“It’s certainly not enough to run our business,” Mr. Johnson said. “We are an impoverished district. We have cut our budget right to the bone. We have laid off nearly 60 employees over the last five years.”

Like other districts, Ogdensburg has been dipping into its fund balance to offset increased costs.

“Our fund balance has been cut below what we should have cut it, and we’ve cut from every department we could already,” he said. “We are at our wit’s end.”

He said the district will send letters to Albany and state representatives before the budget is passed.

“But those in the past have brought us very little return,” he said.

Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said his district’s 1.97 percent aid increase won’t cover what is going to be an estimated $300,000 increase in insurance premiums alone for next year.

“We are very disappointed,” Mr. Brady said. “We had hoped for more.”

Educators now have to hope that state lawmakers restore more funding to public schools, particularly this year when the state has a budget surplus instead of a deficit.

Mr. Brady said what makes the situation worse is the fact that this year’s “2 percent tax cap” is actually a 1.46 percent tax cap. He said when tax cap legislation was passed the cap was established as 2 percent or the consumer price index, whichever was lower.

“We will now need to implore our legislators for assistance in building a more supportive and realistic state budget schools,” he said. “For the potential alternative is more lost opportunity for students and reduced employment in our communities.”

Mr. Brady said the district’s 1.97 percent proposed increase actually translates to $221,600, but of that 40 percent is categorical aids that the district won’t actually receive unless it spends money first and is reimbursed for things like textbooks and transportation.

The Massena Central School District, under Gov. Cuomo’s proposal, would see a 2.62 percent, or $582,494 increase, in 2014-15.

But Interim Superintendent William W. Crist the state needs to look at its foundation aid formula and get rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“I know there’s been progress to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, but it’s still not enough. The fact is, we haven’t fixed foundation aid and we haven’t eliminated the Gap Elimination Adjustment yet,” Mr. Crist said.

Mr. Crist said he and other superintendents are hopeful the numbers will increase by the time the final budget is approved.

Canton Central School Superintendent William A. Gregory said the district will face a roughly $1.38 million shortfall in next year’s budget based on the new state aid figures. Most of the extra state revenue is for building aid rather than for operational expenses.

The district expects an estimated $274,000 more in operational aid, but most of that has to be used for specific categories, he said.

“That’s not sufficient enough to meet our known costs going forward,” Mr. Gregory said. “We have to continue our own analysis and see what happens at the state level.”

Staff writers Bob Beckstead, Susan Mende and Amanda Purcell contributed to this report.

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