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Watertown CSD releases petition to end GEA

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Watertown City School District officials hope a petition will increase public involvement in a bid to end the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment by sending a message to local legislators. Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said the measure has cost the district nearly $12 million and the petition will convey community sentiment that it should end.

“I think it’s an appropriate way to address this issue,” Mr. Fralick said. The petition has been drafted by the district and the Watertown Education Association, which represents employees. He said they hope the petition will raise more community voices and make the complaint harder for state legislators to ignore.

Mr. Fralick said the district has lost $11,191,431 over the past five years. But he said the total loss is more than just money — the reduction in state funding has caused cuts of 30 teaching positions and close to 20 non-instructional jobs.

The proposed 2014 state budget calls for an additional loss to the district of $1,034,028.

The petition states, “As voters we have the right and obligation to contact our lawmakers and to make our opinions known. Please sign our petition and/or take the next step and call your local legislators to make you thoughts known!”

Mr. Fralick said the Gap Elimination Adjustment was put into place as a temporary fix for the state’s then-$10 billion deficit.

Mr. Fralick said Watertown, like many districts, drew initally on its fund balance to try to maintain programs and staff. After five years, though, he said the district doesn’t want to drain its reserves any further.

The petition begins with “We need your help! Through this petition, WEA and WCSD are together advocating for the removal of Gap Elimination Aid (G.E.A.) from this year’s New York State budget. It is now that we need to make our voices and numbers heard in Albany.”

Several Jefferson County school districts, including General Brown Central School, have started letter-writing campaigns.

General Brown Superintendent Cammy J. Morrison has said she hopes such a campaign will return funding to local schools.

Lyme Central School Superintendent Karen M. Donahue said her district delayed starting a letter writing campaign to wait and see if the GEA would be eliminated in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget.

“They wanted to get a sense of how the state was going to move forward,” Mrs. Donahue said. She said she will make a recommendation to the school board at its next meeting Feb. 13 to start a letter campaign.

“I think once the dust settles and more and more districts are seeing they are not getting any more money or could be losing money, they will join the campaign,” Mrs. Donahue said.

The petition concludes by saying “Governor Cuomo’s 2014-2015 Executive Budget includes a sixth G.E.A. take-back. We must stop this unfairness from happening for a sixth year.”

For more about how to get involved or to send a letter, call WEA President Richard F. Morris Jr. at Watertown High School at 785-3800.

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