Three Oswego County school districts only in state to lose funds

Three school districts in Oswego County are the only schools in Central New York that will see decreases in state aid under New York’s budget this year.

Altmar-Parish-Williamstown School District will see a decrease of 3.6 percent in state aid, Mexico schools 2.3 percent and Hannibal School District will see the biggest decrease at 5.6 percent. These figures exclude construction aid to the three schools.

“Hannibal has a lot of children spread throughout the three schools we have that deserve to receive an increase, not a decrease,” Hannibal resident and school parent Renee Dulin said. “When we lose that much in a decrease, then other programs at our school will suffer or have to be cut out of the budget to make up for the decrease. I personally do not feel this is fair to the kids in our school system and should be revised.”

There are some faculty and community residents wondering why these three school districts are seeing decreases when by contrast, Oswego School District will see a state aid hike of 8.1 percent.

“Our school district takes a long-term focus when developing a solid financial plan,” Mexico School Board of Education member Dennis Brooks said. “One that has the ability to absorb losses in revenue, like state aid. For 2014-2015, we were anticipating a drop in aid due to our wealth-aid ratio increasing.”

According to the New York State Department of Education, the Board of Regents adopts a state aid proposal annually that includes funding recommendations to the governor and legislature reflecting its policy goals. In the last few years, the proposal has included a major reform of a “foundation formula,” which is based on the cost of educating students in successful schools.

This has a lot to do with what is called the “gap elimination adjustment,” funds that are promised to state aid that is deducted to decrease the budget deficit. The proposal outlines “the financial assistance needed to provide an adequate basic education, so that all students attain proficiency on the state’s learning standards and to close the achievement gap for students with the greatest educational need and the least resources,” according to the state aid group.
The regents’ proposal on state aid to school districts recommended a total increase in school aid of $1.3 billion for the 2014-2015 school year. This includes a $719 million transitional operating aid that adheres to the original principles of the foundation aid formula and addresses the impact of several years of gap elimination adjustments. In addition, the proposal includes $281 million in aid increases for reimbursement based programs, including transportation aid, building aid and BOCES aid based on existing law.

“I am glad to see that our legislators are moving toward reducing the gap elimination adjustment,” Hannibal Board of Education President Erin Hess said. “We also need to see a movement toward restoration of foundation aid in the future. These are the two most pressing issues facing our education funding system at this time. I believe that a focus on these items will bring about more equal educational opportunities for our students statewide.”

It is still in question how these decreases will exactly impact the three Oswego County schools next year and years following.

“We have prepared financially to offset decreases in state aid to protect our educational program for 2014-2015,” Brooks said. “Should our state continue to decrease aid to school districts and/or continue with property tax cap legislation, it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the educational needs of our students with limited resources for the long term.”