Superintendent Seth Turner’s budget presentation to the Board of Education, usually a staid affair, was full of righteous indignation directed toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose decision to withhold state aid estimates pending the Legislature’s acceptance of his proposals to toughen teacher evaluations and increase funding for charter schools is causing budget headaches in Saugerties and beyond.
Turner said Cuomo has tied the acceptance of his reform agenda “in totality” to an increase in school aid. That is, if legislators don’t approve all of his education proposals, state aid will remain exactly as it was last year, at $19,386,988. If all of the proposals are passed, Saugerties could see an increase of over one million dollars in state aid.
Trustee Krista Barringer said her understanding was that the schools would receive a 1.9 percent increase in state aid over last year even if Cuomo’s reform agenda doesn’t pass. Turner said he had heard similar claims, but they were not true.
What does that mean to Saugerties taxpayers? While it certainly could mean an increase in taxes, because of the tax cap this increase wouldn’t be astronomical. In his presentation, Turner explained that the tax levy could increase anywhere from $0 to $661,066, or an increase of 1.8 percent.
Though they don’t have their state aid numbers, school districts are required to report their tax levy to Albany by March 1. Business Administrator Lissa Jilek said some districts have suggested boycotting that date in protest of the governor’s actions, but Saugerties will not. She said they intend to hold to the budget cap.
What happens, though, if there is no increase from state aid and the budget cap is held to under two percent? Programs will get cut, another option Turner called “unacceptable.” Turner said taxpayers should be “pounding the pavement” fighting this situation. He said New York State has the money to adequately fund schools, which is what they should be doing, rather than tying funding to the governor’s agenda. He questioned whether the top end of Cuomo’s proposed increase in state aid, at one billion dollars, would even be enough to properly fund schools, since the Board of Regents had asked for an increase of two billion as the minimum necessary.
Trustee Damion Ferraro called the situation “disheartening.” Trustee Florence Hyatt called Turner’s presentation “a passionate plea,” and said “there is an attack on public education.”