School officials in the KCSD are playing their annual waiting game as they hope the state legislature comes up with enough relief beyond Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s school aid proposal that will help them overcome a $1.1 million budget gap. But Superintendent Paul Padalino is hoping the district won’t have to play the all-too-familiar game much longer.
Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Business Allen Olsen revealed what was at the time the latest information on the 2017-18 budget process at March 8’s school board meeting, which saw a severe health insurance rate hike nearly double a gap in the rollover plan.
Olsen said that it’s unlikely the state legislature will help the district bridge the entire $1.1 million gap with a state aid bump over what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already proposed, which would mean making cuts or finding revenue elsewhere. Of course the preliminary spending plan, a roughly $169 million proposal, simply rolls over the 2016-17 budget without making any changes. In the budget’s current incarnation, the local tax levy would increase by around 2.42 percent; the state has set its tax cap increase at 1.35 percent. Going over the tax cap would require approval from a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters, but school officials have repeatedly said they don’t plan to go that route.
“We are going to create a budget that balances for the district,” Olsen said. “How we’re going to do that remains to be seen somewhat, but we will get there.”
Part of the process, school officials said, involves seeing what happens next. The governor’s budget proposal includes around $890,000 outside of expense-based aid, of which $393,000 in unrestricted foundation aid, an increase of 0.9 percent over 2015-16; and $497,000 is Community Schools Aid, which may come with as-yet-unexplained directives. Olsen said the district was unlikely to get an explanation until the state’s budget is set.
During the meeting, Padalino said the state’s decision to abandon its foundation aid formula established over a decade ago has caused no end of grief for local school districts over the past few years. The superintendent said the Kingston City School District is owed around $93 million under the old foundation aid formula, and that doesn’t include what it lost in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was instituted in 2010-11 by Cuomo to overcome a statewide budget deficit by decreasing state aid to school districts. In 2015, school districts began to see some of that funding reappear, and the GEA was eliminated the following year.
Padalino said while small city school districts like Kingston and coalitions like the Alliance for Quality Education of New York continue the fight for equitable public school funding, it’s unlikely they’ll recoup everything they feel they’re owed by the state.
“That $93 million, we’re not going to get that,” he said. “It’s not happening. … Really what we’re pushing for is foundation aid, which is a formula that doesn’t really exist anymore. The governor has decided that there is no foundation formula and he would design his own formula for funding. What we’re pushing for is a foundation formula that is equitable and fair and predictable for school districts. And that has really been our effort to this point.”
School board Trustee Suzanne Jordan joked that even a fraction of what the district was owed in foundation aid could help. “Couldn’t we get $1.1 [million]?” she asked.
Padalino said possible shifts in education at the national level are giving local school districts even more worry, but a return to an equitable and reliable process for determining state aid would help.
“There’s real concern over the ways schools are funded, especially this year,” he said. “And I think the need for the foundation aid formula, we wouldn’t be having these types of conversations if we had a formula that was predictable. We could budget around that number instead of just waiting for April 1st to guess at what we can and can’t do … I think most people would argue that the foundation formula that was put in place — and there’s no perfect solution for it — was a reasonably put together solution for districts, and that it stopped running was the issue. They created this formula that did a lot of things that we wanted to happen, looked at poverty, looked at equitable distribution of money. And then they just stopped running it.”
Jordan suggested community shareholders might be in a position to help influence how the money flows to local school districts.
“I think that people are willing to contact our representatives, but we need to know what we’re asking for so that we can magnify the message,” she said.
“Our local representatives are people to talk to,” Padalino said. “We encourage people to go see them and tell them your concerns about funding for schools. Call them, write them, do all those things … We think there’s a pot of some hundreds of millions of dollars floating out there, and we hope we can still influence where some of it goes, and hopefully some of it goes to schools.”
Trustee Robin Jacobowitz said reaching out to lawmakers is worthy in both the short and long term, especially where it concerns school funding.
“In my mind conversations that we have with legislators now don’t necessarily have to apply to this coming year,” she said. “We can talk about years to come. I think it’s never a bad idea to contact your legislators. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to get our $1.1 [million]. It can give them time, although they’ve had years, decades, to think of a fair funding formula for schools.”