Monday, November 19, 2012

Education's fiscal cliff

You may be familiar with or have heard the phrase “fiscal cliff” quite a bit recently. Journalists and news commentators have adopted this phrase when referring to the nation’s economy and the national debt.

For school districts this phrase is not new. Many districts around New York State—small city schools and rural schools alike—have been heading toward a fiscal cliff for the past few years as the costs associated with education continue to escalate, while state aid and other revenues continue to shrink or disappear.

In the past two years, our school district has been able to avoid the “fiscal cliff” despite significant decreases in state aid and the state’s tax levy cap, which limits the amount schools can raise in property taxes to balance their budgets. When the tax levy cap was introduced, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to deliver mandate relief along with it to help ease the financial burden on school districts and municipalities, however to date, no meaningful mandate relief has materialized.

In Watervliet, we have made some difficult decisions to close fiscal gaps during the last two budget cycles. To balance our current school budget, the district had to eliminate approximately 14 positions, consolidate bus runs, reduce some services—including elementary summer school—and place a few of our athletic teams on hiatus. Still, we were able to keep intact the academic programs we offer students.

This year, as we begin to develop the 2013-14 school budget, if circumstances do not change—and it’s unlikely they will—we will be forced to confront our most difficult decisions, yet. As the leader of this small city school district, I believe it is important for the community to be aware of and prepare for the tough road ahead. It’s time for everyone in our community to give serious thought about what we value most in education, what is vitally necessary to be able to prepare our students for college and 21st century careers, and how best to keep moving forward with fewer and fewer resources.

In the coming weeks, I will be encouraging everyone to advocate for our schools and students and to implore our local and state representatives for a more fair and equitable distribution of state aid. Please look for future blog posts on this topic and updates on our district’s website about how you can get involved.

In the meantime, I encourage Watervliet residents, families and staff members to contact Governor Andrew Cuomo and our other elected state representatives Senator Neil Breslin (who is on the NYS Senate Education Committee), Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, and NYS Senate Education Committee Chair Senator John Flanagan, with your concerns and questions. Below are links to their web pages where you can submit your messages electronically.

Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo
Contact Senator Neil Breslin
Contact Assemblyman Canestrari
Contact NYS Senate Education Committee Chair, Senator John Flanagan

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