Monday, January 29, 2018

Will we be able to sustain the progress?

In recent years, increases in state aid and a conscientious approach to budgeting have given our district the ability to restore people, programs and services. In addition, grant funding has allowed us to create more opportunities for our students, including the ExTRA after-school program and Grade 9 Pivot program. The steady progress we have made could hang in the balance given that the state has an estimated $4 billion budget gap to close and uncertainties about federal funding exist, including the as-yet unknown effects of the recently enacted federal tax reforms.

2018-19 Executive Budget proposal: WCSD state funding increase just shy of 2 percent 

In mid-January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented his executive state budget proposal, which includes a $769 million increase in overall school funding for the 2018-19 school year.

Under the governor’s proposed state fiscal plan, Watervliet would receive an additional $144,263 (1.2 percent increase) in Foundation Aid for the 2018-19 school year. Foundation Aid is the main source for funding day-to-day school operations.We also would receive state funding to reimburse expenditures including transportation and BOCES services for which the district has already paid. After factoring in the expense-based and other aid categories (prekindergarten, building aid), our overall funding increase from the state next year would total about $336,000, or 1.8 percent.

The executive budget proposal also designates funding for community schools, after-school programs, teacher development and school breakfast initiatives. Similar to other categorical aids, the state earmarks this funding for specific uses.

The perspective of the state’s leading education groups

The education funding proposed by the governor once again falls short of the increases recommended by both the state Board of Regents and the Educational Conference Board (ECB), a coalition of the state’s major education groups. The Regents called for a $1.6 billion increase in Foundation Aid that includes funding for targeted priorities, such as increased support for English Language Learners. Read the SED memo

Meanwhile, the ECB recommended an increase of $2 billion in state Foundation Aid for the 2018-19 school year; estimating that an increase of $1.5 billion alone would be necessary for schools to continue to provide current programs and services. Read ECB’s position paper

Mark your calendars for upcoming budget work sessions 

During the coming weeks as we develop our 2018-19 school budget proposal, our district leadership team will be analyzing current programs and services, prioritizing academic needs in our schools, and identifying ways to balance our budget given rising costs, which include contractual increases in salaries and changes in pension rates. Throughout the process, we hope to gather feedback from you our community. We plan to schedule at least three budget work sessions, the first one in March, before the Board of Education adopts the proposed budget in April. The dates of these meetings and presentations are as follows:

  • Thursday, March 8:  Board of Education meeting:  Budget Presentation (Workshop #1) - WJSHS Conference Room, 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 10:  PTA meeting:  Workshop #2 - WES cafeteria, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 14:  Budget Breakfast (Workshop #3) - WJSHS Conference Room, 9:00 a.m.

I do not want to sound any alarm bells just yet, as the release of the governor’s executive budget proposal is only the beginning of state budget negotiations. During the next several weeks, both houses of the State Legislature will analyze and deliberate the governor’s proposal and set priorities before a final state budget is adopted by the April 1 deadline. If the past is any indicator, budget bills presented by the Assembly and the Senate have traditionally included additional funding for schools. I have invited Assemblyman John McDonald to our Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8 to provide an update on the state budget process and share his insight into the school funding picture.

One final thought: Both the Board of Regents and the ECB continue to advocate for the state to fully fund the Foundation Aid Formula, which was designed to ensure that all school districts receive adequate funding. Enacted in 2007, the phase-in of this formula was put on indefinite hold as the state and the country weathered a deep economic recession. The State Council of School Superintendents estimates that as a result of the lapse in implementing the formula, many school districts across the state continue to be under-funded, including our district to the tune of $3 million.