Weekly Feature

2018-02-07 / Front Page

Governor’s first school budget draft sees reduced aid for Clarence


Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial budget proposal for New York school districts paints a potentially bleak picture for Clarence, which could face minimal increases in state aid, a proposal to cap expense driven aid and a shift in the cost burden of special education programs.

The Clarence Board of Education discussed an early budget outlook for the 2018-19 school year at its Jan. 29 meeting.

“We have a lot of work to do, and I know I have a lot of work to do in the next few months before the state budget is adopted,” said board member Dennis Priore, who attended a presentation last month at Erie I BOCES on the governor’s budget draft. “We want not just an increase, but a fair share for Clarence.”

A concern for Clarence is the lack of foundation aid, which the state uses to supplement local funding for school districts in order to assist in providing sufficient resources. The method by which the amount of foundation aid is calculated for each district has come under fire in recent years as critics argue that the current distribution formula provides excessive resources to some districts while offering too few to others.

Initial figures included in the governor’s first draft include $34,863 more in foundation aid to Clarence, an increase of just 0.25 percent. According to Clarence Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks, the district was expecting an increase of 3 percent. Clarence would also see the same increase in building aid for 2018-19 — tied for the lowest allocation in the state.

The district is estimating a tax levy cap of 4.6 percent, which Hicks says would generate roughly $2.1 million for the district, a number he admits will not provide enough funds to maintain all existing programs. Instead, Hicks says, Clarence will have to count on larger increases in state aid as the budget process moves forward as well as the use of reserves in order to balance the budget.

“We’re more dependent on state aid than we’ve been in past years,” Hicks said.

The scenario that more state aid will appear in future budget drafts is not an unlikely one. Last year, the final draft included an increase of $140 million compared to what Cuomo outlined in previous drafts of his executive budget.

The estimated tax rate for 2018-19 in the Clarence schools is $14.99 per $1,000. For a home assessed at $100,000, property taxes would increase by an annual $50.

While Hicks notes that current assumptions account for no reductions in staff — though the district anticipates seven teacher retirements — he says concern has grown as to a potential cap to expense-based aid. BOCES and transportation aid would be capped at 2 percent while building aid would be capped at 2 percent statewide.

“The dangerous thing is that the governor proposed capping expense-based aids next year. … It would be significant for us,” he said.

Further depressing aid in the district is a potential cut in federal funding for Medicaid programs in New York, in which case the state Legislature would reconvene to determine where those cuts would come from. Recently passed by Congress, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act initially included language that would see a cut of $25 billion to Medicare in 2018, though the House and Senate waived such cuts as part of a temporary spending bill.

Currently, the Clarence Central School District is reimbursed $600,000 each year in Medicaid funds.

“The [state] Legislature would come back and determine where to cut, and those cuts could come halfway through the school year. That would be a very bad thing for us,” Hicks said.

Hicks said the district has already scheduled meetings with representatives at the state and local levels in order to advocate for more funding in foundation aid as well as a new calculation of the formula that is equitable and predictable. The district will also push for a de-linking of school aid with educator evaluations and to scrap proposals calling for capping expense-based aid.

Proposed for the 2018-19 school budget will be the purchase of nine additional buses, says Hicks, noting that would not have an effect on the tax cap. Last year, residents voted to approve a bus purchase proposition that included five 72-seat passenger buses, two wheelchair vans and two 30-seat passenger buses.

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