Monday February 18, 2013

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- School boards in New York are getting their first glimpse at budget numbers for 2013-14, and following years of cuts the numbers still aren’t rosy.

"It’s an increase from a cut -- it’s not really an increase," said Hoosick Falls Central School Superintendent Kenneth Facin regarding this year’s budget proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Over the past three years under New York’s Gap Elimination Adjustment -- a budget-balancing measure -- HFCS has lost a combined $5.2 million from the state’s base foundation aid. Comparing 2012-13 with 2008-09, Facin said the district received $1.22 million less. With cuts to state aid, rural schools more reliant on that aid have been disproportionately affected under current formulas according to local officials. "It’s not about more, more, more -- it’s about how it’s distributed," Facin said Feb. 13 while addressing school board members.

Given similar demographics as small, rural districts, both HFCS and its neighbor to the north, Cambridge Central School, face similar constraints. At this month’s CCS board meeting Feb. 12, Superintendent Vincent Canini and Business Administrator Beth Coates gave a "first look" at 2013-14 budget figures based on the governor’s proposal.

"We’re in the same situation as we have been in the past" few years, Canini told his board.


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"(We’re) still pushing for additional money from (state Sen. Betty Little)," in the form of so-called "bullet aid." A bill is still planned in the state Legislature to alleviate an anomalously high Combined Wealth Ratio at CCS, which negatively affects aid, and Canini said the school may take advantage of a "pension stabilization" option outlined by Cuomo, although that option is still not concrete.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, CCS sees only a 1.33 percent year-over-year increase in aid, or $98,129, not including expense-driven reimbursements such as for building projects. "We’ve already spent that money so it shouldn’t be included in our aid increase (number)," Canini said.

HFCS meanwhile would see a 3.73 percent increase in operating aid, or $322,631.

Since 2010-11, CCS has lost nearly $5.3 million through the gap elimination, even factoring in federal one-time revenues. Entering this budget season, the district shows a $1.2 million shortfall with no adjustments or cuts.

At HFCS, Business Administrator Pam Hatfield’s first draft presented this month for board members included $1.4 million in staff and program cuts. "We need to take a look at everything we have," said Facin. "Everything is about maintaining opportunities for students."

The first proposal includes reconfiguring high school special education and thereby eliminating two special ed teachers; cutting the General Educational Development (GED) program; cutting two custodial positions; and eliminating an elementary teacher, teaching assistant, and English teacher all upon retirement. The district sees some "breakage" or savings from the replacement of a speech teacher, and the draft also includes dropping the assistant high school principal position to half-time. That role is currently filled by Brett Lamy, also the school athletic director.

Representing the Hoosick Falls Teachers’ Association, English teacher Judith Petrino said her union knew that "every avenue was looked at" before the staffing cuts were proposed, but added she "can’t say how hard we’ll be looking at our own membership" to alleviate those cuts.

"I’m overcome with emotion on what that loss will mean to those students," she said, speaking to the incorporation of special education students into standard classrooms. Promising to do "as much as we can," including volunteering, Petrino said "it’s a proposal. We’re hoping we can offer something as a membership."

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