Local schools advocate for state aid changes


By Patsy Nicosia

The issue of state aid for rural schools all comes down to one word:
And it's anything but.
That's the message local school superintendents hope to get across-to taxpayers, elected officials, and community leaders-when they host education advocate Rick Timbs, Thursday, January 23, at Cobleskill-Richmondville's Golding School Auditorium from 6:30-8:30pm.
Dr. Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, will speak on "Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril: Running Out of Time And Options."
The timing couldn't be better, said members of the Schoharie County School Board Association Thursday, the day after Governor Cuomo's State of the State address touched on things like mandatory full-day pre-kindergarten, a $2 billion bond for technology, and more money for effective teachers.
"There's nothing wrong with any of those things," said Middleburgh Superintendent Michelle Weaver, "except that we can't fund the things we already have.
"The Governor needs to stop adding layers and make us whole first."
"It puts us at odds with our community," added Cobleskill-Richmondville Superintendent Lynn Macan. "People can't afford to pay their taxes now-let alone any increase. For us, it's real."
At the crux of the school funding issue is something called the Gap Elimination Adjustment-money Albany started taking from schools four years ago to help balance the state budget.
Though the Governor's state aid figures since then often make it look like aid is "up," it's smoke and mirrors; C-R has lost $11.6 million in aid since 20010 and Sharon Springs has lost more than $1.5 million in aid.
If the lost aid was happening across the board, it would be one thing, superintendents said, but it's hitting rural schools much harder.
"We're making it work by making major cuts and going to our fund balances," said Schoharie Superintendent Richard Sherman, speaking for all of the superintendents.
"Rural schools are the canaries in the coal mines."
But that may be changing too. With wealthy districts like East Greenbush now starting to feel the pinch, "They're asking me, 'How did you ever do it'" said Dr. Macan.
Governor Cuomo is projecting a state budget surplus.
If that's the case, the superintendents argue, it's past time to get rid of GEA and that's something they hope Dr. Timbs' visit on the 23rd will jumpstart.
Dr. Timbs will give an overview of state aid and then specifics for each local school including Cobleskill-Richmondville, Schoharie, Middleburgh, and Sharon.
The superintendents hope that will spur those attending to write their legislators-including State Senator Jim Seward and Assemblyman Pete Lopez, who will be at the meeting-asking that GEA be eliminated.
"We saw Rick last year and he's an effective, entertaining speaker," said Sharon's Pat Green. "It's a confusing topic, but he makes it easy to understand. That's why we wanted to bring him here. This is too important not to pull out all the stops."
"Strong schools build strong communities," added Dr. Macan. "Without them, people aren't going to stay here. We live and die by our schools."