November 17, 2011
Rural schools hit hard by aid cuts
Report finds poorer districts lost more aid than wealthier ones
An education advocacy group issued an analysis Tuesday showing that poorer districts were hit harder by state aid cuts the past two years than wealthier districts.
The state slashed aid to public schools by $1.3 billion for 2011-12 and $1.4 billion for 2010-11, leaving boards of education with the task of cutting jobs and programs and raising taxes to make up for it.
In a six-county region including Cortland County, the 50 districts lost an average of $717 per student for 2011 and $1,411 for both years combined, according to the Alliance for Quality Education, which has been pushing the state Legislature to change how schools are funded.
Homer, Dryden and Moravia were hit hard. Homer lost $999 per student for 2011 and $2,038 per student for the two years. Moravia lost $1,201 per student for 2011 and $2,180 for both years. Dryden lost $934 per student and $1,897 for two years.
Homer’s combined wealth ratio is 0.512 and Moravia’s is 0.577, ranking them in the middle of the 50 districts. Dryden has a ratio of 0.56.
Combined wealth ratio is derived from a school district’s income wealth per student and real property wealth per student.
Cincinnatus was among the worst affected, losing $784 and $1,474 per student, with a combined wealth ratio of 0.391.
The state average combined wealth ratio is 1.0.
The alliance and school district leaders say districts with less wealth should receive more aid than those with wealth.
In contrast, Skaneateles had a 1.242 combined wealth ratio but lost only $356 per student for 2011. Jamesville-DeWitt’s combined wealth ratio was 1.103 and the loss per student was $362 and $784.
Superintendents such as Cortland’s Larry Spring and Homer’s Nancy Ruscio have said for several years that the formula needs to change for deciding how much state aid each district is awarded.
Cortland’s combined wealth ratio is 0.509. Its aid cuts amounted to $552 per student in 2011 and $996 in both years.
“It’s quite a statement that the wealthiest districts in our region are just barely over the state average,” Spring said Tuesday, referring to Skaneateles, J-D and Fayetteville-Manlius. “Of the 123 districts on Long Island, I notice that about 30 are below the state average and some have combined wealth ratios of 10 or higher.”
Spring said district leaders are concerned because it does not appear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will follow through on his goal of a 4 percent increase in state school aid this year. The state has projected a nearly $4 billion deficit for next year.
Ruscio said the current aid formula penalizes poor districts.
The numbers for other area districts were Marathon at 0.346, with $503 and $1,010 per student; McGraw at 0.419, with $433 and $973; DeRuyter at 0.479, with $455 and $1,165; Groton at 0.44, with $467 and $1,330.
The disparities among school districts are the same ones that Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, has been presenting to school officials’ meetings for the past four years.
The consortium is a Syracuse-based advocacy group and Timbs is a former school district and BOCES superintendent.
Other superintendents said the new analysis is not a surprise.
“This is exactly what we’ve been saying,” said Sandy Sherwood, Dryden superintendent of schools. “The funding structure for public education needs more equity built in.”
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