January 28, 2015

Homer weighs state impact on budget

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to tie state aid funding to education reforms, as well as a property tax freeze incentive, have only worsened the school district’s budget issues and made the decision regarding Hartnett Elementary School that much more difficult, district administrators told the Board of Education on Tuesday.
Cuomo proposed increasing state aid to schools by $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent over last year’s budget, only if the state Legislature agrees to pass proposed education reforms, according to the state budget briefing.
If the Legislature does not enact the proposed measures, funding would remain at the current level for the next two school years, said Michael Falls, director of business and finance.
The proposed reforms would include enhancing teacher evaluations, tenure, certification and preparation, as well as increased support to charter schools, according to the state budget briefing.
The current general state aid funding level for all public schools is $1.04 billion short of what it should be, due to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which took money away from school districts to balance the state budget starting in 2010, Falls said. The proposed increase in state aid is actually a restoration of those funds.
If the state Legislature does not agree to the reforms, school districts would also be denied an increase in foundation aid, or aid allocated per pupil, Falls said. The state has underfunded the foundation aid by $4.9 billion under the Gap Elimination Adjustment, he said.
There would also be no increase in reimbursable or expense-driven aids, such as aid for services that districts pay their local BOCES to provide, Falls said.
Homer has lost $14,878,591 in unseen state aid since the Gap Elimination Adjustment was enacted in 2010, Falls said.
The district’s draft budget for the 2015-16 school year projects a $1,836,986 shortfall. The budget, which does not add or subtract any programs, would increase by 3.3 percent over the 2014-15 budget to $40,017,521 due to contractual raises, rising health care costs and increases in debt service, among other factors, Falls said this morning. The districts projected revenues would decrease by 1.4 percent to $38,180,535. The projected revenues do not include any reserves the board of education may choose to use or not.
Even if the state Legislature agrees to the proposed reforms, it is unclear where the state aid funding would be allocated as Cuomo has not released a listing of how much each district will get, Falls said. The state aid increase could be mostly directed to preschools, charter schools or other areas, he said.
Cuomo did not release the listing of state aid for each district, called state aid runs, with the budget presentation, garnering the ire of schools and education groups.
The state is also in the second year of the Property Tax Freeze credit that reimburses homeowners living in school districts that raise property tax rates over a certain threshold.
For the upcoming budget year, the school district would also have to show that it shared services with another municipality to save at least 1 percent of its budget, Falls said.
For the 2014-15 school year the district was allowed to raise taxes by nearly 1.9 percent, or $295,364. The district chose to increase them by 1.5 percent, or $235,470.
The state’s restrictions on the district’s budget have only made decisions about what to do with Hartnett Elementary School that much harder, board member Martin Sweeney said.
The district must decide the fate of the school after voters struck down a Dec. 16 referendum, rejecting the proposal to borrow $5.8 million to renovate Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton to lease the building for the BOCES/New Tech school.
Among the options the board discussed Monday were closing the building or selling it or leasing it to another entity.
Sweeney said he asked board member Mary Beth Mathey to draft a resolution in protest of the state’s measures.
Mathey’s draft resolution calls on the state Legislature to reject Cuomo’s proposed budget, repeal the Gap Elimination Adjustment in the 2015-16 school year and restore funding to schools.
Mathey requested the board consider adding the resolution to its Feb. 10 meeting for a vote.

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