The budgets hammered out by school boards and superintendents in Central New York’s suburban school districts are being put to the voters today after a challenging process this year. The state budget was a little late, and lawmakers still haven’t reimbursed districts for money owed under the foundation aid formula. Executive director of the East Syracuse-based Statewide School Finance Consortium Dr. Rick Timbs says districts have had to scramble.
"We're thankful for the state aid that we go this year, but we are really no closer to coming to a solution to the state aid dilemma faced by school districts every year. You can't plan multi-year budgets for multi-millions of dollars when you're waiting the last two weeks before you have to put the budget to bed to figure out exactly what your budget is."
Add in the two percent tax cap, and Timbs says districts are feeling squeezed as costs continue to rise.
"I think they've tried to recalibrate in terms of the tax cap and what state aid has provided. Many districts are still wanting and they certainly could use additional programs and staff because the needs of the children are obviously changing daily. There's heightened expectations of school districts...pre-K, pre-K programs, extra credit programs."
Timbs says sometimes districts only need to go above the tax cap by a fraction to keep a staff or a program in place. But he says no matter the amount, it still requires a special vote…
"You may only need another $10,000 or $20,000, but you need to go through same process as if you needed another $100,000 or $200,000," Timbs said. "That said, the tax cap has made districts more frugal in many ways, because we're very reluctant to put more pressure on taxpayers especially considering that we know Albany owes school districts so such money. We don't want to be part of the shifting burden because the state has not come to grips with state aid and how it should be funded."
Timbs says the horizon appears even more uncertain as the state and federal governments look to increase funding and reimbursements for charter and other non-public schools. He says any flattening or decrease in state and federal aid would make district finances even more tenuous.