It appears as though area schools can expect more of the same in terms of state funding as they begin budgeting for the 2014-15 school year.
Preliminary state aid projection numbers released by the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week indicated that districts will continue to struggle with frozen foundation aid and a continuation of the gap elimination adjustment.
At first glance, it appears that the majority of New York state school districts will receive more aid for the coming school year than the current one. Disregarding building aid funds for individual districts, the projections show a $5,305,004 total increase in funding for Chautauqua County schools and a $3,102,635 total increase for Cattaraugus County schools. The cumulative foundation aid levels for both counties will remain frozen at last year's levels of $158,073,563 and $115,549,185, respectively.
Unfortunately, according to school administrators, the bulk of the apparent funding increase is coming through the state's restoration of money that should have been paid to districts years ago.
"We continue to wrestle with this gap elimination adjustment, which is basically money that has been taken away from schools because the state didn't have the revenue that it needed," said Tim Mains, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. "Well, there's no longer a gap. If the state is no longer in a deficit position, then it needs to give back all of that money that it's been taking from schools; and it didn't do that."
In fact, area school administrators have been working with Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, in an attempt to force legislation that would do away with the gap elimination adjustment entirely. While this has not yet come to pass, the state has been slowly performing a "restoration" of gap elimination adjustment funds in recent years - essentially reducing the amount of money it is withholding from districts every year.
"If they eliminated the GEA completely, that would be almost another $1 million in (JPS') pocket," Mains said. "As a high-needs district, Jamestown is going to continue to be placed at a disadvantage until or unless someone in the state decides to address that issue."
"And, of course, our foundation aid is frozen, so we don't get anything from that," he continued. "So, we continue to get the same amount of foundation aid as we have before despite the fact that, when foundation aid was introduced as a way of trying to address the inequity in educational funding, we were projected to be getting increases that we never received."
Mains said the coupling of a continued gap elimination adjustment and frozen foundation aid has negatively impacted JPS to the tune of more than $100 million in lost funding, which has resulted in the district's elimination of more than 100 staff positions.
Stephen Penhollow, superintendent of Falconer Central School, and Chuck Leichner, superintendent of Forestville Central School, said the preliminary aid projections are misleading in the sense that their districts will likely end up receiving a much smaller funding increase than the numbers show.
"Our initial analysis shows that we will likely see a reduction from our 2012-13 state aid of about $125,000," Penhollow said. "The projection numbers look like there will be increases all around, but by the time you add and subtract everything that would be in there, that may not be the case."
Penhollow also indicated that districts will be unable to sustain themselves at the current rate of restoration to the gap elimination adjustment, which he said could take another 10-12 years to eliminate.
Leichner said the numbers do not present an entirely accurate picture of what his district can expect in the way of aid for the coming year.
"The governor's budget proposal looks better than what I believe we will actually see when the final budget is instituted," he said. "So many of those items are based on estimates and, when we review the figures more carefully, it looks as if this preliminary run is overstated as it relates to Forestville."
Leichner pointed specifically to the aid Forestville is projected to receive in the way of BOCES and transportation funding, saying the state's estimation of what the district's expenditures in those areas will be are far in excess of his own estimation.
"These aid projections are exactly that - projections," Leichner said. "After final adjustments are made, we're not going to see the increase that those numbers might indicate."
According to the projections, Chautauqua County schools will receive funding changes in the amounts of: $362,069 for Southwestern; -$62,565 for Frewsburg; $360,567 for Cassadaga Valley; $257,862 for Chautauqua Lake; $141,019 for Pine Valley; $73,093 for Clymer; $285,197 for Dunkirk; $46,785 for Bemus Point; $212,335 for Falconer; $380,531 for Silver Creek; $425,816 for Forestville; $201,275 for Panama; $1,028,804 for Jamestown; $320,658 for Fredonia; $535,315 for Brocton; $242,653 for Ripley; $187,937 for Sherman; and $305,653 for Westfield.
Changes in Cattaraugus County school funding include: $44,588 for Ellicottville; $470,721 for Cattaraugus-Little Valley; $366,888 for Randolph; and $532,685 for Salamanca.
The funding changes listed above do not take into account building aid that districts may be receiving for capital project funding.