After four years and billions of dollars in withheld aid to New York's nearly 700 school districts, the gap elimination adjustment is still going strong - much to the chagrin of local administrators.
According to Tim Mains, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, the chief perpetrator of the financial struggle experienced by practically all school districts statewide is being perpetuated by misguided funding priorities at the legislative level.
The gap elimination adjustment was originally instituted in the 2010-11 academic year as a means of helping the state to close its overall budget gap in the midst of a recession by reducing aid to its schools. Now, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is claiming fiscal solvency for New York state while retaining the gap elimination adjustment.
Mains said a combination of state decisions to spend money in areas - both within and without the realm of education - other than the provision of a basic education have contributed the lingering gap elimination adjustment.
"As far as I'm concerned, whether it's spending money elsewhere or giving away the revenue that (schools) need, that's what is keeping the money from being available for erasing the gap elimination adjustment," Mains said.
As a result, Mains said Jamestown has missed out on more than $100 million in aid that had previously been promised under the state's Foundation Aid Formula of 2007.
Through foundation aid, schools were guaranteed a certain amount of money which was to be administered in increasing increments over a five-year period starting in the 2008-09 academic year. That funding was frozen in 2009-10 due to the economic recession of late 2008 and early 2009, and now Mains said schools are receiving less than they were five years ago.
"I don't have an expenditure problem, I have a revenue problem," Mains said at a recent Board of Education meeting. "The state simply has not come through with the dollars that we need to educate children in this district, and it's frustrating because we're being told that the state is now flush."
He added: "The whole reason the gap elimination adjustment was imposed on districts all those years ago was because the state had a deficit, and that deficit was closed using money that should go to school children so that the state could be whole. The state no longer has a deficit, and has a balanced budget. So, in my mind, there is no reason for the gap elimination adjustment. The gap elimination adjustment should be eliminated for Jamestown and every other district in the state."
Should the gap elimination be eliminated as Mains suggests, he said JPS would receive more than $1 million in additional funding for the next school year.
At the same time, Gov. Cuomo has been lauding several new incentives and competitive grants for schools over the past two years. Mains said items such as universal pre-kindergarten, utilizing a bond referendum to upgrade technology in the classroom and incentivizing teachers with bonus pay based on the testing performance of their students are all nice things, but they direct money away from funding schools' day-to-day operations.
"When you're sitting there staring at a deficit, you don't create new programs; you fix the deficit first," Mains said. "Education is an essential service, and I believe it should be viewed and funded as such by the state government. I resent having to fund all of these other programs out of dollars that should basically be going toward funding the education of our children."
In addition to the excessive amount of money JPS has not received since the gap elimination adjustment came along, Mains said the district has been forced to cut costs in any way it can. According to an editorial piece written by Mains earlier this week, JPS has cut more than 100 staff positions, no longer employs full-time librarians, has eliminated its Suzuki strings program, holds its art and music programs for kindergarten through eighth-graders only once every eight school days and now teaches foreign language every other day at the middle school level.
Several other area schools are making their feelings toward the gap elimination adjustment known by having their boards of education approve resolutions calling for its termination. Rallies calling for the end of the gap elimination adjustment have been held across the state, including one held in Ellicottville last week that was attended by several Chautauqua and Cattaraugus county school representatives.
At the rally, the amounts of cumulative funding withheld from area districts over the past four years was presented to attendees. The amounts given for Chautauqua County, which included the tentative gap elimination adjustment amounts to be administered for the 2014-15 academic year, were reported to be: $7,896,545 for Southwestern; $5,614,276 for Frewsburg; $4,140,327 for Cassadaga Valley; $2,350,891 for Chautauqua Lake; $3,189,870 for Pine Valley; $3,103,631 for Bemus Point; $7,040,251 for Falconer; $4,303,268 for Silver Creek; $2,397,839 for Forestville; $4,605,387 for Panama; $14,190,928 for Jamestown; $9,020,758 for Fredonia; and $1,870,349 for Sherman.