The funding crisis facing public education will be on display during forums held in the coming weeks across central New York. Lobbyists are hopeful that public support for school funding can have an impact on the state budget process in Albany.
Charles Borgongoni has been the head of the Central New York School Boards Association for three years. He says the fiscal troubles for schools just keep getting worse, with not much help in sight from the state.
"This is a very critical year, given the fact that they’ve had to layoff staff, they’ve had to cut programs, they’ve had go into reserves, they’ve had to go back to their taxpayers," Borgongoni says. "It’s just not sustainable. And if many of our districts don’t get fiscal relief this year, they are in many cases going to face programmatic insolvency or fiscal insolvency.”
He says schools throughout upstate New York have been struggling with static state aid the last few years.
"The hens are coming home to roost, so to speak," Borgongoni explains. "Too many years of inequitable distribution of aid, not getting state aid to the children who need it the most in this state, is finally bearing very dire results.”
Part of the problem is the longstanding issue of inequitable state aid in New York, which goes back decades and has forced schools to cut spending and programs as much as they can. Borgononi says the other big issue issue is the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a fiscal maneuver put in place to close the state budget deficit five years ago. It basically takes money earmarked for districts, and sends it back to Albany.
"It was only supposed to be in existence for two years," he says. "We’re entering our fifth year of it right now. And particularly at a time when the governor is claiming there’s a budget surplus. We have to ask the question; why do we have to do something to reduce the state budget deficit, when there’s really a surplus?"
Borgononi says the gimmick has had a dramatic effect on school budgets, noting that over the four years that the Gap Elimination Adjustment has been in effect, Onondaga County schools have not received $270 million in state aid they were entitled to.
He says it amounts to state aid that’s being withheld, and Albany isn’t being forthcoming about it.
"And there are all kinds of claims and all kinds of sound bites coming out of Albany," he says. "We’ve raised education funding by four percent this year, or x-percent this year. But as long as you're deducting $1.8 billion in state aid that should be going out to schools, that’s kind of a specious statement that’s being made.”
So will this year be the year that schools get their due?
"Districts have their backs up against a wall, fiscally, and programmatically," Borgononi says. "In addition to that it’s an election year of course. The governor’s running for reelection, the legislature is running for re-election. So we think they are going to pay more attention to these issues.”
He’s hoping that lawmakers may be more inclined to listen to the plight of schools during this election year. There is a forum tomorrow in Syracuse to shine the light specifically on how state spending has affected the Syracuse City School District.