Rhinebeck BOE and Superintendent Press School Finance Issues with Governor Cuomo Before Jan 13, 2016 State of the State/Budget Address
January 7, 2016
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
As leaders of the Rhinebeck Central School District, we wish to share with you our concerns about the current crisis concerning New York State’s financial support of public education. Our concerns focus on the State’s existing plan for the funding of the State’s public schools:
1. The Tax Levy Cap – For too many years now, legislation in the State of New York has limited the growth of spending in our municipalities and school districts to the lesser of 2% or the Consumer Price Index. This approach to the funding of our local governments, and in particular to the fiscal support of public education, has diminished the democratic voice of the resident taxpayers of the State’s various communities through a patently unfair and inequitable system. At the time of its genesis, the rationale for the Tax Levy Cap was coupled with the promise of mandate relief for school districts across the State. However, mandate relief never materialized from the efforts of a gubernatorial commission. This left school districts to struggle under the burden of an undemocratic spending cap that requires 60% of a school district’s taxpayers, more than a simple majority, to override any increase in public school spending beyond the tax levy cap limit. Non-school governments, on the other hand, need only a majority vote of their trustees to exceed the tax levy cap limit. Municipal voters also have no direct say in approving their budgets, much less in exceeding the tax levy cap limit, while school district budgets are held to a different standard.
2. Gap Elimination Adjustment – Starting with the statewide fiscal collapse in 2008, New York State government deemed it necessary to take away operating aid promised to local school districts, ostensibly to offset the State deficit resulting from admittedly difficult fiscal times. Over the past seven years of Gap Elimination Adjustments (GEA), the Rhinebeck Central School District alone has been stripped of over $3,100,000 that had been promised it to meet this “need.” However, in spite of a budget surplus of over $2 billion in 2014, and one projected by the Comptroller to exceed $3 billion for 2015, GEA monies continue to be withheld at various levels from many school districts statewide, including the Rhinebeck Central School District. It is clear that New York State no longer needs to continue withholding promised State Aid from school districts in the face of two consecutive years of significant documented budget surpluses.
3. Inadequate Foundation Aid – In addition to the full restoration of promised GEA monies, the insignificant increase in the Tax Levy Cap formula forecast for the 2016-17 school year requires that New York State immediately meet its full Foundation Aid obligation and provide a significant increase in Foundation Aid for ALL school districts. This Foundation Aid increase is essential in order to maintain programs and services for children in the face of a tax levy limit that hovers dangerously close to no increase at all. Due to expectations for public schools to continue to do more with limited funds and to cope with often onerous mandates, and in spite of what local communities may be willing and able to provide, or what they wish they could provide, in support of their goals and aspirations for their young people, full funding of the Foundation Aid formula is no longer an option but an ethical imperative.
4. Inequitable Funding – The inequities in public school funding and in the resulting opportunities for all children across the New York State are well known and staggering. While school districts in our State’s more affluent communities are themselves struggling to maintain programs and services for children under the limitations of the tax levy cap, it is little wonder that less affluent school districts, centered around our State’s urban areas, with the most acute educational needs and the least adequate financial resources to address them, are struggling to the extent that they are currently. State government support for public education must address the needs of all children across the entire expanse of New York State without diverting funding from more fortunate school districts in order to meet the needs of those school districts that are struggling to provide the programs and services that their children require. Fair funding for the public education of all of New York’s children is not only a noble concept but an inalienable right.
Therefore, regarding these four cornerstones of the State’s existing plan for the funding of the State’s public schools, we respectfully and assertively request:
- The full and immediate restoration of the State Aid funds reduced since 2008 by eliminating the unnecessary Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).
- The full funding of the Foundation Aid formula to provide significant increases for every school district, such that will allow for the maintenance of programs and services for children, mandated and otherwise, in the face of a projected 2016-17 tax levy cap barely above a 0% increase.
- The provision of equitable public education funding that “levels up” the State’s financial support of ALL school districts to meet the needs of every child in New York State without disadvantaging any child, regardless of his/her zip code.
- The restoration of democracy and local control to each community through the suspension and elimination of the tax levy cap, thus allowing communities to decide on their capacity to provide the necessary educational opportunities required by their children or, at the very least, through the adjustment of the tax levy limit formula to provide school districts with the ability to raise a minimal level of financial support from their local communities to meet their obligations to their children under current law and regulation.
On behalf of the Board of Education of the Rhinebeck Central School District, we thank you for your time, your interest, and your consideration in this time of crisis in the funding of public education in New York State.
Board of Education President
Rhinebeck Central School District
Joseph L. Phelan
Superintendent of Schools
Rhinebeck Central School District