As we head toward school budget season, our community needs to be very concerned about the future of our schools. A recent forum on school budgets at Kenmore East High School highlighted the true financial shell game that Albany has been playing with our tax dollars. Despite claims by Gov. Cuomo that school funding has increased, our district has received $1.8 million less in foundation aid, when compared to 2008 levels. The major concern for many local schools is the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The GEA was enacted by former Gov. Paterson in 2009, as a temporary measure to balance the state budget, during the economic downturn. Yet, as Cuomo has recently touted a $2 billion dollar surplus in the state budget, local school districts continue to bear the brunt of the GEA, that still remains in place. The GEA has eliminated $7.7 billion that was legally allocated to schools, across New York.
The Springville-Griffith Institute schools, through the 2014-15 budget, will take a hit of over $14 million dollars to our budget since the GEA was enacted. One might call this large financial sum an IOU, as the funding was promised to our schools. The reality of this financial disaster hit home two years ago, when significant cuts were made to our academic programs. Our children face larger class sizes, along with reductions to AP courses, electives and the arts. Maintaining a strong academic program is vital to the success of our children and the community in which we reside.
The Gap Elimination Adjustment did not have the same per-student impact on schools in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island as it did to districts such as S-GI. Our community also does not have the tax base to survive budget reductions as these wealthier schools possess. Yet, as Cuomo uses smoke and mirrors by proposing a small refund to taxpayers, local schools are begging for funding. If our district is forced to cut beyond what has already occurred, the futures of our children and community will be in peril.
At the recent S-GI Community Budget Conversation reality hit the attendees; there is nowhere left to cut in our district without making catastrophic decisions. Basically, we are left with the choice to save what is left of our academic programs or impact the local taxpayer. Neither decision is easy or even necessary. If the GEA were to be eliminated, our schools would not face the impossible decisions that Albany is forcing on many districts.
The S-GI district has an “advocacy” tab under the district heading on its website. This is a good place to start, but many citizens are not aware or do not make the effort to advocate on their own.
I suggest that the S-GI schools have postcards, petitions and computers available, during upcoming school events, such as musicals and concerts, to provide an easy process for families and community members to contact our elected state leaders to change school funding, before it is too late.