CANANDAIGUA — Wayne County school administrators said a rally last week calling for more equitable distribution of school aid is a good step towards educating the community about the issues districts face when it comes to state revenues.
Rick Timbs, the executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, was the featured speaker at the Wednesday, Nov. 20 eduACTION rally at the Canandaigua Academy auditorium. The Love Your Schools not-for-profit group and Four County School Boards Association hosted Wednesday’s rally.
Timbs, who worked as a social studies teacher in the Bloomfield Central School District from 1970 to 1983, talked about fairness and funding in state aid formula, predictability in the tax cap formula and gap elimination adjustment.
“What the heck is a gap elimination adjustment?” Timbs said. “Well, it’s real simple, if someone has a gap, they’ll decide to eliminate it by adjusting something … The state had a gap, they decided to eliminate its budget gap by eliminating the state aid to you by adjusting it down. They cut your aid.”
Throughout the presentation, Timbs stressed the fact that the wealthiest districts in New York are getting more favorable aid than struggling districts. Only one school in the Finger Lakes region is considered affluent by state standards, he said.
“All schools in the Finger Lakes area are average or below average wealth,” Timbs said. To make up for the lack of state funding — and to fulfill unfunded state mandates — area schools have resorted to cutting programs, trimming staff and using their fund balances, Timbs said. It’s not a sustainable method, he added. Timbs pointed out that this has impacted students: For example, cutting AP courses could affect a student’s transcript and — regardless of grade point average — make it difficult to get into certain colleges.
Gananda Superintendent Shawn VanScoy walked away from the Timbs presentation energized.
“He showed some very different ways of looking at things that show we are not getting our fair share of the money,” he said, noting that the state average of revenue lost per student is $373 But in Wayne, Ontario, Seneca and Yates counties, that average is $608 per student.
VanScoy said it’s no secret schools have suffered from a loss of revenue due to cuts in state aid. Those cuts in Wayne County total $4.5 million over the last four years and have been a contributing factor in the loss of over 450 jobs in school districts across the county.
“If a manufacturing business took that many jobs away, the community wouldn’t tolerate it,” he said. “That’s a lot of jobs lost and a lot of economic development lost.”
What makes school districts different is that those cuts are spread out across the entire county — 25 here, 30 there, he said.
Sharon Lang, president of the Palmyra-Macedon Central School District Board of Education, said the “cumulative cuts in state aid to schools, especially schools in this area, have been devastating,” adding that “over the last four years, the state has increased its own spending by more than $11 billion a year but cut school aid by more than $800 million per year.”
“Year after year we discuss these cuts at our board meetings,” she said, “but I think most people probably aren’t yet aware of the magnitude of these cuts on our taxpayers and our students. The rally was a great step towards raising public awareness, and hopefully a step towards getting Albany to fulfill its responsibility to schools in our area.” Newark School Superintendent Matt Cook agrees.
"It is a positive step toward educating boards of education, superintendents, teachers, parents and students about the inequity issue in the state aid," he said. "School districts took it on the chin across the state, but the Finger Lakes region took the hardest hit."
Traveling back from the rally with three parents, VanScoy said they questioned what to do next. The answer: advocate, VanScoy said, agreeing to work out a time for the parents to meet with state Sen. Michael Nozzolio in the coming months.
“They don’t know what we want if we don’t speak up,” VanScoy said. “But it’s got to be them, the parents, carrying the message.”
VanScoy urges all residents, not just parents, to write letters or call their state legislators, Nozzolio and Assemblyman Bob Oaks, and to not be afraid to voice their concerns and opinions.
Cook feels the same and urges residents to educate themselves fully on the issues. The more people who understand the real issues, the better they can speak intelligently about them.
Parents, residents and students in attendance were encouraged to reach out to state leaders to advocate for changes, including more funding.
Timbs lives in Oneida County and often travels throughout the state to provide other communities with similar presentations. He spoke at Geneseo Central School in Livingston County in March.