Saturday, March 19, 2011

Consolidation Links; Cuomo Unfair to Upstate? --Mar 19

I've gotten behind on this, but the links (collected as always on don't link to each other so I will try to catch up; Superintendent Bowers blogged on further Albany budget cuts and Ken Bausch commented in News From Albany [comment by Ken]

While building aid and UPK are exempted,all other aids are reduced by @23% this year. Thus we are not actually receiving transportation aid at 76 cents on the dollar, rather the effective rate is only 59 cents on the dollar. Thus a dollar spent on new vehicles last year costs the district 41 cents, rather than the 24 cents we assumed during the vote on the acquisition of a new bus and fuel efficient vehicle last year.

Radio Free Hamilton reported HCS Budget Cuts Include Positions

The cuts include the equivalent of five and a half full time positions. These include:

    * 1 full time administrative position;
    * 1 full time secondary guidance counselor;
    * 1 full time occupational therapist (these services will be purchased...);
    * 1 full time elementary school teaching position;
    * 1/2 choral music teaching position;
    * 1/2 science teaching position;
    * 1/2 custodial position.

Other cuts totalling $94,000 include:...

Of course it's all over the state; earlier this month, a Rochester-area district about a dozen times our size reported Proposed Greece school budget would eliminate 89 full-time staff positions

Greece, N.Y. — At a Greece school board meeting Tuesday night, interim superintendent John O'Rourke proposed a school budget that would slash 89 full-time staff positions from the Greece school district, reduce music education, and merge sports programs....The proposed $195 million budget would increase the tax rate 1.68 percent, bringing it to $22.92 per $1,000 assessed value. The budget calls for a reduction of elementary classroom time by 30 minutes a day, an increase in class sizes, the elimination of 4th grade music, reductions of instrumental and vocal music, and cuts to elementary art and library. The plan would also consolidate sports programs

The state-wide cuts do seem to have their main impact on rural schools, simply because the aid has been disproportionately directed to them, as argued in the Rochester area Glover: Proposed state cuts would be 'catastrophic' to rural schools:

Understanding that the state is in financial crisis and that everyone must make sacrifices, the superintendent says the proposed cuts in state aid are not fair spread out among suburban and rural districts. Small rural schools stand to lose the most. “We should all share in an equitable way,” Glover said. “Everybody has to tighten their belts, but this takes opportunities away from kids in rural schools.” Data taken from the Statewide School Finance Consortium website shows... Comparatively by county... “The poor schools are getting poorer,” as a result of the governor’s proposed budget cuts.

And smaller districts are being pushed towards consolidation, as in the Ithaca-area Trumansburg, South Seneca schools explore sharing resources:

Trumansburg Central School District officials are considering merger and resource sharing with the neighboring South Seneca Central School District. Spurred by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's public push for consolidation of smaller school districts in New York...

It's really quite a push, with some rather strong statements in which the New York governor hits school districts, defends education cut | Reuters

Claiming local school districts are playing "political games," New York's governor on Thursday defended his $1.5 billion cut to education spending. Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed cut in state aid to schools -- the largest in history -- is aimed at closing a $10 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year. Cuomo told reporters on Thursday that his cuts average 2.7 percent per school district, and could be offset by rooting out inefficiencies, using reserve funds and lowering the salaries of superintendents.

It does seem that the governor is trying to understate the pain:Most school districts don't have deep pockets:

Andrew Cuomo continues his fiery rhetoric about school districts, claiming they have enough reserves and federal money in their coffers to weather state education cuts. Just Thursday he said districts shouldn't have to lay off teachers because of the aid cuts. But a report by the state Comptroller's Office this week shows that 100 of the state's 700 districts don't have the reserves and one-time federal "Education Jobs Fund" aid to offset the state reductions. Batavia is one of those districts.

The governor's not just making speeches. Capitol Confidential » Save NY now airs on school money

The pro-Cuomo Committee to Save New York is airing its third advertisement, targeting education waste. It quote a statistic that has made school officials bristle: New York is first in education spending but 34th in performance. That 34th ranking refers to the percentage of adults over 25 who have a high school diploma, and educators say it’s not a good measure given New York’s status as a magnet for immigrants. They point to other indicators, like the number of kids taking Advance Placement exams, which show New York doing better. It’s a clever ad. Someone is cutting up an education dollar while ticking off the stats, before Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears as the announcer says, “The governor’s plan target’s bureaucratic waste, and protects our students and teachers. Tell your lawmaker to support the governor’s plan.”

Upstate N.Y. schools anguish over aid cuts | The Ithaca Journal |

Among school districts facing the largest cuts per pupil, 97 percent are in upstate communities while 75 percent of those facing the smallest cuts are in downstate suburban communities, according to the Alliance for a Quality Education, an Albany-based union-backed advocacy group.
The cuts are necessary, because the state has run out of money. Why has the state run out of money? Well, quite a few's one, as reported in the NYT two weeks back: State Workers and N.Y.’s Fiscal Crisis -
At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago. That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference. Although taxpayers are on the hook for the recession’s costs, most state employees pay only 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions, half the level of most state employees elsewhere. Their health insurance payments are about half those in the private sector...
So that's part of it. And what to do about it? I have no idea. Or rather, I have lots of ideas but of two kinds: trivial on the one hand, and politically impossible on the other. I dunno.

Mostly-Irrelevant Update: the NYT has an interesting proposal for partially fixing the long-term pension/budget problem which would have made the last couple of years more equitably disastrous, and would make the future better able to fund education: share the pain.

It is that simple: Just scrap the current indexing of pensions to the Consumer Price Index and replace it with a link to the state’s gross domestic product. We can’t accurately fund traditional pension plans until we have G.D.P.-linked bonds, or “trills,” which I described in a recent column. But it is time to start the transition, so that pensions share risks across generations.
That would be a good thing. It wouldn't fix our impending mainly-health-care financial disaster, but it would be a good thing.

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