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March 21, 2013

Local schools to fight for equity

By Michelle Miller
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Cooperstown and Milford central schools seem to be on the same page — putting focus on advocating for the abolishment of the gap elimination adjustment.

The GEA is a reduction in school aid by the state to reduce the state deficit. CCS’ state aid has been reduced by nearly $4 million in the past four years. MCS is facing a GEA of $464,000.

MCS Superintendent Peter Livshin said his school is in a “whole lot of trouble,” and believes rural and small city schools have been short-changed for years on state aid. He said money continues to flow to rich districts down state and in Long Island.

“We need to put an end to being treated like poor step-children, and encourage our representatives to fight for us,” he said.

The “Budget for our Future: A Community Forum,” at CCS last week focused on resource sharing and advocacy — particularly for the elimination of the GEA.

“We believe this would do the most good for us,” CCS Superintendent C.J. Hebert said.

Hebert said advocacy was a topic during the budget work session because the goal was to narrow the focus on what is most important.

“We feel we will get further if we narrow down what we are lobbying for rather than advocating for a whole bunch of items,” he said.

Cooperstown plans to keep the district’s tax levy just below the state’s 2 percent tax cap. The plan calls for a 2.02 percent budget-to-budget increase and a tax levy increase of 2 percent.

Milford is anticipating having to increase its tax levy to the maximum of its cap threshold, which would mean a 3.8 percent levy increase. According to Livshin, the district found itself in the hole by more than $450,000 at the beginning of the budget process. Livshin said he has informed two teachers, two licensed teacher aids and seven aids that their positions will need to be cut.

“That leaves us still $200,000 short and we are not really sure where we will come up with that money,” Livshin said.

MCS chose to use $500,000 in reserves last year to stay below the 2 percent gap.

“Now we are paying the price,” Livshin said. “If we hadn’t done that we would have been in good shape.”

Milford stayed right at the 2 percent tax limit last year when passing a budget that increased by 4.3 percent.

Other things MCS is looking at cutting include non-varsity sports, building usage after school hours, a part-time librarian that is contracted through the Northern Otsego Catskills Board of Cooperative Educational Services and providing incentives to teachers who are eligible to retire.

According to Livshin, there are three teachers and two licensed teacher assistants who meet retirement eligibility.

“There is a good possibility two will go, which would be huge because we won’t replace them,” Livshin said.

Livshin added that negotiations with the teacher’s union will take place this year and he anticipates that “something good” will be worked out with them.

Cooperstown has a tax levy limit of $219,622, which means it could be increased by 2.05 percent before going above the cap threshold. Hebert said he anticipates having one or two propositions up for vote, separate from the budget, for buses and equipment.

According to Hebert, the district plans to cut drivers education during the school day, but will continue its summer program. He said CCS will have four teachers and two support staff retiring and one teacher will not be replaced.

The district will increase a .5 elementary position to full-time, add a director of student services and hire a school psychologist.

According to Hebert, the director of student services position has been created in response to the state’s annual professional performance review, and costs will be mitigated by not replacing guidance counselor Jay Baldo. Hebert added that CCS currently contracts out for a psychologist and has found a way to hire one at no additional costs.

The school’s combined wealth ratio has gone from 1.011 to 1.440 since the 2008-09 school year. According to Hebert, CCS is considered to be one and a half times more wealthy than other schools in the state.

A school’s combined wealth ratio is calculated using a formula developed by the state to measure a district’s wealth or ability to pay its local share for education. It compares a district’s wealth to the state’s average wealth by using the average personal income wealth of district residents and a district’s property wealth or average value of real estate per resident. The state average is 1.0 and CCS has a combined wealth score of 1.44.

Hebert said CCS has had success with resource sharing. The district shares a cafeteria manager with Milford and a physical therapist with Oneonta.

Cooperstown and Milford are also participating in a transportation maintenance study that is in its early stages, according to Hebert. He said the study could possibly result in the consolidation of bus garages, a centralized location for maintenance along with other cost-saving measures.

For comparisons on other school district’s per student impact of GEA visit http://www.cooperstowncs.org//district_info.cfm?subpage=1674156 and click on the March 13, 2013 Budget Work Session Presentation.