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March 21, 2013

Eliminate the gap elimination adjustment

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s promise in his budget address to increase funding for education, local school officials are saying they are not receiving enough state aid to fund even basic services.

Cuomo’s budget includes a 4.4 percent increase to school aid across the board, but how the money is doled out is highly variable. Milford Central School Superintendent Peter Livshin said his district is in a “whole lot of trouble” and is cutting to the bare bones.

Since 2010, state funding for school districts has been reduced through the gap elimination adjustment, in which a portion of money that would otherwise go to aid is reserved by the state to pay down its deficit. This year the Senate and Assembly have proposed ending the adjustment by the 2016-17 school year.

Oh, wouldn’t that be great! It certainly would help our local schools. Livshin has been saying for quite a long time that rural schools and small city schools have been short-changed for years on state aid. Enough is enough!

We agree with Livshin about needing to put an end to our local schools being treated like “poor step-children.” We hope the gap elimination adjustment is abolished and back Cooperstown and Milford central schools’ advocacy efforts for its demise.

Last week the state Senate and Assembly proposed additional education spending over Cuomo’s executive budget proposals, though the chambers disagree on how much schools should get.

The Senate has proposed $415 million more school aid than the governor’s $20.8 billion aid package. The Assembly has put forward $81 million less than the Senate, resulting in an $834 increase over last year’s $20.1 billion aid package.

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

“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.

The gap elimination adjustment is targeted for a phase-down by both chambers.

Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, has been quoted saying there will be “a full phase down in the 2016-17 school year,” if the Legislature gets its way.

This could not come soon enough and could actually be too late for many school districts. The “fiscal cliff” for many school districts is fast approaching — at least that is what Livshin is warning.

There is only so much a district can reduce or eliminate in spending to offset this revenue loss before the academic program begins to suffer. And there is only so much school districts can ask of taxpayers, who are also feeling the pinch of a stagnant economy.