If the governor gets his way on mid-year school budget cuts he says he needs to close a billions-wide state budget gap, Kingston schools could lose almost $2 million in aid this year.
Gov. David Paterson last week announced details of a two-year $5 billion deficit reduction plan for the state that would include what is being called a “gap elimination adjustment” to current school aid. The mid-year cut to the Kingston City School District under the proposal would be $1,912,604, a considerable chunk of the $53,051,017 in total state aid the district was set to receive for the 2009-10 school year.
“During a time of uncommon difficulty, we need to work together for the common good and enact a consensus plan that helps us avoid the severe consequences faced by other states that failed to swiftly address their budget problems,” Paterson said in a statement. “This will mean hard and painful choices, but that is exactly the type of leadership New Yorkers deserve from their public officials.”
Superintendent of Schools Gerard Gretzinger this week condemned the proposed cuts, especially coming in the middle of a school year when budgets have already been arranged.
“The reaction has not been very positive, that’s for sure,” Gretzinger said. “People are going to be very upset. It’s going to be devastating.”
Paterson’s plan would cut $1.3 billion in local assistance over the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends in March. Included in those cuts are $480 million in school aid to districts across the state, which is roughly 4.5 percent of the remaining aid due to be disbursed.
Gretzinger said the district’s budget was already lean going into the school year, as administrators and members of the Board of Education worked diligently to provide the best bang to local taxpayers for their educational buck in a shaky economy.
“Things were very tight when we prepared this budget,” Gretzinger said. “It’s going to be almost an impossibility to get through this.”
Gretzinger said that around 80 percent of the district’s budget is devoted to personnel, i.e., salaries and benefits, and being expected to make cuts in that area could have dire consequences to the student body.
“Unfortunately, it all comes back to personnel,” Gretzinger said. “How do you cut personnel in the middle of the year? You’ve got your classes running and your teachers hired.”
Gretzinger said that the district has already begun planning its budget for the 2010-11 school year, with the possibility of further state aid cuts in mind. Even so, the superintendent said, it’s difficult to get more for less.
“You can’t expect education to cut out that kind of money,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see how you’re going to make it work. But we’re hopeful that we’re going to get through this year.”
While Gretzinger was unable to give an exact number, he noted that the district did have enough in reserve to absorb the cost of a sudden mid-stream aid cut, but that it could leave Kingston open to grave consequences in case of an emergency.
“We could always look to our fund balance if worst came to worst, but we definitely don’t want to do that,” he said. “There is enough money in the fund balance to cover it, but it is meant for emergencies.”
Gretzinger said that while it was important for the district to consider the possibilities of Paterson’s plan going through, it was also too soon to panic. The superintendent noted that the Governor’s office attempted to make wholesale education aid cuts last year, but they were denied by the state legislature. And while state aid increases were all but eliminated prior to the current school year, federal stimulus money helped make up some of the difference.
State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver last week said he expected to hold a public hearing on the proposal, but didn’t indicate any specific time frame in which he hoped to do that, suggesting it might be some time before lawmakers rendered a decision on the plan.
Gretzinger said he hoped whenever the plan is finalized through the state Senate and Assembly, that it would yield similar results as last year’s attempt to reduce school aid.
“This has happened before,” Gretzinger said.