2 school superintendents react to Cuomo’s State of the State

Two area school superintendents agree with initiatives Gov. Andrew Cuomo featured in his State of the State Address concerning education.

But they also mention one item Cuomo didn’t bring up in his speech – getting rid of the gap elimination adjustment.

Cuomo’s two primary initiatives for education in his speech were:

** A $2 billion fund to be set up (from borrowing) to help all school districts in the state take full advantage of the latest computer technology. Voters would have to approve this borrowing.
** Offering full-day pre-kindergarten classes for all students.

Fulton Superintendent William Lynch and Phoenix Superintendent Judith Belfield both said they agree pre-kindergarten is important for young students and keeping up with technology in schools is important.
But they are concerned about where the money is going to come from to pay for the pre-K idea and also wonder exactly for what they could spend the technology money.

The gap elimination adjustment was not mentioned by Cuomo in his speech, much to the dismay of Lynch and Belfield. This adjustment was put into place in the 2009-10 school year – the state held back some of the state aid allotted to each school district to help the state with its budget shortfalls.

Belfield said last year, Phoenix saw $2.1 million of its state aid held back by the state.

“With the Regents reforms and all the initiatives we’re in on now, this hurts,” she said. Phoenix is increasing its staff development and has begun more work at the high school to ensure students are college and career ready when they graduate.

“One thing I’d do if I had that $2.1 million is hire two more reading teachers,” she said. “I could fund all the programs I need and not have to raise taxes.”

Lynch said Fulton lost $1.5 million in the latest gap elimination adjustment.

“If I had $1.5 million, I could relax some of the tax pressure on our taxpayers,” he said. “I think before (Cuomo) looks at new things, he should give us the money that the state aid formula says we’re supposed to get.”

Both Lynch and Belfield said they do not offer pre-K to all students due to money.

“We don’t have full pre-K here,” Belfield said. “We have enough funding (from a grant) for 58 slots, but our typical class of entering kindergartners is about 130.”

She said pre-K can be a great help to children from families living in poverty or families that do not have the time to help children prepare for school.

“If a child doesn’t keep up on their reading during the summer they can lose a half year of reading ability,” she said. “Pre-K will help as long as he funds it. Right now, it costs us to run the program.”

Lynch agreed. He said Fulton has offered pre-K since 1998 and today it serves about 155 children. But a typical entering kindergarten class in Fulton has nearly 250 children.

He said pre-K has helped children from lower-income homes increase their vocabularies, increase their language development and “children who had gone to pre-K did not have school adjustment issues.”

“I’m very supportive of this,” he said. “But who is going to pay for the program and pay for the transportation?” he asked.

The two superintendents agreed many rural districts with no access to Internet would benefit from the $2 billion technology referendum, called the Smart Schools Initiative.

Lynch and Belfield said this would help their districts if they are allowed to use this money to update old technology, install new wiring or buy laptops. Lynch also said Cuomo wants the money to come through competitive grants – “it’s too bad he’s doing it this way,” he said.

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