View from the Assembly

By state Assemblyman Will Barclay

I receive a lot of questions about how schools are funded and how that money is spent. 

There is good reason for these questions because a lot of money is involved.  State aid to schools comprises $21.8 billion — roughly 24 percent — of our $92.3 billion state operating budget. 

In addition, it is estimated local school taxes raised about $20.3 billion in 2013. The New York state lottery also funds education and provided $3.04 billion in 2012, according to the latest data available. 

This amount represents all of the proceeds received by the lottery after paying prizes and administrative costs.

The state Education Department periodically publishes a report called the Fiscal Profile of New York State School Districts. The report is based on data that’s collected from the Annual Financial Report — an unaudited document which displays a district’s reported expenditures and revenues. 

The report provides a five-year snapshot—from 2007-2011— on individual districts and how they compare in different categories and against the state average wealth.

Specifically, I want to share information on school districts in my 120th Assembly District, which includes Fulton, Hannibal, Mexico, Oswego, Phoenix, Pulaski, Sandy Creek, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, Baldwinsville, Belleville-Henderson, and Central Square.  

The overwhelming majority of school revenue comes from state aid and local property taxes. The amount a school district receives in state aid and from local property taxes varies widely among school districts. 

The amount a school gets in state aid depends on, among other things, the wealth of the area where the school is located. Since our area is a low-wealth area in comparison to other parts of the state such as Long Island and the NYC suburbs, we receive more state aid in comparison to the revenue raised through local property taxes.

When you combine the 11 school districts in my Assembly district, about 55 percent of the budgets are funded by state aid. As a result, our region has largely been subject to the state’s fiscal management, and the changing economy. 

Through 2007-2011, our economy experienced a depression and has slowly been recovering. Beginning in 2009-10, monetary restraints caused the state to reduce its budget, which resulted in out-year cuts. In 2011-12, the state cut aid to schools by more than $2.5 billion. 

This too was to close the state budget gap. Districts and the state refer to this as Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). This year, we restore $602.11 million of that GEA to districts.

One of the biggest items that sticks out in the report is the drop in student enrollment. Throughout the 11 school districts in my area, student enrollment declined by 2,319 or 8 percent during the five years.  

This puts additional financial stress on our schools because their fixed costs have remained the same but they lose state aid as enrollment drops.  

Other items that have been cost drivers for schools as of late have been teacher retirement costs which increased by $3.7 million or 26 percent and health care costs, which increased by $7.1 million or 14 percent.  

The good news is that, unlike a lot of states, our teachers’ retirement system is fully funded in New York.  Hopefully, as things improve in the stock market, the school districts’ contributions to the teachers’ retirement fund will decrease and districts will see some costs savings in this category.  

As far as health care costs, it is yet to be seen what, if any, effect Obamacare will have on the cost of health care, but many believe that this cost will only continue to rise for school districts.  

On the flip side, the amount of money spent on teacher salaries in the 11 school districts that I represent has remained steady or decreased slightly. In addition, the report indicates that money spent on operation and maintenance in the school district has also remained steady over the 5-year period.

 I simply wanted to share this information because it provides a snapshot of our school districts’ fiscal situations, and hopefully, sheds some light on a topic of concern to many people. 

To see more of this data, visit http://www.oms.nysed.gov/faru/Profiles/profiles_cover.html.

 If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.  

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling 598-5185. You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.

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