Local school boards have started to work on their 2012-13 budgets, and the news isn't good.
Several district superintendents have made public statements warning of dire budget scenarios. Our educators are worried about the possibility of deep program cuts and staff reductions. They are complaining about state aid shortfalls and an unfair aid formula, the state-imposed new tax cap and the lack of mandate relief from the state.
In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Fonda-Fultonville Central School District Superintendent James Hoffman said, "Fonda-Fultonville faces an almost insurmountable deficit due to the reductions in state aid that have taken place in this district over the past four years. ... Our deficit for the coming year to keep programs as they are, if voters pass the property tax increase within our cap, is $2.7 million. That is 11 percent of our total budget."
Broadalbin-Perth Central School District Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson also wrote a letter to the governor. It stated, in part, "If we raise taxes up to the limit prescribed by the tax-levy cap legislation, including exemptions, and if we almost completely exhaust our fund balance, we are still left with a $2.4 million gap between projected revenues and expenditures - nearly 10 percent of our 2011-12 total budget. ... In order to close our budget gap for 2012-13, we're looking at eliminating art and music instruction in our elementary schools, French as a foreign language offering, upper-level Spanish classes, social workers, and all interscholastic athletics and extracurricular programs. We will also reduce technology instruction at our elementary and middle schools; health instruction at our middle school; science, social studies and business electives at our high school; career and technical education opportunities for our high school students; and will revert from full-day to half-day kindergarten."
Other districts also are reporting budget deficits. The Greater Johnstown School District, for example, is projecting a $1.5 million gap.
The schools' concerns are valid. Many factors have led to this situation. Among them are generous pensions, benefits and salaries, and mandated programs that force spending higher.
Our state lawmakers should watch the school budget crises closely. They should meet with local school officials and lobby for help from Albany.
We don't want to see a decimation of academic and athletic programs. The students would suffer the most under these draconian cuts.
The state should reduce mandates, restructure aid so more goes to the neediest districts and help schools meet their obligations without having to increase property taxes.
Members of the public will have to raise their voices to make state leaders understand how much is at stake.