Lobbying group says state owes St. Lawrence County school districts $32 million
Friday, August 8, 2014 - 2:32 pm

By ANDY GARDNER

New York state owes millions of dollars to St. Lawrence County school districts, according to the lobbying group Alliance for Quality Education.

Pursuant to a 2007 lawsuit that promised more funding to districts throughout the state, Albany is in debt $32,024,964 to 17 districts in the county.

The districts owed the most are Massena ($10,435,665), St. Lawrence ($4,620,755) and Gouverneur ($3,872,091), the AQE says. The group classifies those schools as rural high-need, which it says are hit hardest by state aid cuts.

Massena Central's superintendent of schools William Flynn says the district has been able to work around the loss, but may have to look at staff cuts down the road.

"We were fortunate to basically make cuts of materials, supplies, furniture … the stuff of education, not the people of education," he said of their 2014-15 budget. "I don't see that happening in the future without an increase in support."

The district had to take $3.5 million from its fund balance for the upcoming school year, which Flynn says isn't sustainable as a long-term plan.

"The Board of Education cannot continue to see $3.5 million year after year taken from fund balance in order to balance the budget," he said. "Even if we were to receive a portion (of the $10.4 million) … we would find it a little easier to budget in the coming years."

Flynn said that he is encouraged that lobby groups and lawmakers are talking about the statewide education deficit and hopes it will inspire leaders in Albany to pass along some of the $4 billion surplus to ailing schools.

“It’s encouraging. At least it’s back out on the radar that schools have been working to increase foundation aid and eliminate the gap elimination,” Flynn said. “Hopefully we’ll see come action taken … this year … This would be a time to make some of that a reality.”

"The state is not providing the necessary resources for schools to prepare every student for college, careers and life," the AQE says in a report titled "Billions Behind: New York State Continues to Violate Students' Constitutional Rights." To view the report in its entirety, click here.

The data used for the report come from the 2014-15 state aid projections published by the state Education Department, as well as their state aid projections from prior years. The final 2014-15 budget added an extra $10.3 million for St. Lawrence County schools, including an extra $5.29 million in foundation aid and $1.75 million in gap elimination aid.

The whole controversy was supposed to have been settled with a lawsuit, the so-called Campaign for Fiscal Equality, which was settled in 2007. It ordered Albany to add $5.5 billion to schools through foundation aid by 2011. $1.1 billion went out in 2007, with priority going to high-need schools. But in 2008, the recession hit. Despite that, the state added $1.2 billion in new foundation aid. But in 2009, they added no money, which caused districts to start making cuts, the AQE said. In 2010 under then-Gov. David Paterson, the state began so-called "gap elimination" cuts, which slashed money from education in order to balance the budget, with the commitment it would be restored later. They took $1.4 billion from schools that year. In 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office and under his watch, cut another $1.3 billion. Starting in 2012, state lawmakers started to reverse the education cuts. They restored $805 million in 2012, $944 million in 2013 and $1.1 billion in 2014.

The AQE says the new aid increases are insufficient and "fell far short of the amount needed to pay for the gap elimination adjustment and even further from fulfilling the … ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equality lawsuit."

Amounts owed to St. Lawrence County school districts:

St. Lawrence Central - $4,620,755

Canton - $2,114,572

Clifton-Fine - $140,934

Colton-Pierrepont - $223,257

Gouverneur - $3,872,091

Hammond - $57,231

Hermon-DeKalb - $838,271

Lisbon - $1,012,185

Madrid-Waddington - $1,242,336

Massena - $10,435,665

Morristown - $72,151

Norwood-Norfolk - $2,821,256

Ogdensburg - $288,934

Heuvelton - $682,666

Parishville - $175,138

Potsdam - $2,001,834

Edwards-Knox - $1,425,688