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March 8, 2016

Students lead the way as Niskayuna group visits the Capitol to talk about education and school funding

picture of students at the NYS Capitol

From left, Niskayuna High School students Veronica Liu, Emil Friedman, Noah Rohde and Jack Lampman are pictured at the State Capitol.

Gap Elimination Adjustment restoration is a key issue for the district

On Tuesday, March 8, a group of Niskayuna High School students, teachers, administrators and Board of Education President Pat Lanotte visited with state Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Phil Steck to talk about the state budget and other education issues that are important to the district. Students Emil Friedman, Jack Lampman, Veronica Liu and Noah Rohde talked about a Niskayuna education and the importance of school funding.

See below for the district's key state budget and legislative priorities. In addition to spending time with the elected representatives, the group was also able to be in the Assembly chamber during the proceedings of electing new members to the state Board of Regents. 

 

Niskayuna Central School District
2016 State Budget & Legislative Priorities
 

1. End the GEA immediately and fulfill the commitment made to Foundation Aid.

  • If the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) is allowed to continue next year, it would be the sixth year that the district would lose funding to it. More than $1.6 million is being withheld through the GEA in the current year. Only a third of that would be restored in the Executive Budget Proposal for 2016-17, which is insufficient to meet student needs. Meanwhile, the state is no longer running a deficit.
  • Niskayuna is more than $4.7 million behind full funding of Foundation Aid as promised when it was first implemented nearly a decade ago. Under the Executive Budget Proposal for 2016-17, the district would not receive one additional dollar in what was meant to be the primary funding source for day-to-day school operations.
  • In response to the funding losses of recent years, the district has reduced social and emotional support service, extra help, and teaching positions – as demographic shifts and other factors have increased the need for services. Niskayuna can meet the demands of more rigorous learning standards and preparing students for a competitive global economy – but it requires an adequate state investment, beginning with an immediate end to the GEA.

 

2. Fix the tax cap.

  • Consumer Price Index (CPI) growth of near zero percent (twelve-hundredths of one percent) will factor into the school tax cap calculation for the coming year. For Niskayuna, this will allow for a tax levy increase estimated at 0.41 percent next year – far lower than the 2 percent that is widely associated with the cap and hardly enough to allow a for a local contribution to education that would support existing programs.
  • The CPI factor is an inappropriate measure for the tax cap: It looks backwards as we plan for the year ahead, and it disconnected from the expenses required to operate schools.
     A sensible fix for this element of the cap is to replace the volatile CPI factor in the formula with a consistent 2 percent. This would provide schools with at least a measure of stability and predictability when it comes to local revenue.
  • Additionally, considering that school districts must have their budgets approved by voters – unlike towns, cities and counties - the 60 percent supermajority needed to override the cap is overly restrictive. The zero percent cap that applies when voters do not approve a school budget is uncommonly punitive, and ultimately hurts students the most. These elements of the tax cap should be reformed.

 

3. Provide funding for the Alternative Veterans' Exemption to avoid shifting the burden of this state initiative to other taxpayers.

  • In 2013, the state amended the Alternative Veterans' Exemption law to allow school districts the option to provide this benefit to eligible veterans. This put school boards in the difficult position of having to choose between honoring veterans and shifting taxes to other residents.
  • There is no income threshold to receive the exemption and it does not take into account the ability of other residents to pay more. The law is inherently inequitable and unfair, pitting one group of taxpayers against another at the local level, in order to provide a benefit for service rendered to our nation.
  • Communities across the state recognize the contributions of American servicemembers. Yet, providing this exemption, at the expense of their neighbors, should not be a local school board decision. This is a state initiative that the state should pay for.

 

4. Invest in the ability of the State Education Department to provide schools with strong leadership and support.

  • Building Project Approvals: Due to staffing reductions at the State Education Department (SED), as of the end of 2015, there were more than 950 school construction projects pending review by the department's Facilities Planning Unit. The average wait time was an unacceptable 40-plus weeks. Such long delays result in problematic bidding climates, increased costs and deferred work. This negatively impacts taxpayers, students and the local economy. SED must have adequate staff so it can fulfill basic functions such as project review.
  • Teacher and Principal Evaluations: The current "pause" in the use of grade 3-8 assessments in teacher and principal evaluations provides an opportunity for the State Education Department to develop an Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) framework that is fair, credible and reliable. Lawmakers should allow SED to do this work. This should build upon the strength of recent APPR plans, which was not the use of tests, but quality conversations among educators about improving daily classroom instruction. New York State should follow the lead of the federal government in the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by restoring local control to the APPR process.
  • High Academic Standards: As the state reviews the Common Core Standards, it must continue to embrace consistent, rigorous learning standards that reflect the skills and knowledge that students will need for the future. In fact, the Common Core represents this high-quality set of standards, even if adjustments are needed in particular areas. Niskayuna welcomes high standards. We believe that the state must provide consistency, funding, clear guidance and relevant resources to bring them to life in classrooms across New York.