By Eric D. Randall, Editor-in-Chief
School leaders are welcoming news that the Cuomo administration will not withhold any money from school aid payments due at the end of the month. This follows 20% reductions in prior payments this summer.
Budget division spokesperson Freeman Klopott confirmed the move, according to a Politico report on Wednesday night.
“That is good news,” said Aaron Bochniak, interim superintendent in Schenectady City School District, which recently laid off 400 staff members. It is dependent on the state for 69% of its funding.
“It’s exciting news,” said Kaweeda Adams, superintendent of the Albany City School District, which has notified 222 employees that they will be laid off. State aid accounts for 45% of its budget.
“In our conversations with state officials, we have been emphasizing the harmful impact of the strategy of withholding portions of aid,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Robert Schneider. “The news about the September payments is a move in the right direction.”
Superintendents said they look forward to receiving official confirmation and more information on the long-term outlook.
“Please, please, please tell us with certainty what we should be planning for,” Bochniak said. When uncertainty over aid is high, districts that are highly dependent on state aid must plan for the worst, he said.
Newsday reported that potential cuts to school aid would be decided in November and that the Division of Budget “would take needs of individual districts into account, suggesting reductions would be proportional to wealth.” It cited Klopott as its source.
The Budget Division announcements follow the filing of a lawsuit by New York State United Teachers in state Supreme Court in Albany that Klopott dismissed as “frivolous.” The union contends the withholdings violate students’ rights under the state constitution to a sound basic education and unfairly impact less wealthy communities.
Meanwhile, state Budget Director Robert Mujica has issued a warning for districts not to overreact to withholdings of state aid.
“Some school districts are acting prematurely as they undertake mass layoffs,” Mujica said in an article submitted to the Albany Times Union, which quoted the article in a news story published online today.
Superintendents countered that if they had taken a wait-and-see attitude, that could have led to twice as many layoffs, if aid was not restored and made whole.
“In their own document that they published in mid-August, they said it’s 20 percent, but it could be more,” Bochniak noted. “And even though it’s temporary now, it could be converted to permanent.”
“We are not haphazard in our decisions,” Adams said of her district’s layoffs. “These are not decisions we want to make. This district has worked so hard over the past two years to put things in place that are beneficial for our students. We have had collective efforts from our teachers, our support staff, our administrators, our school board, our community partners and our families. We have put things in place that help make our students successful. It is devastating to have to make the decision to modify the things that we know result in student progress and growth.”
In his article submitted to the Times Union, Mujica referred to hopes that the federal government would provide coronavirus relief aid that could be applied to schools. “We all need to work together to fight for the federal assistance we deserve,” Mujica wrote.
He added: “If the federal government forces us to reduce spending, we’ll protect high-need districts from the impact as much as possible.”