Cynthia Bianco Superintendent, Niagara Falls Schools
On Tuesday, May 20 from noon to 9 p.m., residents will vote on the proposed school district budget for 2014-2015. We are pleased to report we have been able to hold the line on taxes, but it wasn't easy.
Since 2011, the District has eliminated 111 full time and 63 part time positions. Since 2007, we have consolidated buildings, streamlined operations, reduced healthcare costs by utilizing going to a single care provider with the cooperation of our unions, and saved a great deal of money by implementing energy saving measures and protocols.
There are also a few financial challenges facing public education in districts like ours across the State. Consider this:
The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) was introduced by Gov. Paterson back in 2010-2011 as a way of reducing the State's then-$10 billion deficit. A portion of the funding shortfall was divided among all the school districts in the State and reflected as a reduction in State aid. This reduced funding to public education by $1.6 billion.
To make up the loss in funding, districts could reduce program or raise taxes.
In 2011, New York State passed property tax legislation that placed a cap on the growth of school property taxes at two percent or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. A community must vote 60% in favor to exceed the cap. However, due to a complicated formula to calculate allowed tax increases, in some years a district cannot raise taxes at all, even with a simple majority vote.
As the Campaign For Fiscal Equity and the court case Maisto et al. V. New York State shows us, the State violates its own formula in determining State aid. In fact, the State has been defending itself against lawsuits brought by school districts and parents since 2008. So far, it has lost every decision and has not complied with a court's order to properly fund all schools—particularly small city school districts like ours—as required by the State constitution.
If you follow area news about public schools, you will know most districts in the County have struggled to maintain program and many have tried for significant tax increases. It is a difficult time in public education.
Please show your interest in public schools by casting a vote on the proposed budget and to elect two members of the Board of Education.
High voter turnout is a positive thing, and it shows Albany that people care about funding public schools. Please vote at general election sites.