Rome school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake lashed out at the proposed financial aid for the district in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2020-21 state budget, and at the state’s funding system for schools.
State aid increases in Cuomo’s proposal are “nowhere near meeting our district’s needs,” Blake said Wednesday afternoon regarding the figures.
“The system is broken and until the government is going to do something about it...we are going to continue to experience either large cuts to our school system...or large tax increases,” Blake commented.
Cuomo’s state budget proposal calls for a 1.87% increase in the Rome district’s total state aid, rising by about $1.4 million to approximately $76.8 million. Within that total would be a 2.75% increase in the core foundation aid category, which would go up about $1.59 million to approximately $59.1 million.
For the Rome district, “health insurance costs rise...$2.5 million per year” on average, said Blake. “So, the $1.5 million in aid increase already means a million dollars of cuts or a million dollars of tax increase, and that’s just to cover the health insurance difference.”
The Board of Education tonight will begin reviews for the Rome district’s 2020-21 proposed budget, including amounts presented by the district administration, according to board President Stephen P. Hampe. A meeting of the board’s finance committee of the whole is at 5:30 p.m. today at the district office, 409 Bell Road.
The Rome district’s current 2019-20 budget of $116.69 million included a 4.06% increase in the local property tax levy and was down about $1.2 million from the 2018-19 budget. The 2019-20 budget also cut some jobs through attrition and layoffs.
Regarding the state’s distribution of financial aid to school districts, “the way in which the formula operates and the way the money is dispersed makes little to no sense, in my opinion,” Blake remarked. “It is clear that for some communities, the governor expects the taxpayers to fund the school systems, but for others...they are receiving aid increases between 4-8%, despite having much more wealth than Rome.” In many cases those are locations where the community can better afford to fund schools through tax increases, he observed.
Blake further said the situation is “very unfortunate because in the end, children...suffer and a child in Rome is not viewed the same as a child from other communities around the state, in the eyes of the government. Equity has a different definition in Albany, apparently.”
The percentage increase in the Rome district’s total 2020-21 state aid as proposed by Cuomo was the fourth smallest among Oneida County’s 15 public school districts. Statewide, Cuomo is proposing an overall school aid increase of about 3%.
A final 2020-21 state budget is scheduled to be approved by April 1 following reviews by state legislators that typically result in revisions to the governor’s proposal. For the Rome district, a final 2020-21 budget would take effect July 1.