Tag Archive | "GEA"

Thiele Proposes Legislation to Eliminate GEA, Give State Aid Back to Schools

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In order to fill a shortfall in its budget, five years ago New York State began deducting aid money from its school districts through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula loudly criticized by educators, school boards and districts across the state.

Now, state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor has introduced legislation to repeal the GEA. His bill is co-sponsored by State Senator Kenneth LaValle and supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Originally enacted to close a $10 billion state budget deficit in the worst years of the recession, the GEA has reduced education aid to New York’s schools by nearly $9 billion in the five school years since its inception in 2010. Schools in New York receive less state aid now than they did during the 2009-10 school year.

Although East End schools do not typically receive large amounts of state aid, the GEA has cost Sag Harbor more than $400,000 over the past two years.

The GEA was introduced by former Governor David Paterson when state legislators developing the budget realized New York’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap” between the money the state was taking in and the money it needed to operate. The GEA was created to fill that gap by essentially passing the financial burden onto the state’s school districts.

Assemblyman Thiele, who serves on the Assembly’s Education Committee and did not vote in favor of the reduced education aid when it was originally proposed five years ago, said on Tuesday that the financial issues used to promote the GEA are no longer facing the state, and thus its elimination this year is both incumbent and timely.

“I voted against it then because I didn’t think we should be taking money away from education, but now we’ve gone from a deficit to over a $5 billion surplus, so there really is no excuse for continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is a continuing cut in state aid for the local school districts,” he said.

“Continued state aid loss due to GEA reductions will continue to erode the quality of education school districts can provide. The state cannot continue to pass along its revenue shortfalls to local school districts,” the New York State School Boards Association said in a statement against the GEA, adding that the losses have resulted in “detrimental cuts to personnel, the educational program, services and extracurricular activities” as well as the depletion of reserve funding in districts across the state.

School district officials in both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor regularly lament that the reduction in state aid has come at the same time as rising costs and the tax levy cap, a law enacted under Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011 that limits school districts and other municipalities from raising property taxes by district-specific formulas that take into account variables like the Consumer Price Index.

“At a time when New York State has the dual goals of freezing property taxes and improving the quality of education, it is imperative that we provide a level of state funding that is equal to the task,” Assemblyman Thiele said in a press release on the bill.

In a statement taking a strong stance against the aid reduction, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services said, “Several years into the educational funding crisis, many school districts are finding that they have few options left to preserve programs and services that students and families count on.”

The amount taken from each school district is determined annually by a calculation that leans harder on wealthy districts, so suburban schools on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley are, in general, adversely affected by the reduction more than those in New York City.

Last year, Long Island enrolled 17 percent of New York’s students, but received only 12 percent of state aid for education.

“It’s more important to us than it is to the city school districts,” said Assemblyman Thiele. For suburban legislators from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, he said “the number-one priority for education for us is getting rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the Sag Harbor School District had some $241,000 in state aid taken away through the GEA, according School Business Administrator Jen Buscemi. This year, the district lost $171,395 in aid it otherwise would have received.

“The bottom line,” Assemblyman Thiele said, “is that this issue is going to get resolved one way or another as part of the school aid package that we do with the budget, that hopefully will be done  before April 1.”

In January, Governor Cuomo announced he would not release his school aid figures unless the legislature adopts his package of educational reforms. He agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms, but threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent if they are not met.

New York State Regents Delay Full Implementation of the Common Core Until 2022

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State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles at a forum on the Common Core in December.

State Education Commissioner Dr. John J. King, Jr., Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles at a forum on the Common Core in December. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Following criticism from Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Tuesday the New York Board of Regents delayed the requirement that schools fully implement Common Core learning standards until 2022.

The regents also reversed their stance on a measure that would have allowed teachers to defend themselves should they face termination due to students’ low test scores.

On Monday, the state regents proposed 19 measures to address issues with the Common Core, a set of educational learning standards mandated by the state. Governor Cuomo issued a statement on Tuesday saying the action was “yet another in a long series of roadblocks” in the implementation of new statewide educational standards. On Wednesday, the board tabled its recommendation to delay teacher evaluations until April, although the other 18 measures were passed.

As it stands, teachers who receive a rating (calculated by a formula largely dependent on students’ test scores) of “ineffective” or worse for two consecutive years can face termination, even if they have tenure. The measure would have allowed teachers to defend their jobs on the basis of the poor implementation of the Common Core.

Education Commissioner John J. King, Jr. and the regents have faced harsh criticism for the Common Core rollout, which opponents said was haphazardly implemented without proper training, instructional materials and correlations between what is tested and what students actually know.

“We have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch in a statement released Monday. “We’ve heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students and their families.”

The board delayed the requirement for high school students to pass Common Core-aligned English and math exams at the “college and career-ready” level in order to graduate. The full implementation will now be effective for the class of 2022, rather than the class of 2017 as originally planned.

The measures will also reduce local testing in a few ways, the board said, including the elimination of  local standardized tests in kindergarten through second grade.

The board also delayed the launch of data collection by inBloom, a third party data warehousing company hired by the state to house students’ scores and private information—an especially criticized aspect of the implementation.

“The implementation of the higher standards has been uneven,” admitted Commissioner King, “and these changes will help strengthen the important work happening in schools throughout the state.”

The board also asked the legislature to fund a three-year, $545 million Core Instructional Development Fund aimed at “providing increased professional development for Common Core implementation, and to provide increased funding to reduce field testing, allow for the release of more test items, and support the development of native language arts assessments for English Language Learners.”

Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator John J. Flanagan, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony H. Palumbo at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast Saturday, February 8.

Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator John J. Flanagan, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony H. Palumbo at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast Saturday, February 8. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

Prior to the regents’ announcement, local legislators and school officials gathered at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast to discuss the state of education. Hosted by the Longwood Central School District and Eastern Suffolk BOCES, the discussion largely centered around the detrimental effects of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) on schools and how to eliminate it.

The GEA was created in 2010 to partially reduce a $10 billion deficit in the state budget. Pushing the burden from the state to public schools, a formula was devised to calculate an amount to be taken away from each district’s state aid.

During the 2011-2012 school year, the GEA was used to allocate an unprecedented $2.56 billion statewide cut in aid. Under the GEA, New York public schools have lost a total of $7.7 billion, or about $2,895 per student.

Centereach High School student president Sim Singh asked the officials what the legislature’s plan is to abolish the GEA and “to meet the state’s financial commitment to fund public education.”

“The battle with this will be with the governor and it will be in the assembly,” replied Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

Regardless of party, all legislators in attendance expressed their commitment to lobbying for the complete elimination of the GEA.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, watches a presentation at the Regional Legislative Breakfast February 8.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, watches a presentation at the Regional Legislative Breakfast February 8. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

According to the legislators, Long Island is disproportionately affected by the GEA. Long Island enrolls 17 percent of the state’s students, but receives 12 percent of aid.

“I think,” said Senator Kenneth LaValle, “we’ve got to not only protect what we have, but we’ve got to push back on other regions of the state who may want a disproportionate share.”

Since the start of the GEA, Suffolk County alone has lost $185 million in state aid, or $734 per pupil. Sag Harbor has lost $934,584 and Bridgehampton has lost $308,874.

On Long Island, a total of 3,908 school positions have been eliminated during the three years of the GEA. Long Island schools are receiving less state aid this school year than they received in 2008-2009 ($2.54 billion vs. $2.62 billion).

Sag Harbor School District Announces Preliminary Budget for Buildings and Grounds, Athletics

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By Tessa Raebeck

With no audience members but a captive board of education, on Monday Sag Harbor School District administrators presented an update on the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the district budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

John O’Keefe, school business administrator, outlined Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-2015 executive budget, which was publically released January 21.

The executive budget is $21.88 billion for 2014-2015, up from $21.07 billion this year. It represents a 3.83 percent, or $806.98 million, total increase statewide.

There is a 2.6 percent, or $58 million, increase in aid for Long Island school districts overall. The average change on the East End is 3.54 percent, but for Sag Harbor the increase in aid is 1.16 percent, which amounts to an increase of less than $18,000.

“So obviously, not even close to the percentage statewide,” O’Keefe said Monday.

O’Keefe estimates the district will receive $1,563,504 in state aid for the 2014-2015 budget, compared to $1,545,583 last year.

Another factor in state aid is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was adopted by the state in 2009. The GEA calculates an amount that is deducted from a district’s state aid in order to fill a “gap” in the state budget.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the GEA was started four years ago.

In 2013-2014, the GEA removed $241,395 in state aid from Sag Harbor. For 2014-2015, it is estimated to eliminate $235,361, or $6,034 less.

O’Keefe reminded the board that this is an original draft of the executive budget and that local legislators are “going to go to bat for Long Island and see what else they can get.”

“Last year,” he added, “we did end up in a slightly better position. But even if they do good by us, it doesn’t amount to a lot because we don’t get that much of our budget from state aid.”

The district budget is primarily funded by property taxes, yet under the tax cap legislation enacted by the state in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes on a year-to-year basis by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The consumer price index for 2013 — and thus the allowable growth factor — is 1.4648 percent, not two percent.

According to O’Keefe, a rollover budget for the school district for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

O’Keefe and other district administrators are going through the budget line by line in an effort to reduce expenses.

Todd Gulluscio, director of athletics, presented to the board on the athletics budget. Approximately 350 Sag Harbor students participate in 60 teams, 34 of which are hosted at Pierson.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the entire girls tennis program will merge with East Hampton. Currently, the middle school girls play at Bridgehampton, the JV program is at Pierson and the varsity girls go to East Hampton. According to Gulluscio, about five Sag Harbor players are on the varsity team and some 13 are on JV. The East Hampton teams would include players from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton.

Sending all programs to East Hampton will be “certainly less expensive,” Gulluscio said.

“You also,” said BOE vice president Chris Tice, “have a start to finish program that can be led and grow all together.”

“It’s a good example of short term reasonable consolidation,” she added.

Gulluscio also said the athletic program would be eliminating the “goalie” coach positions for the soccer and field hockey teams next year, amounting to a cost savings of roughly $12,000.

Gulluscio recommended the potential addition of a Fitness Room Monitor position for after school to allow all middle and high school students to use the facilities to work out. The cost of such a position is yet undetermined.

The 2014-2015 proposed budget for athletics is $772,417, a $15,088 or 1.99 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget. Most of those increases come from contractual salaries; there is no projected change in expenses for equipment or supplies.

O’Keefe also presented the facilities budget prepared by plant facilities administrator Montgomery Granger, who was not at Monday’s meeting.

The buildings and grounds proposed budget for 2014-2015 is $2,210,901, a $19,703 or 0.88 percent decrease from 2013-2014.

“Monty’s been on a pretty good campaign to replace equipment as it’s needed,” O’Keefe said Monday of the factors that helped Granger arrive at a lower number.

“There’s a reason,” added Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, “why all these budgets look so consistent — and I do want to congratulate John O’Keefe.”