VICTOR — In a tit-for-tat response to an offer from the governor’s office to help schools cut costs, regional school superintendents have offered to help him straighten out state finances.
Asked at a press conference if school superintendents felt Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s offer to send them “waste reduction teams” would help districts manage costs, superintendents made a parallel offer.
“I’d like to make an offer to the governor’s office, given the mess of the state, that we would travel to Albany to try to assist him,” said Michael Glover, superintendent of the Genesee Valley Education Partnership.
His statement drew a round of applause from the nearly 50 Genesee Valley and Wayne-Finger Lakes super intendents in attendance at Wednesday’s press conference.
Superintendents also took issues with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy’s assertion that schools have enough reserve funds to cover proposed state aid cuts. While it may be true that school districts across the state have over $1 billion in reserves, as Duffy asserted, they say that presents a distorted picture, as downstate schools have higher reserves.
In the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES region, the increase to mandated costs, when added to state aid decreases, total over $85 million; the schools’ total undesignated fund balances add up to $28.4 million.
Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES Superintendent Joseph Marinelli pointed out that even if the jobs fund — $11.8 million for the region — is added to that figure, it still comes up short of the $85 million gap.
Geneva Superintendent Bob Young said his district plans to use a third of its reserves to help balance the budget. He argued that if the governor could guarantee that state aid would be restored to previous levels next year, then the school could use all of its reserves to prevent reductions.
“It’s important to note, too, that many districts last year did substantially increase the amount of fund balance reserves used to balance this year’s budget. My district increased ours by 400 percent,” said Midlakes Superintendent Mike Ford.
John Walker, superintendent at North Rose-Wolcott, said, “If I use some reserves, the reserves that we have in our district, to close the gap, I can survive for probably three years, and then the district is broke.”
That assumes the district does not have to replace a 22-year-old boiler — an example Walker gave of the anticipated costs reserves are intended to offset.
An important point to remember about reserves, Marinelli added, is that “once you use it, you can’t use it again, and then in the following year you have one heck of a hill to climb to find the dollars to make up for that reserves you used in the previous year.”
“The reserves that we have, we cannot use them all in one place, even if we wanted to,” said Canandaigua Superintendent Donald Raw, noting that state law prevents school districts from doing so.
Emphasizing that they did not disagree with the governor’s efforts to reduce costs, superintendents repeated that the inequity of the cuts and excess of unfunded mandates needs to be addressed.
“While we’re struggling to keep our doors open and deliver a bare minimum program, those other wealthy districts are still continuing to plan to offer 20 to 30 AP classes, IB (international baccalaureate) programs, eight foreign languages in their high school, Mandarin Chinese at the kindergarten level, while we’re wondering whether we will even have kindergarten,” said Ford.
Without mandate relief, some upstate schools may be forced to close, he said.
“Small, rural upstate communities simply have no future if our schools are destroyed,” Ford said.