Efforts will continue this year to work towards more equitable funding of our schools. Last year through advocacy and letter writing, we were able to secure an extra $50,000 in “bullet aid” in our state aid package. While this may seem like a lot, $50,000 amounts to 0.2% of PCS’s total budget, and approximately 3.5% of the state aid gap our district experienced last year. To put the situation in perspective:
1. In 2008, state aid to schools was cut by $2.4 BILLION dollars and state aid was frozen. To close the deficit at the state level, districts have also been subject to a “Gap Elimination Adjustment”, which has cost PCS approximately $5 million in state aid since 2008. When combined with frozen aid levels, PCS has had $7.7 million fewer dollars than would have been expected to budget with over the past four years.
2. Last year, $804 MILLION dollars was redirected into state aid. This is 30% of what was originally cut, while costs have continued to rise and more expensive, unfunded mandates (testing, teacher evaluations, and the Common Core Curriculum, for example) are required by the state.
3. On average, PCS has lost 4.5% of its state aid budget every year since 2008. Coupled with rising costs, this has led to a 10% annual deficit in the school budget, or about $2 million dollars annually. This doesn’t seem like much, until you consider that PCS receives 48% of its operating budget from state aid.
4. 8% of our budget this year came from using district “savings” to maintain programs. We cannot make up the difference like wealthier districts through property taxes. If Potsdam were to offset annual reductions in aid, maintain current programs, and use no savings, property taxes would have to increase by 23%. Wealthy downstate districts that do not rely as heavily on state aid would only need to raise property taxes 2% to make up the difference.
5. Cuts in state aid over the last 4 years have led to significant decreases in staff district wide, including 18.5 teacher positions and 27.2 support staff positions (including classroom aides, lunch monitors, library staff, and office staff, among others).
6. PCS has approximately one full year left in “savings” that can maintain programs, more or less, at current levels. After that if the state aid situation does not improve, programs and courses will be cut and class sizes will rise dramatically.
Your voice matters, and our schools need your help. We are asking for no more than has been promised to our children by the constitution of the State of New York: a sound, basic education. If you are interested in learning more about what you can do at the state level or how you can make a difference at the local level:
1. Join our Facebook page: Equity in State Aid for Schools
2. Contact Rachel Wallace (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be placed on our advocacy update and action list. You may also send your ideas for how our local schools can better use and share services to ensure our students have access to excellent educational opportunities, regardless of their zip code.
3. Spread the word to friends and family in Potsdam and other districts. We would very much like to include other districts in our advocacy activities.