NYSCOSS Report: Can`t get there from here: A survey on school fiscal matters

HIGHLIGHTS from page 3 of the report, which can be read in it entirety here: http://www.nyscoss.org/img/news/news_m4u1j66zda.pdf

 The survey: The Council of School Superintendents conducted an online survey of its members on school fiscal matters; 249 superintendents (40.4%) submitted complete responses. Partial responses from 47 superintendents were also counted. Because their school budgets are not subject to voter approval, superintendents serving the Big 5 Cities and BOCES were not included in the survey. The Council conducted a similar survey in 2011.
 Overall condition: 52% of superintendents say their district’s financial condition is worse or significantly worse than a year ago. In 2011, 75% of superintendents said their districts’ condition had worsened. The share of city superintendents reporting their districts’ financial condition is poor or very poor rose sharply, from 24% to 43%.
 Reliance on reserves: 83% of superintendents are concerned or very concerned by their district’s reliance on one-time resources (reserves) to fund recurring costs. Without the use of fund balance this year, districts would have needed to raise taxes by 7 percent more than they actually did, or make cuts of corresponding magnitude.
 Financial insolvency: 9% of superintendents say that within two years, given current trends, their districts may become unable to ensure some financial obligations will ever be paid. This share would equate to roughly 60 districts. Altogether 41% foresee reaching that condition within 4 years. North Country superintendents foresee the most immediate threats.
 Educational insolvency: 18% of superintendents say that within two years, given current trends, their districts may become unable to fund all state and federal mandates for instruction and student services. 77% foresee reaching that condition, either within 4 years or beyond. Again, concern is most immediate in the North Country.
 Job cuts: Districts reduced their workforce by an average of 3.9% this year, on top of 4.9% in 2011-12. Reductions were generally steepest among city and rural districts and in non-teaching student support positions.
 Salary and benefit concessions: 35% of superintendents report a cost saving agreement with their teacher union this year, the highest percentage in 3 years. 45% percent report agreeing to freeze their own salary or make another cost saving adjustment – as in 2011, this is a higher share than for any other employee category.
 Instructional cuts: 59% of districts increased class sizes this year, compared to 48% in 2011-12. 31% reduced summer school. 31% reduced or deferred purchases of instructional technology– at a time when technology is seen as a key to improving outcomes and reducing costs.
 2012-13 budget impact: More than 40% of superintendents said their district’s budget this year had a negative impact on core elementary school instruction, extra help for students who need it, operations and maintenance, extracurricular activities, athletics, and administration
 Tax levy cap: 67% of superintendents said that the new property tax levy cap led their district to adopt a spending level below what would have been done otherwise. 60% said the cap caused their adopted budget to have a more negative impact on programs than would have otherwise occurred. 59% said the cap makes it more likely that they will be able to negotiate cost savings with their teacher union – or that it had already had that impact.
 Teacher/Principal Evaluations: 70% of superintendents said new requirements for teacher and principal evaluations will require their districts to spend significantly more than under prior practices. Professional development (training) needs are seen as the biggest cost-driver followed by new student assessment costs. 40% of superintendents say teacher evaluations will now consume more than 40% of a typical principal’s time, raising concerns about how to balance other responsibilities.
 Tax cap or state aid – which is a greater concern?: Asked which is the greater financial concern for their districts – the tax levy cap or possible future state aid levels – 44% picked state aid (up from 23% in 2011), 13% chose the tax cap (down from 25%), and 43% said they are of equal concern. In poorer upstate regions away from the Hudson River, only 5% of superintendents now pick the tax levy cap as the greater concern.
 Priorities for mandate relief: Superintendents’ top mandate relief priority is to amend the Triborough law’s guarantee of “step” increases after a collective bargaining agreement has expired. Actions to reduce health care costs and stop unfunded mandates were other leading priorities.
 Priorities for new spending: As in 2011, providing more extra help for students who need it emerged as the top priority should new funding become available.

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