December 4, 2021

State aid static for schools

Budget signed by Cuomo does not include increases for 2020-21

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Charlie Adams-Cox, a kindergartner at Barry Primary School in Cortland, takes a bag of food Wednesday from Tanya Zimmer outside Randall Middle School. School districts in the greater Cortland area feel a pinch as state funding will not increase in the newest state budget.

School districts in Cortland County may feel a fiscal strain as funding from the state’s 2020-21 budget will remain the same as the year prior — if it gets what the state says they will.

Signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 3, the $177 billion budget will not include raises in funding for schools. Schools across the state are expected to receive a total of $27.9 billion.

However, the state will look to reduce aid to school districts on a quarterly look back to get more money into the economy, said Homer Central School District Superintendent Thomas Turck.

“This factor has also made it very difficult for school districts statewide to forecast budgets and where they may need to make cuts on the fly during the school year,” he said.

A projected $10 billion loss of revenue to the state from coronavirus pandemic was cited as the reason for no new gains, according to the budget.

“While I understand the lack of revenue on the state’s part, it still hurts us financially,” Michael J. Hoose, the superintendent for the Cortland Enlarged City School District, said in an email. “We cannot raise enough revenue to cover all of the increases in expenses.”

This included health insurance and retirement systems, he said.

The school district expects $21.26 million in state aid this year, which Hoose said would cover less than half of the annual increases in expenses for things like health insurance.

More than $1 million has already been cut from the district’s budget due to the lack of funding.

For the district to be sufficiently funded without raising property taxes, state funding would have to increase nearly $3 million more per year.

“We have no means of raising that amount of money without a huge tax increase — approximately 14.4% — or more state aid,” Hoose said. “The board of education is not willing to do that to the taxpayers. The state and federal governments need to fully fund the poorer school districts.”

Turck said in an email that having funding remain the same won’t address changes in the Homer district.

“This measure will cause the district to be capped at amounts that don’t take into consideration reimbursement funding for the Truxton Academy Charter School and the increase of students who participate in the federal free and reduced school lunch program,” he said.

Homer Central School District will receive $16.18 million, according to the state Department of Education.

Turck did not detail what would be considered a sufficient amount of state aid, but said the district should get a better idea of specific details related to the 2020-21 school year budget in the coming weeks.