March 8, 2016
Students lead the way as Niskayuna group visits the Capitol to talk about
education and school funding
From left, Niskayuna High School students Veronica Liu, Emil
Friedman, Noah Rohde and Jack Lampman are pictured at the State Capitol.
Gap Elimination Adjustment restoration is a key issue for the district
On Tuesday, March 8, a group of Niskayuna High School students, teachers,
administrators and Board of Education President Pat Lanotte visited with state
Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Phil Steck to talk about the state budget
and other education issues that are important to the district. Students Emil
Friedman, Jack Lampman, Veronica Liu and Noah Rohde talked about a Niskayuna
education and the importance of school funding.
See below for the district's key state budget and legislative priorities. In
addition to spending time with the elected representatives, the group was also
able to be in the Assembly chamber during the proceedings of electing new
members to the state Board of Regents.
Niskayuna Central School District
2016 State Budget & Legislative Priorities
1. End the GEA immediately and fulfill the commitment made to
- If the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) is allowed to continue next
year, it would be the sixth year that the district would lose funding to it.
More than $1.6 million is being withheld through the GEA in the current
year. Only a third of that would be restored in the Executive Budget
Proposal for 2016-17, which is insufficient to meet student needs.
Meanwhile, the state is no longer running a deficit.
- Niskayuna is more than $4.7 million behind full funding of Foundation
Aid as promised when it was first implemented nearly a decade ago. Under the
Executive Budget Proposal for 2016-17, the district would not receive one
additional dollar in what was meant to be the primary funding source for
day-to-day school operations.
- In response to the funding losses of recent years, the district has
reduced social and emotional support service, extra help, and teaching
positions – as demographic shifts and other factors have increased the need
for services. Niskayuna can meet the demands of more rigorous learning
standards and preparing students for a competitive global economy – but it
requires an adequate state investment, beginning with an immediate end to
2. Fix the tax cap.
- Consumer Price Index (CPI) growth of near zero percent
(twelve-hundredths of one percent) will factor into the school tax cap
calculation for the coming year. For Niskayuna, this will allow for a tax
levy increase estimated at 0.41 percent next year – far lower than the 2
percent that is widely associated with the cap and hardly enough to allow a
for a local contribution to education that would support existing programs.
- The CPI factor is an inappropriate measure for the tax cap: It looks
backwards as we plan for the year ahead, and it disconnected from the
expenses required to operate schools.
A sensible fix for this element of the cap is to replace the volatile CPI
factor in the formula with a consistent 2 percent. This would provide
schools with at least a measure of stability and predictability when it
comes to local revenue.
- Additionally, considering that school districts must have their budgets
approved by voters – unlike towns, cities and counties - the 60 percent
supermajority needed to override the cap is overly restrictive. The zero
percent cap that applies when voters do not approve a school budget is
uncommonly punitive, and ultimately hurts students the most. These elements
of the tax cap should be reformed.
3. Provide funding for the Alternative Veterans’ Exemption to avoid
shifting the burden of this state initiative to other taxpayers.
- In 2013, the state amended the Alternative Veterans’ Exemption law to
allow school districts the option to provide this benefit to eligible
veterans. This put school boards in the difficult position of having to
choose between honoring veterans and shifting taxes to other residents.
- There is no income threshold to receive the exemption and it does not
take into account the ability of other residents to pay more. The law is
inherently inequitable and unfair, pitting one group of taxpayers against
another at the local level, in order to provide a benefit for service
rendered to our nation.
- Communities across the state recognize the contributions of American
servicemembers. Yet, providing this exemption, at the expense of their
neighbors, should not be a local school board decision. This is a state
initiative that the state should pay for.
4. Invest in the ability of the State Education Department to
provide schools with strong leadership and support.
- Building Project Approvals: Due to staffing reductions
at the State Education Department (SED), as of the end of 2015, there were
more than 950 school construction projects pending review by the
department’s Facilities Planning Unit. The average wait time was an
unacceptable 40-plus weeks. Such long delays result in problematic bidding
climates, increased costs and deferred work. This negatively impacts
taxpayers, students and the local economy. SED must have adequate staff so
it can fulfill basic functions such as project review.
- Teacher and Principal Evaluations: The current "pause"
in the use of grade 3-8 assessments in teacher and principal evaluations
provides an opportunity for the State Education Department to develop an
Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) framework that is fair,
credible and reliable. Lawmakers should allow SED to do this work. This
should build upon the strength of recent APPR plans, which was not the use
of tests, but quality conversations among educators about improving daily
classroom instruction. New York State should follow the lead of the federal
government in the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act by restoring local control to the APPR process.
- High Academic Standards: As the state reviews the
Common Core Standards, it must continue to embrace consistent, rigorous
learning standards that reflect the skills and knowledge that students will
need for the future. In fact, the Common Core represents this high-quality
set of standards, even if adjustments are needed in particular areas.
Niskayuna welcomes high standards. We believe that the state must provide
consistency, funding, clear guidance and relevant resources to bring them to
life in classrooms across New York.