At the end of April, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that state school aid could see a 20% cut. That’s equivalent to $6 billion out of an almost $30 billion school aid budget.
With a little more than two weeks before the scheduled school budget vote, those cuts have yet to be announced.
Michael Borges, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials of New York State, says an announcement of cuts has been delayed multiple times.
“Way back when this was going down, we were told that towards the end of April or shortly thereafter that we would have the information necessary to develop our budgets,” Borges told Spectrum News. “Then came that deadline, and then it was conveyed that May 15th we would know what the aid cuts would be and then as that day approached, we were told by the end of May. So I think deadline has been a sort of rolling number."
“We don’t have any detailed information yet,” explained Robert Schneider, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA).
“We do not know how the governor is going to [make cuts], so we don’t know if it’s going to be across the board or he will look at it from the equity side, certain districts having less of a cut than the others. But at this point, we haven’t had any detail on that. And we haven’t heard what the cut number is yet, since we haven’t heard about the state aid revenue decreases through April.”
Dave Friedfel, director of state studies for the Citizens Budget Commission, says it’s a cause for concern.
“My understanding of the school budget vote process is that to a large extent, it’s already set because it’s been publicly sent out to voters what the tax levy is going to be and what the school budget is going to be,” Friedfel said. “So making cuts at this point is very hard for school districts absent some kind of statutory change at the state level.”
This year’s school budget vote will be done by mail-in ballot on June 9, according to an executive order signed by Governor Cuomo.
A survey by the New York State School Boards' Association of 50 school districts found that most will stay within the 2% tax cap. Four districts will not. They include Rensselaer, Fort Edward, Johnstown, and Wyandanch.
It’s not clear what will happen if communities vote those budgets down.
“The executive order was silent on re-votes,” NYSSBA’s Schneider told Spectrum News. “So we point to education law, which will allow a district to put a re-vote up for the community.”
Re-votes will cost the very communities that can least afford it more money.
“As you know, it’s an absentee ballot scenario for all qualified voters, and if a district goes to revote, then they’re going to have to pay for additional postage costs and printing costs,” Schneider said.
The Cuomo administration had said it would lay out budget cuts by May 15, but that date has passed with the governor continuing to look south to Washington for help.
“I think that’s why the governor was hoping that by now Congress would have acted in adopting a fourth pandemic stimulus bill that would help with state and local governments including school districts,” said Michael Borges of ASBO New York. “But so far, that hasn’t been forthcoming, which is a great disappointment.”
Last week, State Budget Director Robert Mujica said he would announce budget reductions before the end of May.