By Alice E. Gerard
More of our conversation with Dr. Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for business and finance of the Grand Island Central School District.
This section focuses on issues involved with state aid to the Grand Island Central School District.
According to information from the state, funding for public school districts comes from three sources: federal money, which accounts for 5% of the budget; state formula aids and grants, which accounts for 49% of the budget; and revenues raised locally, which accounts for 46% of the budget. Collecting the aid from New York state, however, has been a source of difficulty for school districts, resulting in lawsuits against the state. A February 2020 report on WKBW-TV Channel 7 stated New York owed $3.4 billion to 400 school districts across the state. In October 2021, a settlement was reached between the state and New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights, which would require the state to fully fund foundation aid to school districts.
Dr. Harris: You’ll see that foundation aid went up by $1.1 million. Foundation aid is a formula aid that, in past years, has not been allowed to run and be funded. What has happened in the past, when we look at our state aid information, is that, usually, there is a formula. It takes student enrollment into consideration. It takes poverty and all kinds of things into consideration. And then, at the end of the formula, it kind of spits out a number. “This is how much you should receive this year in foundation aid.” We didn’t get that number. What the governor was doing, along with whoever else was in the room with him, was making adjustments. So, in that world of adjustment, they may say, “If you’re tier one, you going to get this amount. If you’re tier two, you going to get this amount. If you’re tier three, you’re going to get this much of an increase.” It was not the foundation aid formula. It was some other calculation that they came up with.
What is now being said is ‘We are going to fund the formula, but we can’t give you the money all at once.” So, what they have done here is that they have looked at what is due to us. So, if I take this number, and they are at $1.1 (million), it really means that they owe me $2.2 million. So, they are giving me $1.1 million now and then the other increase of the $1.1 million should happen in the ’23-’24 school year to make me whole. They do not back pay you, though. Even though you are owed this money and have been owed this money for quite a few years, they are not retro-ing it. It’s just, “We’ll get you to where you need to be, moving forward,” and they are not addressing the back pay.
Alice: So, if you were shortchanged in the past, it’s like, “Oops, sorry about that!”
Dr. Harris: Yep. Figure it out!
Alice: Is that like the infamous unfunded mandates?
Dr. Harris: Yes. So, imagine us receiving $2.2 million five to 10 years ago when it was really due to us. And then, where we would be now vs. now, we’re just receiving it. So, it’s been an initiative that people have been fighting for. I’ve been a school business official for eight years, and I have worked in school districts for 12. We have been talking about this for at least 12 years.
Alice: That’s a long time without any resolution.
Dr. Harris: Yes.
Alice: That must be frustrating.
Dr. Harris: It is completely frustrating. We’ve asked and asked. Just run the formula and give us our aid. It’s like hitting a brick wall. You look at other districts, and you look at the amount of money they got versus what you got. You’re asking, “How did you get that pot of money, and I only got this little bit?” It puts constraints on districts. We are happy that we are moving in the right direction, but I would love to get the old money you owe us. I would love for that to happen.
Alice: If you owed them the money, they would be sure to collect.
Dr. Harris: They would, and quickly!
Alice: They wouldn’t waste any time about it.
Dr. Harris: No, they would not. Also, on here, we have high cost, excess cost, and private excess cost. That deals with your out-of-district students. Those are usually your special education student population that go to other sites. It might be a Gateway Longview School, New Directions Youth and Family Services, or other off-site locations. Cheryl Cardone really tries hard to bring in house the students who can be here and providing the services outside for students who need those outside services. Those can fluctuate either way, depending on where kids are placed, new needs that arise, so they are interchangeable. Then you have hardware and technology and software. You have library and textbooks. That’s just our normal aid components. That helps us with purchasing of textbooks, any software, hardware. They aid you to a certain percentage.
Alice: Just like computer software or like computers themselves, you can’t keep using the old textbooks over and over again until they fall apart. They need to be updated, too.
Dr. Harris And you have new mandates from the state. “This is now the math curriculum.” So, our old textbooks don’t meet that standard of what you would like for a math curriculum, because they changed things. So, you’re purchasing those kinds of things. A lot happens there. And then, transportation is your purchase of buses, which are included in there. Your school-year transportation, summer transportation, fuel. All of that stuff is part of that. And then, you have building aid, which is in reference to capital project work and debt service. So, that’s based off of that. This just gives you our total aid numbers. None of that’s changed since the February meeting.
Next week: Where we are at on the revenue side of the school budget.