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Schuylerville district leaders and Board of Education advocating for change

Schuylerville Budgets
2010-2011   $32,174,468
2011-2012   $30,974,357
2012-2013   $30,973,314
Reductions in state aid
2010-2011   $850,000
2011-2012   $1,200,000
2012-2013   $186,000
TOTAL AID LOSS   $2,236,000
Loss of district positions
4 Teaching positions
1 Guidance counselor
2 Non-teaching positions
0.5 Administration
3 Teaching positions
3.2 Non-teaching positions
9 Teaching positions
7 Non-teaching positions
1 Administration
 which is 11% of teaching staff & 17.5% of Administrative staff since 2010
Tax levy increase
2010-2011   0%
2011-2012   0.9%
2012-2013   2.74%
(under property tax levy limit)
average   1.21%
Student population
2010-2011   1,816
2011-2012   1,782
2012-2013   1,783

Schuylerville Central School District—like school districts throughout New York—is facing a fiscal crisis. The downturn of the national economy, coupled with new mandates and the state's tax levy limit, has challenged public schools to continue to provide a high-quality education to all students with significantly fewer resources. As a result, districts are making devastating cuts to educational programs as they adjust to rising costs that are outpacing revenues. See the accompanying box at the right for a review of Schuylerville's fiscal history.

Schuylerville district leaders and Board of Education members are working to find creative ways to weather the economic storm without sacrificing the integrity of our programs. Yet without meaningful and timely relief and solutions from our government leaders, the district is at risk of losing even more academic programming and opportunities that students and the community value. To that end, the district has teamed up with neighboring schools to advocate for education. Efforts include meeting with local, state and national lawmakers (including Congressman Owens, Senator Little, former Senator Roy McDonald, Assemblyman Jordan and Assemblyman Stec) on such priority issues as state aid, mandate relief and employee benefits. The district is also working with the Statewide School Finance Consortium to lobby for change.

The district strongly advocates for the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to immediately:

square bulletReform the state aid distribution system to provide for more equity.

square bulletReform, remove or refuse to create additional unfunded/underfunded state mandates.

square bulletReform the current pension systems and set maximum health benefit contributions for employers.


Advocacy Priority #1: State Aid

The state legislature and the governor should reform the state aid distribution system to provide for more equity.

State aid should be based on the actual cost of providing a sound basic education for every student in a way that fairly compensates for differences in community costs, needs and resources. The state's current system of distributing aid (called the Foundation Aid Formula) appears to be based on need, but funds are distributed based on the philosophy of making sure every school district gets a piece of the pie. So, in reality, this means well-funded districts in wealthier communities receive a level of state aid that is disproportionate in terms of need compared to less funded districts that would benefit more from aid (i.e., districts in communities that have less wealth and less ability to pay).

Without some reform, districts with below average wealth—like Schuylerville—will also continue to suffer the greatest negative impact when the government reduces Foundation Aid Formula amounts. Under the state's tax levy cap, the less funded districts (with smaller annual budgets) are less able than wealthier districts (with large annual budgets) to compensate for state aid losses by raising revenues through taxes.

Fact: Schuylerville has lost $2,196,000 in state aid over the last three years.

Fact: Schuylerville's Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) is below county and state averages (see below).

Fact: When state aid is cut, the negative impacts on Schuylerville are more pronounced than impacts on wealthier districts.

About Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR)
The Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR) is the state's measure of wealth in a school district. It compares each school district against statewide averages based on two factors: property wealth per pupil and income wealth per pupil. The State Education Department has determined that a school district with average wealth has a CWR of 1. As you can see from the numbers below, Schuylerville's CWR is lower than state and country averages. Throughout the state, CWRs range from a low of 0.165 to a high of 43.325.

square bulletSchuylerville Central School District: 0.60

square bulletSaratoga County Average: 0.90

square bulletState Average: 1.22

Advocacy Priority #2: mandate relief

The state legislature and governor should reform and refuse to create additional unfunded/underfunded state mandates.

Of the 151 mandates that represent the greatest challenges to districts in terms of financial burden and required time, 69 percent come with no funding. New York State also has 227 distinct special education mandates above and beyond those required by federal law. Some solutions to this financial problem for schools include: placing no new unfunded/underfunded state mandates on school districts, exempting school districts from the Wicks Law and limiting special education mandates to those required by the federal government. A full review of the unfunded and underfunded mandates would help prioritize their effectiveness based on a cost benefit analysis. However, as already stated, it is imperative that school districts are not burdened with more unfunded or underfunded mandates.

About mandates
While mandates increase accountability and, in many cases, improve educational quality, they can also limit flexibility and impact how school districts spend money. Mandates not only focus on the education, health and safety of students but also encompass many other aspects of daily school operations. Here are some examples:

square bulletGrades 3-8 and Regents testing, scoring analysis and mailings to parents/guardians in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind act and state graduation requirements.

square bulletAnnual Profession Performance Reviews (APPR) for teachers and principals, including the creation of a district APPR plan outlining formal review procedures, criteria for and methods of assessment and how the district will provide training for reviewers.

square bulletSpecial education mandates, including Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), specialized instruction by appropriately certified professionals and related service providers, Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson and more.

square bulletInternal and external audit requirements and reporting, and required separation of business office duties.

square bulletTransportation of students with disabilities to their programs (up to 50 miles), of private school and charter school students (up to 15 miles) and of homeless students to current or prior district (based on parent choice).

square bulletTransportation of students to private and parochial schools (up to 15 miles).

square bulletRequirement to pay for health services and textbooks for students who live in the district but choose to attend private or parochial schools.

square bulletMandatory paid employee time off for breast and prostate cancer screening and blood donations.

square bulletPurchase of costly graphing calculators for students (required for intermediate-level and high school math and science tests).

square bulletRequired collection and reporting (to the state department of health) of students' body mass indexes, including screening for eating disorders.

square bulletNumerous plans and reports, including: incarcerated student plans, early grade size district plans, attendance plans and reports, five-year capital facilities plans, building condition surveys, special education space requirements plan, pesticide notification requirements, school-based shared decision-making plan, instructional computer technology plans, individual home instruction plan, district and school safety plans, code of conduct, etc.

About the Wicks Law
The Wicks Law requires multiple contractors on most construction projects, which leads to higher costs for schools (and the state) when capital improvement projects are done. Exempting schools from this law would mean significant savings.

Advocacy Priority #3: employee benefits

The state legislature and the governor should reform the current pension systems and set maximum health benefit contributions for employers.

About TRS and ERS
The New York State Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and the New York State Employee Retirement System (ERS) have three sources of revenue: employee contributions (fixed), employer contributions (set by the state) and investment returns on these contributions (based on the stock market). Both pension systems were established by the legislature, but ERS is administered by the state comptroller, while TRS is administered by the New York State TRS Retirement Board. Under the current funding structure for TRS and ERS, employers have to compensate for any stock market losses, meaning these benefit costs are subject to a great deal of fluctuation and uncertainty. [see related article]

Schuylerville is calling for the state to allow districts to establish reserve funds for TRS contributions to help offset the large fluctuations. Such accounts are allowed for ERS contributions. It makes good fiscal sense for districts to plan ahead for large increases in pension contributions, just as homeowners can put away money into a savings account for unanticipated costs. See the chart below for comparison information showing the differences in the district's contribution rates between 2002-2003 and 2012-2013.

teacher retirement system (TRS) cost increases
  year salary trs cost to district
Teacher X 2002-2003 $46,993 $169
Teacher X 2012-2013 $84,924 $10,055

For the 2013-2014 school year, ERS contributions are jumping to 20.9 percent of employees’ salaries and TRS contributions are increasing between 15.5 and 16.5 percent. For Schuylerville, this required increase is expected to mean $543,000 in added expenditures. The state should enact immediate reforms that would make the TRS and ERS pension systems more predictable and affordable for employers.

About health insurance
In terms of health insurance rates, what was once an affordable benefit is becoming increasingly unmanageable for school districts due to rising health care costs. See the chart below for a comparison of costs to the district in 2001-2002 versus 2012-2013.

cost to district for health insurance
  year cost
Family PPO Plan 2002-2003 $8,010
Family PPO Plan 2012-2013 $20,946

For Schuylerville, health insurance costs increased an average of 10 percent over the last two years. For the 2013-2014 school year, similar increases are forecasted; this would mean $640,000 in added expenditures for the districts.

The rising insurance costs are largely a function of the health insurance industry, and as such, long-term relief will require reforms beyond the scope of public schools. In the meantime, the state can provide schools with some immediate, partial relief through such possible solutions as allowing for the creation of statewide or regional health insurance consortiums and setting maximum employer contribution levels for individual and family health care coverage.

Fact: Increases in TRS and ERS contributions and health insurance costs for the 2013-2014 school year alone would lead to a 7.89 percent tax levy increase.