Archive for November, 2009

Governor’s new deficit reduction plan would require schools to exhaust reserves now

November 24th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Legislation accompanying Governor Paterson’s revised Deficit Reduction Plan would require school districts to use any unappropriated, unreserved fund balance to mitigate the impact of his proposed mid-year School Aid cuts.

Given the late point in the school year in which the cuts would be inflicted, it can be expected that many districts would choose to use reserves to offset state aid cuts.

But some districts might be able to accommodate cuts without exhausting reserves and literally forcing them to do so now would ensure tougher budget choices — more layoffs, bigger tax increases — in the budgets they assemble for next year, closer to when State Legislators are running for re-election.

Last year, for example, some districts said unanticipated retirements would have helped them manage proposed mid-year cuts.

The Governor’s proposal also directs that,

In addition, any programmatic reductions undertaken by school districts after any unappropriated unreserved fund balance is fully allocated, as a result of the enactment of the gap elimination adjustment shall, to the extent possible, not impact educational services to children.

School districts would be required to report to the Education Commissioner all budgetary actions they take to accommodate the Governor’s cuts.

In a positive move, the Governor proposes to allow schools to withdraw excess funds from Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserve Accounts to help offset proposed mid-year cuts.

He would also expand a tool approved with the 1990 mid-year cuts which allows districts to count an amount of future Lottery Aid equivalent to his proposed cut as revenue received in the current year.

Category: Finance, State Budget, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Governor proposes smaller School Aid cuts by acclerating use of stimulus aid

November 24th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today, Governor David Paterson submitted a revised state budget-balancing plan with a smaller immediate School Aid cut.

No plan will be approved this week, however.  The Assembly and Senate have gone home for the holiday and will return on Monday.

Governor Paterson submitted two budget-cutting proposals for consideration by the Legislature:

  • One would implement  a revised version of his original Deficit Reduction Plan, which included $686 million in mid-year School Aid cuts.
  • The other would give the Governor one-time authority to cut spending prescribed by law (such as School Aid), without requiring specific approval of each cut by the Legislature.

The first proposal would reduce the current year cut in aid received by schools to $295 million. Each district would take a cut equal to 1.58 percent of total aid, excluding Building Aid, Universal Prekindergarten, and EXCEL.

I plan to post estimates of the revised cuts on our website shortly.

This proposal would achieve the same $686 million savings for the state by cutting the state contribution to School Aid by an additional $391 million and using  federal stimulus aid to backfill funding to schools.  Accelerating the use of federal stimulus aid would create a larger state deficit in the future.

Both the Democratic and Republican leaders in the State Senate announced their opposition to the second proposal, giving the Governor unilateral authority to cut all spending.  Both also previously expressed opposition mid-year School Aid cuts.

The Governor and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have warned that without action, state government may be unable to pay all its bills in December, including $1.6 billion in School Aid and $461 million in STAR tax relief reimbursement to school districts.

Read the rest of this entry »

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State Education and Health Departments issue new guidance on school-based H1N1 vaccination clinics

November 18th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today the State Education Department and State Health Department issued new guidance for schools on how to work with local health departments in conducting school-based vaccination clinics for the H1N1 influenza.

The materials include a letter from the two state agency commissioners; a guidance document; a sample memorandum of understanding for the use of school facilities for this purpose; a parent/guardian H1N1 vaccination consent form; a sample letter to parents/guardians; and a summary of relevant legal issues.

Individual items may be obtained below:

All the items, plus additional guidance, may also be obtained here:  http://usny.nysed.gov/swine-flu-info.html#November

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Mid-year School Aid cuts getting more consideration?

November 18th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

There have been  several news reports over the past day suggesting that a potential state deficit reduction plan was likely to include some actions affecting school districts.

The Albany Times Union Capitol Confidential Blog reported that Legislators were asking to see district-by-district “runs” of possible School Aid cuts.

Today’s Times Union reports, “Many observers suggested a final vote on a deficit reduction plan would come no earlier than Thursday — although one legislative source said it will happen by then or not at all. The main sticking point, said this individual, was between $200 million and $300 million of cuts, mostly to school aid.”

There were other reports that some School Aid payments might be delayed to help the state manage through expected cash flow problems in December.

Today’s Buffalo News reports, “the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat said Tuesday he agreed with Paterson that some school districts can afford to take a hit in their state aid funding in the middle of the year.”

“I think that schools can absorb some cuts,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He would not say how deeply he might be willing to reduce school aid to help trim the state’s $3.2 billion deficit, but said poorer school districts would need to be held harmless.

Senate Democrats have continued to speak out against proposed cuts to education and health care.

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Upstate/Suburban Democrats in Senate pledge to block mid-year School Aid cuts

November 15th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

The Associated Press reports:

A new coalition of upstate and suburban Democratic senators say they will refuse to vote for any midyear school aid cuts sought by Gov. David Paterson and still being negotiated by the Senate’s New York City-based leaders.

If it holds, the coalition of seven Democrats would kill the chance of disruptive midyear school aid cuts in any deficit reduction package.

A news release from the seven Senators begins,

In light of their shared concern on Upstate and Suburban property taxes, healthcare and education, the Senate Majority Upstate Caucus (Senators Aubertine, Chair; Breslin; Stachowski; Thompson; Valesky) has partnered with the Senators from Long Island, Senators Brian X. Foley and Craig Johnson to steer DRP negotiations sensitive to the anticipated impact of the Governor’s proposed cuts throughout Upstate and Long Island.

The release concludes with a series of quotes from the individual Senators making their opposition to the School Aid cuts clear.  For example, Senator David Valesky from the Syracuse area says,

“While we are ready to agree to most of the proposed cuts, as difficult as these may be, we must be careful not to adopt deficit reduction solutions that simply shift costs down to local property tax-payers. That is why I, along with my colleagues from across Upstate and Long Island, are holding strong to the position that mid-year school cuts will not have our support.”

Senate Republicans had previously announced opposition to mid-year School Aid cuts.  This suggests that at least 37 of the 62 Senators would not vote for such cuts.

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Teachers selling lessons online — a good idea?

November 15th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today’s (Sunday, Nov. 15) New York Times has a front page article about the propriety of teachers selling lesson plans online, and whether their schools should share in any earnings.

I’m quoted near the top of the article:  “To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it’s fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds.”

The article has provoked an impressive volume of comments, many from teachers taking offense at the thought that a district would stake a claim to any earnings.  One called the idea “creepy.”  A blogger called me a “greedy – – – – – – -.”

A few comments took a different perspective, questioning the ethics of teachers either selling or purchasing lesson plans.

When the reporter contacted me, I said the issue had never come up in any of my interactions with superintendents, or anyone else.

I’m careful with words and meant nothing more or less than what the reporter faithfully quoted me as saying:  it’s fair to ask what would be a fair division of proceeds.  I also noted that initiative and resourcefulness deserve to be rewarded.  So it might be fair for a teacher to keep all earnings in at least some cases.

I mentioned to the reporter that higher education institutions have already wrestled with and resolved similar issues, then today looked up one example of a university policy.

The State University of New York Intellectual Property Policy provides, “Generally the members of the staff of the university shall retain all rights to copyright and publish written works produced by them.”

It goes on to say,

Staff members will be expected not to allow the privilege to write and retain the right to their work to interfere with their university duties. In those cases where an author desires the help of university facilities, arrangements should be made through the administrative staff of the author’s institution in advance with respect to the assistance which may be appropriately given and the equity of the university in the finished work.

The SUNY policy also makes an exception for cases where persons “are employed or directed within the scope of their employment to produce specific work.”

In those cases, “the university shall have the right to publish such work without copyright or to copyright it in its own name.”  Also, “The copyright will also be subject to any contractual arrangements by the university for work in the course of which the writing was done.”

The plain language of the SUNY policy seems reasonable.  But some aspects do require interpretation.

For example, one might interpret the preparation of lesson plans and lecture notes as something faculty are employed or directed to produce “within the scope of their employment.”  But my understanding is that, within SUNY, such items are generally deemed intellectual property of the employee.

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Governor overstating school administrative costs, again

November 13th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today’s Buffalo News includes a story the state leaders meeting on deficit reduction which was conducted yesterday by conference call.

It includes this passage:

The governor also maintains that nearly three-quarters of school budgets are administrative, and that many districts have money in reserves to cover funding cuts from Albany.

Robert Lowry, deputy director of a state association for school superintendents, noted that the most recent U. S. Census data from 2006 found administrative costs for schools amount to about 5.5 percent of a district’s budget.

Lowry said Paterson’s assertion that “administration” and “administrative” costs account for most of school district budgets is “just not true.”

We endured similar claims by the Governor a year ago.  I first noticed this new one in an online story and called the reporter to try to set the record straight.  I said there was no way administrative expenses  could be calculated to comprise so high a share of total school spending.

I also suggested thinking about a typical elementary school — 20 to 30 teachers, maybe some specialists, a nurse, a librarian, custodians, food service workers and one administrator — the principal.

I followed-up with an email message explaining the quirks in computing administrative spending (depending on how districts or  compiling agencies assign positions and costs) but said Census Bureau data indicates that 5.5 percent of 2006-07 spending in New York State went for administration, including both building-level and central office costs.

I added that the State Education Department reported central administration spending to be 2 percent of total expenditures in 2006-07.  SED does not publish data on building-level administration. SED calculated instructional expenses to be 75.5% of total expenses.

In testimony at an Assembly Ways and Means Committee hearing, I said, “We will not minimize the hardship you face in balancing the state’s finances. Please don’t minimize the challenges confronting school leaders.”

That is my concern with outlandish assertions of administrative spending.  It invites the conclusion that schools can manage cuts without hurting instruction.

In some structures, all employee benefits have been deemed an “administrative” expense.  Counting them as such for schools still wouldn’t get close to the 75 percent figure.  But in any event, those benefits for teachers are part of the cost of delivering instruction.  A district cannot reduce pension costs for teachers on its own, for example, except by eliminating teachers’ jobs.

As to the outcome of that leaders’ meeting, the Buffalo News said “The Legislature’s top Democrat and Republican on Thursday squared off in a new format — a telephone conference call — that featured name calling and motive questioning amid stalled efforts to erase the state’s $3.2 billion deficit.”

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Final Race to the Top guidelines released

November 12th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday, the U.S. Education Department issued final guidelines and application materials for its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.

Education Week notes that three factors are most important to the federal authorities,

…states will need to make a persuasive case for their education reform agenda, demonstrate significant buy-in from local school districts, and develop plans to evaluate teachers and principals based on student performance, according to final regulations set for release Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The New York Times reports the new guidelines are getting praise from many quarters for adding flexibility in the requirements for states. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pine Plains school hostage situation resolved

November 10th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

The Pine Plains School District in Dutchess County experienced a terrifying incident this morning which thankfully ended without injury. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chancellor Tisch outlines charter school positions

November 9th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Speaking at Hunter College last week, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch outlined thoughts on charter school policy that resemble positions taken by the Council.

For example, she called for more charter schools at the high school level and resisted calls to eliminate the state’s cap on the number of charter schools that may be authorized. Read the rest of this entry »

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