Archive for December, 2009

Council supporting State’s Race to the Top application

December 29th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday (Monday, 12/28), the State Education Department issued a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on the state’s application for funding from the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top program.

We believe the FAQ document covers most of the major concerns that have been raised by districts about the application and the memorandum of understanding which superintendents and other district leaders have been asked to sign to demonstrate their support.

The Council’s Executive Committee has indicated that it wishes to support the state’s application for funding.

Today we sent two items to our members and to the SED leadership:

  • A letter from Council President Oliver Robinson to State Education Commissioner David Steiner indicating the Council’s support for the state’s Race to the Top application (Council Letter of Support)
  • A note from our Executive Director, Tom Rogers, recommending that district leaders consider signing the Memorandum of Understanding to signify their support as well (Note to Superintendents).

More information on the state’s Race to the Top proposals is available here.

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Governor overstating school administrative costs, again

December 24th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Two excerpts from newspaper blog posts on Wednesday (December 23rd):

The governor also repeated his contention, which he has been telling editorial boards, that 71 percent of school costs are administrative. That administrative category, though, also includes payroll for teachers, which is, as one would think, is the largest expenditure in any school. (Paterson:  It’s not a cut, Albany Times Union).


“I think if we take a look at the way the schools are funded – and I guess I’m going to keep saying it until it filters through – 71 percent of these costs are administrative. So the school districts need far more review than the public authorities or the state government,” Paterson said Tuesday in a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board at his office at the state Capitol in Albany.  “What are they all doing? If for every teacher there are three of them – that makes absolutely no sense,” Paterson said.  (Paterson:  Schools can make do, Glens Falls Post-Star)

So Governor Paterson is saying that that 71 percent of school spending goes for administrative costs.  He apparently counts teacher salaries as an administrative expense.  But he also implies that it is common to find three administrators for each teacher in school districts.

I’m sure that most readers would presume teacher salaries to be an instructional expense.  That is how the U.S. Census Bureau classifies them, and so does the State Education Department.

The Census Bureau reported that 5.5 percent of total expenditures in New York State school districts went for administrative costs in 2006-07, its last year of published data.  This includes both district-wide and building level administration.

The Census Bureau reported that instructional costs comprised 69.3 percent of total expenditures for New York school districts.  SED puts the figure higher – 76 percent (See Overview of the Statewide Fiscal Profile of New York State School Districts, p. 9).

As New York’s late and great U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “”You are entitled to your own opinion, you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

We’ve noted the Governor’s characterizations of school spending before.

I frequently ask reporters to stop and think about a typical elementary school:  perhaps 15 to 20 or more classroom teachers, an art teacher, a music teacher, a gym teacher, some aides, a librarian, a nurse, perhaps other specialists, custodians, food service workers, and one administrator — the principal.

As to the Governor’s assertion that school districts need far more review than the public authorities or state government, we get it now.

  • School districts outside the big five cities submit their budgets for voter approval every year; state government does not.
  • School districts submit “property tax report cards” and administrator compensation for publication by the state.  Local governments do not; nor do state agencies routinely publish executive salaries.
  • School districts have school report cards and the state regularly publishes reports on student test results, high school completion rates, violent incidents, and more.  No other entity reports more performance data (with the possible exception of major league baseball).
  • School districts operate with percentage limits on their general purpose reserves; local and state governments do not.
  • By March 31, every district is due to have been audited by the State Comptroller in the past five years, a mandate not imposed on local governments.

Governor Paterson’s comments came at a brief news conference where he announced he would contest the suit challenging his action in withholding state aid and STAR payments to school districts.

The Times Union blog post reported that , “…he reiterated that his delay in paying out 10 percent of school aid was not so much a cut but a delay — until such time that they have the money, if the money appears, that is.”

The prospect that the withheld aid will never be paid is one of the primary concerns behind the Council’s involvement in the lawsuit.

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SED ruling on school vote date change

December 23rd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Awhile back, it was rumored that the State Education Department would move the statewide school district voting date up a week next spring, from May 18 to May 11, due to a conflict with a religious holiday.

This provoked some consternation, as well as questions — why not move the vote back a week instead?  In fact, the law only allows the Education Commissioner one option in the event of a conflict — to move the vote up to the second Tuesday in May.

However,the Department has now issued this determination:

Any change in the date for the 2010 annual budget vote and board of education elections will occur only for those districts that request such a change by the Commissioner due to a conflict with religious observances. All other districts statewide will still hold their annual budget vote and board of education election on the third Tuesday in May.

The Department’s complete guidance is copied below and available here.  It advises how districts seeking to use the earlier date are to proceed.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Comptroller warns of funding cliff already recognized by school leaders

December 22nd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a short report warning about the funding cliff confronting schools when federal stimulus aid runs out, in 2011-12.

This is something we have been warning about for months (see our testimony on mid-year aid cuts, p.6), and which most school leaders seem to recognize.  But it appears to have come as news to the media.

The Comptroller’s analysis notes that this year stimulus funding enabled school districts outside the Big 5 cities to hold tax increases to 2.1 percent.  It goes on to observe that had state aid reductions been enacted without the stimulus relief, districts would have had to raise local taxes by as much as 7.7 percent, cut spending by 3.2 percent, or some combination of the two.

The analysis takes into account both the State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, used to offset aid reductions proposed by Governor Paterson, and increases in Title I and special education aid. Title I funds extra help for disadvantaged students.

The stabilization funding was intended by Washington to fund ongoing operations by preserving jobs and averting tax increases.  On the other hand, the Title I and special education aid were intended to expand services but were issued with ample warnings from Washington to districts to minimize making multi-year commitments, given the scheduled ending of the aid.

Newsday reported that “yesterday’s advisory from Albany drew amused snorts of derision from local educators, who note the state has been discouraging school districts from building up the sort of cash reserves that could protect against future aid losses.”

We’ve cautioned that the state and the schools are heading for the same cliff, and using up reserves now would send more school systems over the edge sooner.

Comptroller Di Napoli says that the stimulus funding has, “helped ease some of the budget pain for school districts and taxpayers.” He adds,

“But that money stops in 2011-12, and when it does, New York’s schools face a $2 billion funding gap. That’s a big hole to fill. The time to start thinking about how to fill that hole is now, not when the money is already gone. It won’t be easy; schools are already facing financial problems. But this won’t just go away.”

The Comptroller’s report does not offer any thinking on how to fill that hole.

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Responding to the Governor’s comments on Council President Oliver Robinson (UPDATED)

December 21st, 2009 by Robert Lowry

In an interview with a Buffalo talk radio station this morning Governor Paterson lashed out at Council President Oliver Robinson for speaking at a news conference last week announcing a legal challenge to the Governor’s withholding of School Aid and STAR payments.  Dr. Robinson is superintendent at the Shenendehowa Central School District in Saratoga County.

Paterson contrasted Shenendehowa’s reserves with the aid withheld last week and complained, “…the cut, the delayed payments that we are imposing on them amounts to $180,000, 5 percent of the money they have so I don’t know what they are complaining about.”

In fact, at the news conference announcing the lawsuit last week, Dr. Robinson said his district could manage with a delay, but noted there are nearly 700 other districts confronting different scenarios.

But the Governor’s slip — referring to the withholding as a “cut,” points to the core problem his action poses for districts — uncertainty over whether they will ever see the money withheld last week, or the even greater sum of STAR money he plans to withhold next month.

Below is a statement issued in response to the Governor’s remarks.  A “pdf” version is available here.

UPDATE:  Here is a link to the Albany Times Union’s report on the conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

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State Education Department releases summary of Race to the Top application, seeks local sign-offs

December 17th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today the State Education Department released a summary of the state’s plan for federal “Race to the Top” funds.

The summary, an introductory video by State Education Commissioner David Steiner, and other items are available at the  SED Race to the Top website.

As a large state, new York is eligible for a grant of up to $700 million, 50 percent of which would be allocated to participating districts according to the Title I funding formula.

The application is due to the United States Department of Education on January 19, 2010.  A note to superintendents from Commissioner Steiner explains that

a critical action item for districts to be eligible for Race to the Top funding is the completion and submission to NYSED by January 8, 2010 of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to confirm district commitment to implement the Race to the Top strategies.

SED also explains, “The MOU must be signed by the superintendent, and preferably also by the local school board president and the local education union president (if applicable).”

The SED Race to the Top website includes a link to the MOU form.

The Council is seeking input from its leaders and members to formulate an organizational perspective.

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Comptroller posts December aid payments with delays

December 15th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Last night, the State Comptroller’s Office posted a spreadsheet presenting district-by-district December aid payments reflecting the 10 percent across the board reduction being imposed by Governor Paterson.

The Comptroller’s figures are available here.  Note that the reductions affect general aid, excess cost aid, and lottery aid payments, and that separate spreadsheets are presented for each aid — see the tabs on the bottom of the screen.

The Governor has also said that he intends to reduce an upcoming STAR payment by 19 percent.  This reduction is to be taken against the payment which districts should receive on January 4.

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Governor details plans to withhold School Aid and STAR

December 14th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday, Governor David Paterson began to follow through on his threat to withhold School Aid, and extended the threat to include STAR payments.

At a Sunday news conference, the Governor announced that he is directing the state Division of the Budget to reduce scheduled December payments to school districts, municipalities, and other purposes by a total of $750 million.

Among these reductions, he proposes to reduce school aid payments due to be paid by December 15th by 10 percent, or $146 million.

The Governor said he will also withhold $436 million in STAR reimbursements to school districts later in the month, a 19 percent reduction.

At this time we do not have estimates of the impact of the Governor’s action on individual districts. Generally, however, he has said these administratively imposed reductions would have to be made across the board, on an equal percentage basis.

In other words, school officials should assume that whatever School Aid payments they were anticipating this month will be reduced by 10 percent, and any STAR reimbursements will be reduced by 19 percent.

If district-by-district estimates become available, we post them on our website –

The Governor leaves open the possibility that he will seek legislation to make the withholding permanent.

Beyond the immediate cash-flow impact for individual school districts — coming with essentially no time to prepare — two other concerns may have greater implications.

First is the uncertainty of whether the aid withholding will be made permanent.

With that prospect still on the horizon, schools may need to consider actual spending reductions rather than just cash-flow management actions.  If spending reductions do become necessary, more drastic actions would be needed to achieve the same level of savings later in the school year than would be the case if implemented now.

Second is the precedent.

There seems to be a logical inconsistency in the Governor’s position:  He concedes that to permanently withhold aid would require changes in law to be approved by the Assembly and Senate. If so, then how can those same laws be interpreted to permit temporary withholding of aid payments?  But conversely, if he is allowed to temporarily withhold aid now, could he later assert that current laws would permit him to withhold aid permanently, in effect unilaterally amending the state budget and state laws governing the payment of local aid?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Council announces Harrison’s Louis Wool is the 2010 NYS Superintendent of the year

December 9th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today we are announcing that Louis N. Wool of the Harrison Central School District has been named the 2010 New York State School Superintendent of the Year.

Dr. William Johnson, THE COUNCIL’s Distinguished Service Chair and Superintendent of Rockville Centre Schools, said,

“It is clear that his priorities are to open doors of opportunity for every child in his school district. It is wonderful to have someone represent us who is making a merger of excellence and equity a priority in the system he leads.”

Former State Education Commissioner (and Scarsdale Superintendent) Thomas Sobol said,

“One of his most stunning achievements has been, and is now, to bring together the diverse population within his own school district and beyond as well…As a teacher, a supervisor, a superintendent, a college teacher, and Commissioner of Education, I have worked with hundreds of superintendents and superintendents-to-be. Louis Wool is among the best.”

Read more in our  news release.

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Legislature passes deficit reduction plan — no immediate School Aid cuts — Governor planning to withhold payments — UPDATED

December 2nd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

After an all-night session, the Assembly passed a deficit reduction plan and the Senate followed this morning.  Governor Paterson has said he will sign the legislation, even though does not think it goes far enough.

The bills do not include a mid-year reduction in School Aid as sought by the Governor.

The Legislature’s plan does include accelerating the use of $391 million in federal stimulus aid to allow the state to reduce its contribution to School Aid without reducing total aid payments received by school districts.  As with the Deficit Reduction Assessment included in the state budget enacted in April, districts will experience a reduction in state funding and a corresponding restoration from federal stimulus aid.

Using more of the stimulus money this year adds to a future state budget deficit.

As we reported yesterday, the Governor intends to unilaterally withhold some scheduled local aid payments, including School Aid payments in December (see Deal or no deal?  Governor threatening to withhold School Aid payments). Read the rest of this entry »

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