School aid plan improves

Based on feedback from educators, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s school-aid budget proposals seem to be moving in the right direction.

The complaint has been too little state aid has been available overall and the way aid has been distributed in recent years has been inequitable. Some educators say poorer districts proportionally have not received the aid they need, based on their income and property wealth and the percentage of lower-income people they serve.

“Conceptually, [the governor] is on the right track” in addressing both of those concerns, said Patrick Michel, superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Johnstown. “He’s starting to listen to us.”

But Michel is worried that “in this region, it may be too late to stave off bankruptcy.”

“[The local districts] have been cutting for five years,” he said. “Now it’s going to be very difficult to make that up.”

The governor’s budget proposal for 2013-14 includes measures that should help rural school districts.

His plan includes a 4.4 percent increase in school aid statewide. Some local districts, including Northville, Fonda-Fultonville and Fort Plain, would see an even higher percentage increase.

The plan includes some mandate relief for schools and a more equitable distribution of aid. High-need school districts will receive 75 percent of the 2013-14 allocated increase and 69 percent of total school aid. The aid includes $272 million for general support, $289 million for increased reimbursement in expense-based aid programs, and $50 million for a new round of competitive grants.

These are positive steps.

Regardless of the level of state aid, school districts must continue to conserve, cut unnecessary expenditures and prioritize what’s more or less important.

Let’s hope a combination of wise spending by the state and frugality by the schools will leave our children better educated.