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Woerner Introduces Bill To Restore School Funding

Lucas Willard

 Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of New York’s 113th District unveiled her first piece of legislation Wednesday evening to restore state aid to all school districts in the state. 

In the auditorium at Greenwich High School, Woerner announced that her first bill to be submitted to the Assembly since taking office earlier this month would be to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

The cuts to school aid were made at the height of the recession to help fill a state budget gap. Now that New York is running an operating surplus, the Democrat from Malta is looking to restore the funding to all schools in the state.

With Republican Assemblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury as a co-sponsor, Woerner cited two reasons why the state should pass the bill to support schools.

“One, we’re underfunding them, but two, they’re really doing amazing with constrained resources. And I can only imagine what more they can do if we gave them back the monies that were taken away,” said Woerner.

Woerner was joined by superintendents from several regional school districts.

Doug Huntley, superintendent of the Queensbury School District, chairs the group Stand Up For Upstate Schools. He said the Gap Elimination Adjustment has a more significant impact on smaller school districts that are more reliant on state funding.

“Public schools in this region, especially the smaller schools, have been hit really hard. And what they’ve had to do in order to adjust to the Gap Elimination Adjustment is eliminate programs, eliminate teachers, provide fewer opportunities to students. It puts more stress on local taxpayers. The bill needs to be passed,” said Huntley.

The state’s property tax cap reduces the ability for districts to raise revenues to make up the difference.

Mark Fish is superintendent of Greenwich Central School District, a district with only about 1,000 students.

“Looking back over the last five years since the GA’s been in place we’ve lost over $5 million that was promised in state aid that’s been taken away. So if we’ve had the million dollars back plus this formula that Carrie’s talking about goes through, we’re gonna be in far better shape than we’re gonna be in if we’re short a million dollars,” said Fish.

Fish said his district has stretched the funding to the limit, operating on 2007-2008 state aid levels, and it may have to make more cuts if the state aid is not restored.

“We’re very proud of what we do here and we don’t want to start taking those opportunities from kids. AP classes, college credit, it’s important that our kids have the opportunity to compete here in upstate in New York,” said Fish.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has not yet released school aid estimates as part of his 2015-2016 budget plan. Along with a $1.1 billion increase in school aid, the governor is tying the funding to proposed education reforms including more strict teacher evaluations. Teachers unions have blasted the governor’s call for tougher standards.

Woerner criticized Cuomo for not releasing the school aid information as school districts begin to assemble their budgets for next year.

“But to hold up that information, means that he’s just going to grind the gears of the fiscal management process in the school districts to a great, big halt. And that’s not reasonable or fair,” said Woerner.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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