Niagara Gazette

Local News

November 20, 2012

School superintendents worry over finances


Niagara Gazette — Of 296 superintendents who responded to the online survey from Aug. 16 to Sept. 3, 9 percent — or about 60 superintendents — anticipated financial insolvency within two years and 41 percent foresaw insolvency in four years.

Superintendent Mike Ford at the mid-size Phelps-Clifton Springs district in central New York is in the latter group, even after cutting 50 instructional and support positions in the last four years, closing a middle school and raising class sizes to the mid- to upper 20s. He called for a more equitable state aid formula and meaningful mandate relief.

"We're getting closer and closer to the edge of the cliff," he said.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of superintendents in the survey anticipated educational insolvency in two years, saying they would be unable to fund state- and federally mandated instruction and student services. Fifty-one percent said they would reach that point within four years.

"The primary concern for all of us as educators and superintendents is the programmatic loss we're seeing to kids," said Thomas Burns, district superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and the liaison to the state for 18 districts in New York's North Country. "Education is a very labor-intensive business. You need teachers and teacher aides and assistants to accomplish your mission, and so, for us to get our budgets in line, it means cutting staff and programs and that really affects the opportunities that our kids have."

Districts also reported spending more on teacher and principal evaluations following the state's adoption of a statewide evaluation formula. Districts reduced staffing by 3.9 percent this year, on top of last year's average 4.9 percent cuts, the survey found, and 59 percent of districts increased class sizes.

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