By Bill Furlong, Assistant Superintendent
There was a recent study conducted by the Statewide Finance Consortium on the equity of funding (http://taxes.lohudblogs.com/2012/09/26/report-many-districts-on-brink-of-disaster-due-to-inequitable-funding-system/) for public schools in New York State. This study found that not only is the school aid funding formula inequitable, but that the state aid reductions that schools have endured over the last three years have made the inequity even more dramatic. Poor rural school districts not only receive less tax revenue than wealthier school districts, but they have also received a larger proportional reduction in state aid during the last three years.
I have heard people sometimes refer to our school district as a wealthy school district. This is not the case. Wealth, as defined in the school aid formulas, is based upon income wealth and property value wealth per student as compared to a statewide average. Therefore, a school district is of average wealth statewide, if they have a combined wealth ratio of 1.0. In Cazenovia our combined wealth ratio is 0.896 meaning that we are less than average wealth when compared to the statewide average. The chart below shows the wealth ratios and other comparison numbers for several school districts in New York State. As the chart indicates, Briarcliff-Manor (Westchester County) and Syosset (Nassau County) each have a wealth ratio of approximately 2.0, which means they have twice the average wealth when compared to the rest of New York State.
The inequity that exists in reducing aid to public schools is also illustrated in this chart. While the state aid reductions range from 18 percent in Skaneateles to 33 percent in Syosset with Cazenovia at 21 percent, the dollar amount of the reduction, the tax base and ability to generate tax revenue are the key factors. In Cazenovia, state aid was reduced by $1.6M compared to only a $672K reduction at Briarcliff-Manor. While it would take over a 10 percent tax levy increase in Cazenovia to offset the $1.6M reduction on state aid revenue, it would take less than a two percent tax levy increase to offset the higher percentage reductions in Briarcliff-Manor or Syosset. With the tax cap legislation in place, no district would be able to propose a tax increase as high as 10 percent without significant risk of a budget defeat. This issue is even more significant in school districts with wealth ratios and a tax base that are lower than our school district.
I urge you to contact our elected New York State representatives and ask them to restore funding for public schools to 2009-2010 levels, and to address the inequity of how state aid is distributed. The fiscal pressure of state aid reductions coupled with the tax cap legislation and the inequity of existing state aid formulas will continue to threaten the academic and extracurricular programs that we currently offer to all students. This is the single most important issue we face in the Cazenovia Central School District.