Michael Johnson / Livingston County News
Caledonia-Mumford sophomore Aidan Sullivan explains the effects state aid cuts have had on his school during Tuesday night's education rally at Geneseo Central School.
SCHOOLS IN PERIL
Education rally sounds relentless message to lawmakers
GENESEO — About 600 people representing school superintendents, board of education members, teachers, students and community members packed the Geneseo Central School auditorium Tuesday night to hear Dr. Richard Timbs explain the about the fiscal peril facing many rural, low wealth schools in our region.
The Genesee Valley Educational Partnership sponsored the education rally to sound the alert that time is running out for many school districts that have had their programs and staffs greatly reduced due state aid cuts over the past five years.
“The information here tonight may frustrate and anger you. All New York State students are entitled to a quality education, but some are more entitled than others,” said Kenneth Ellison, Pavilion Central Superintendent in his opening remarks.
Timbs told the audience that the message that needs to be heard by lawmakers in Albany is that school districts are demanding equity, sufficiency and timeliness. Equity in the distribution of state aid is the mantra that has been chanted over and over in the past five years. State aid to rural, low wealth schools has been frozen since the 2008-09 school year. The state’s GEA, Gap Elimination Adjustment further reduces the amount of aid a district receives, leaving most schools in Livingston County facing large budget deficits that have resulted in lost programs, teacher layoffs, and less opportunities for students. In the Livingston County region, state aid cuts and federal losses to schools range from $4 to as much as $7 million per district since 2010.
He explained that it’s not that there isn’t enough money allocated to education in the state budget, it’s just not being fairly distributed to low wealth, rural schools, such as districts in the GVEP region. Timbs and school officials know that the answer to the funding deficits is for the state to eliminate the GEA as fast as possible and to develop a foundation aid formula that is equitable. Further, he said mandates on schools must be reduced and funded if they are left in place.
Dansville School Superintendent Paul Alioto described how the devastating cuts in state aid have impacted his district, which has lost a school, numerous student programs and 26 teachers over the past few years.
“The system is broken. Kids in schools like Dansville are losing out on opportunities. Mediocrity for our kids is not acceptable,” he said.
Sodus Superintendent Martin Cox also spoke on what his district has had to reduce or eliminate in the wake of the decreasing state aid.
Caledonia-Mumford High School student Aidan Sullivan spoke to the audience to tell them exactly what has been eliminated at his school over the past few years. Sullivan, a sophomore and high honor student, spoke about faculty cuts and program eliminations. He compared the number of advanced placement opportunities at his school with those offered at a Pittsford High School to illustrate the inequity in public school education.
With just two weeks to go before lawmakers vote on the governor’s executive budget, many wonder if there is still time to affect change that will bring relief to local school budgets. Timbs says there is still time. He encouraged everyone in the room to contact their legislators and tell them to eliminate the GEA as much as possible in this budget and to commit to developing a fair, equitable foundation aid formula in the coming year.
“The real victims are the kids; we want a better world for them,” Timbs commented.