NORWICH – Funding inequality among New York State school districts was thrust into the spotlight Friday when the Chenango County School Board Association gathered at the BOCES Norwich campus for its annual meeting.
The event featured keynote speaker Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium and retired district superintendent of the Erie Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES in Western New York. According to Timbs, school finance inequality is a long tale of skewed apportions in New York that has ultimately led to wealthy districts getting more state funding while poorer districts like those in Chenango County struggle.
The 16 schools that encompass the DCMO BOCES were represented at the gathering, where Timbs’ message was clear: “There are districts that are nine times wealthier than you and even growing their programs while you struggle because the current state (school funding) formula doesn’t work,” he said. “It is a formula for disaster ... I see a ticking clock going backward. I see a time bomb toward collapsing school districts.”
Timbs’ presentation featured a number of statistical charts backing his claim that state aid cuts have drastically hurt low-wealth districts more so than high-wealth districts, and that the tax increases needed to compensate those losses are much greater among indigent and average districts. Adding fuel to the fire, said Timbs, are increasing pension and health care costs and the 2 percent tax levy increase enacted by state legislators nearly two years ago to close gaps in the state budget. He said school pension and health care costs alone will break 1 percent of a 2 percent tax levy increase for most local districts.
“To pay for all this, money is coming from one of three places: cuts in staff, cuts to programs, or from funding balances,” Timbs said.