Assemblyman Santabarbara, Montgomery County school superintendents come together for fair funding, end to GEA

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, superintendents, teachers and students from five Montgomery County school districts and statewide education advocates stood together Thursday afternoon to call for fair education funding and an end to Gap Elimination Adjustment this year.

“When it comes to education funding, every state budget feels like ‘Groundhog Day,’” Assemblyman Santabarbara said. “Now is the time to change that. We can no longer afford to take a Band-Aid approach to the inequities in education funding that force our districts to cut the valuable programs that help our students succeed. This year, let’s do away with an outdated funding formula that’s keeping our upstate school districts from receiving the critical funds they need to provide the quality education our kids deserve.”

Santabarbara was joined at Amsterdam High School by representatives from the Greater Amsterdam School District, Canajoharie Central Schools, Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, Fort Plain Central School District,

and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District, as well as the Alliance for Quality Education. The five districts are owed a combined $16.57 million, according to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a landmark school funding lawsuit whose settlement with New York requires the state to provide billions more to schools across the state. The schools stand to lose more if the GEA continues over the next two years as proposed by the governor and if the funding formula goes unchanged.

"This is a debt that’s long overdue,” Santabarbara said. “It’s time to bring an end to the GEA this year."

Thomas F. Perillo, superintendent of Amsterdam schools, said, “We are calling upon our legislators and governor to rework the 2016-17 state aid allocations so school districts receive the full amount of foundation aid they are legally entitled to. Under the foundation aid formula, Amsterdam should have received $36,931,233 for 2015-16, but instead we received $25,642,163. And that was before the GEA took an additional $9,457,769 away from the programs and services we provide our students. For 2016-17, we are asking our elected officials to let the formula run. This additional funding would help turn the tide that has been systematically eroding our schools since 2010. While we have done everything in our power to do ‘more with less,’ there is little more we can trim and few additional efficiencies left to explore. Without an increase in foundation aid, we will simply have to do less with less. And that's not fair to our students, whose futures depend on the

education they receive today.”

New York public schools are still owed $4.4 billion in foundation aid and $434 million in GEA funding. The governor’s proposed budget for 2016-2017 includes an increase of $961 million, which is far less than the estimated $1.7 billion increase school districts need to maintain current services and programs.

In addition to calling for reform to the school aid funding formula, Santabarbara also joined his Assembly colleagues in calling for a $2.1 billion increase in school aid in this year’s state budget to help districts in upstate communities keep vital educational programs – opportunities that should not be taken from students.

The Assembly’s budget proposal, released Thursday, increases education aid by more than 9 percent over last year for a total of $25.4 billion.

"The state of New York has been withholding funding for our schools for too many years and Assemblyman Santabarbara is a champion to get that funding," said Chad Radock, Statewide Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education. "Schools in Amsterdam and throughout Montgomery County have tremendous needs. This year, we are calling for $2.1 billion of which $1.4 billion should go toward desperately needed Foundation Aid. It's necessary and the right thing to do for our kids.  It's time the state stops playing with our children's future and restores funding to our schools."

Santabarbara added, “It’s time to provide the funding these schools need and our kids deserve – which is far more, not less. We can’t make our schools wait any longer. Let’s change an outdate formula and bring fair funding for our schools, and put an end to the uncertainty of ‘Groundhog Day’ when it comes to budget time each year.”

Deborah Grimshaw, superintendent of Canajoharie schools, said, "For the past four years, Canajoharie Central School's Advocacy Committee has worked alongside other districts and organizations to remove the Gap Elimination Adjustment. We appreciate that for our district there is no GEA in the proposed 2016 -2017 budget. However, that is not the case for all schools in our county, and so we continue to advocate for removal of the GEA in its entirety. This year we are also strongly advocating for a revision to the foundation aid formula that appropriately allocates aid based on need. Since 2007, Montgomery County Schools have been underfunded by $160 million dollars. For Canajoharie, we have been underfunded $21.7 million dollars. As a poor rural school district, with a zero-percent tax cap, primarily due to lack of economic growth, our students' futures rely on foundation aid to provide an education that makes them competitive in their world."

Fort Plain Superintendent David Ziskin said, “The governor’s proposed budget continues to fuel a funding deficit in districts in our need/resource category (High Need to Resource Capacity – Rural) because it does not address the inequity created when the foundation formula is not implemented with fidelity. To date, the Fort Plain Central School District has lost $892,879 because the foundation aid formula has not been applied as intended. We support restoration of the GEA, but understand that will not impact schools in our need category. It is our hope that a vital increase in foundation aid becomes part of a state budget that is both fair and equitable.”

Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Superintendent David Halloran said, “Although the GEA will be fully restored for OESJ this year, our district stands in solidarity and supports the call for the full restoration of the GEA for all school districts.  We also call for full restoration of foundation aid to the figures established by New York State’s own formulas.”

Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio said, "I remain hopeful that the Gap Elimination Adjustment is ended in the state's 2016-17 budget. If the GEA continues next year, Fonda-Fultonville stands to lose another $266,000. Since the GEA was instituted in 2009, Fonda-Fultonville has lost $10.8 million, resulting in the elimination of educational programs and a reduction in forces. It is extremely difficult for a rural district like Fonda-Fultonville to enhance educational programs that will raise student achievement when our general aid is withheld. We need the Gap Elimination Adjustment to end."


Pictures 1 & 2: Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is joined by Montgomery County school superintendents, students and statewide education advocates in calling for fair funding and an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment during a press conference Thursday, March 10, at Amsterdam High School.

PIC 3: Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara calls for fair funding and an end to the GEA as superintendents from Montgomery County school districts look on. They are, from left: Fort Plain Superintendent David Ziskin, Amsterdam Superintendent Thomas Perillo, and Canajoharie Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw.

PIC 4: Fort Plain High School seniors Brianna Swartz (center) and Travis Herringshaw (right) join Assemblyman Santabarbara (left) in calling for fair funding for New York’s public schools.