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St. Lawrence Central School superintendent discusses school funding issues

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BRASHER FALLS - As part of his fight for more state funding, St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. says he visited with lawmakers last week in Albany and pointed out the district’s inclusion on lists of state school districts with the largest formula funding shortfalls per pupil.

Mr. Vigliotti told school board members this week that he had met individually with four separate legislators representing the district.

“I presented three different research studies that identified Brasher Falls (St. Lawrence Central) as being underfunded,” he said.

In a 64-page report by Professor Bruce D. Baker from Rutgers University, St. Lawrence Central ranked 21st on a list of 50 districts in New York state with the largest formula funding shortfalls per pupil in 2013-14.

A similar report done in the past five years by the Statewide School Finance Consortium ranked St. Lawrence Central around 22nd in the state. In another study done by Syracuse University, St. Lawrence Central was ranked about 27th or 28th.

St. Lawrence Central, which is identified as a high-need rural school district, has a combined wealth ratio of 0.34, which Mr. Vigliotti said is in the lowest 10 percent in the state. Fifty-five percent of their students are on free or reduced lunch.

That is one the dilemmas facing them as they prepare their 2014-15 budget. Mr. Vigliotti said they’re currently looking at a gap of about $1.7 million between revenues and expenditures if they want to maintain their current programming.

As a result, they have provided the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers union with a list of 23 positions that may be impacted by reductions in the budget. Under the terms of the union’s contract, district officials are contractually obligated to notify them in March of any potential reductions, but Mr. Vigliotti said no discussions have been held with school board members regarding position cuts.

He said the district has already cut approximately 10 professional staff - a 12.5 percent reduction in staff - as well as 10 support staff over the past three years.

“The administration team met multiple times trying to start going through the process. We all know there’s not much to cut. Everything on the list is a negative to kids,” he said.

The district’s tax cap is 3.73 percent, which Mr. Vigliotti said equates to about $173,000 that can be used in their spending plan.

“We’re planning to use that toward revenue,” he said.

Still, balancing out revenues and expenditures would require cuts in positions, which Mr. Vigliotti said would bring them closer to educational insolvency. A report by Dr. Richard G. “Rick” Timbs, a financial consultant, said that the district will go broke in 2017 at their current pace.

Mr. Vigliotti said one of the problems is their revenue stream. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal includes approximately $400,000 in increased aid for the district, he said, but health care and teacher retirement system costs are increasing by $600,000. Also on the upswing are salary increases, utilities and fuel.

They’ve also lost approximately $3.5 million over the past four years because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, according to the superintendent.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment was introduced in the 2009-10 school year and began to cut into school’s state aid allocations. The GEA helped reduce the state’s deficit at the expense of school districts, according to the New York State School Boards Association.

Mr. Vigliotti said he asked the elected officials to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, in which he said the state’s budget crisis “has been balanced on the backs of students.”

He has also asked for an immediate increase in foundation aid for districts like St. Lawrence Central, which he said have traditionally been underfunded and don’t have the ability to raise their revenues because of the tax cap.

In addition, Mr. Vigliotti is requesting a new funding system to replace the foundation aid formula, which would address funding deficiencies for underprivileged students.

He also wants lawmakers to create additional incentives for districts to share services and streamline the process to allow for more successful school mergers.

In the interim, he said, they continue to work on next year’s budget and will have some definite numbers to plug in once the state’s budget is approved.

“With an on-time budget (on April 1), I anticipate we will be able to wrap up the second week in April,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

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