By Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
Residents across the region and state will vote on school district budgets and elect school board members on Tuesday, May 18. This vote – held on the third Tuesday each May – comes as districts respond to updated state guidance on distancing and year-end events as well as plan for the 2021-22 school year.
The budget development process – much like the past 15 months – has been unique and challenging. While districts are receiving a significant influx of funds from the state and federal government, there remain several unanswered questions about the future, including:
- What will next school year look like?
- What is the economic outlook of the region and state short term and long term?
- How will we fully support our students to accelerate learning as more students return to in-person instruction?
While these questions cannot be answered at this time, the flow of additional money provides schools with additional capacity and flexibility to plan for various scenarios and to support expanded student needs.
The state is providing school districts across the state with a record $29.5 billion in school aid and a promise to make good on a deal to fully fund Foundation Aid, which is the state’s largest aid category to schools, by 2024. The Foundation Aid formula was created in response to a 2006 court ruling.
As you consider your district’s proposed budget for 2021-22, please note that any federal stimulus funding will supplement state aid to your district, but must be treated as a grant, not part of the general fund. There are specific uses for or restrictions on how this aid can be spent through September 2024. This includes learning loss (or accelerating learning), social-emotional needs, summer programming and afterschool programming.
At this time, we should not expect the federal government to provide additional money beyond what was already allocated. As a result, school leaders must treat this federal aid as one-time funds and carefully and thoughtfully plan for how to best spend this money over the next four years – and in a way that enhances programming but does not commit the district to long-term expenses that cannot be sustained over time. School districts are required to seek public comment from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders as they plan to use these funds – and post plans on their websites by July 1, 2021.
It is important to note that each of our local school districts have different circumstances and situations impacting their specific budget proposals for next school year. Please look for more information in the mail, in this newspaper, and on your district’s website. School districts will hold a budget hearing between May 4-11 and mail a budget notice to eligible voters no later than six days prior to the vote, in accordance with state law.
Some school districts are seeking to preserve programming and staffing while others may need to plan cuts. All districts must plan for the uncertainty of what school operations may look like through June 30, 2022. This includes additional public health protections/expenses and the possibility of remote learning as well as greater academic and social-emotional needs for students due to the pandemic. At this time, we do not know what the state will require of schools reopening in September.
In recent years, New Yorkers have supported school budgets in record numbers. Last year, voters approved 99 percent of school budgets during a public health and economic crisis, which shows how much they value and support public education.
Residents will have the opportunity to have their voices heard again on May 18. We encourage everyone to learn more about their district’s spending proposal and to vote. Remember, every vote counts. A few votes can decide the outcome of a local budget vote or school board election.
For more information, please visit your district’s website. A full listing of local websites can be accessed at www.questar.org/about/component-districts.