MID-HUDSON school districts, like their counterparts statewide, will receive increases in state aid next year under the budget approved this week by the state Legislature. But many school administrators say the boost will be negated by sharp increases in retirement fund contributions and other costs.
State aid to 18 local school districts will rise an average of 6.9 percent under the new budget. The largest increases are coming to Kingston (13.14 percent), Onteora (11.92) and Saugerties (11.51). At the other end, state aid to the Coxsackie-Athens school district is growing a scant 0.54 percent over 2004-05, and Marlboro will receive a 1.96 percent bump.
Statewide, aid to public schools will be $848 million higher in 2005-06 than in 2004-05.
The aid, which comes as part of New York's first on-time budget since 1984, is the third highest increase in school spending in the history of the state, said Assemblyman Joel Miller, R-Poughkeepsie. But despite double-digit aid hikes in many districts, school officials say they are being squeezed by soaring health insurance, employee retirement and energy costs.
State aid "will help to balance the exceptional costs we're seeing in some areas of our budget," said Frank Ruggiero, the Kingston school district's assistant superintendent for business operations. "I welcome the aid, but I don't think we're going to see any net gain from it."
In Saugerties, Business Manager Joe Dziadik said the school district welcomes the allocation of $600,000 for Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs.
"We really been trying to utilize BOCES more and generate new state aid," Dziadik said. "BOCES provides things which the district would be unable to do on its own because the costs would be prohibitive."
The budget also contains a new line item for "Sound Basic Education" aid. This funding is doled out under a formula that takes into account teacher salaries, as compared to other school districts, and the number of economically disadvantaged students in a district.
The "Sound Basic Education" aid comes in response to a state Court of Appeals ruling that current state aid formulas failed to provide a sound, basic education for New York City students. The new budget line was Gov. George Pataki's response to the ruling but is being applied statewide and is far lower than the spending increase called for by the court.
Besides being thankful for more money, school districts also are glad to have aid figures in hand before having to put their 2005-06 budget proposals to voters.
In many previous years, district officials have been forced to estimate how much state aid they might get - and, by extension, what the local tax rates would be - as lawmakers in Albany battled over the budget throughout the spring and sometimes the summer.
Miller said an unintended byproduct of the on-time state budget may be that school districts propose larger budgets than they would have otherwise.
"When district's don't know how much aid their getting, they tend to hedge their bets, and the budgets come in a little smaller than when everybody knows exactly what they're getting," Miller said.
State Sen. Steve Saland, who heads the Senate's Education Committee, said that he hoped school boards would apply some of the extra aid to keeping property taxes down.
"(School aid) may not be as much as some would like, but it may be more than they expected," said Saland, R-Poughkeepsie "To that extent, many, if not most, (school districts) have the ability to offer their property taxpayers some tax relief.