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TRI-COUNTY AREA   ADVERTISEMENT

Governor holds back dollars for schools

TRI-COUNTY AREA—Gov. David Paterson has some school districts uncertain about the future because state funds are being withheld from area schools.
Doug Tomandl, assistant superintendent of business for Penn Yan Central School District, explained the governor withheld $110,617.89, or 10 percent, in state aid to the school. The remaining funds came in Tuesday, Dec. 15.
“Will it hurt us this year?” he said, explaining the answer is no. This is even if the withheld funds are never given to the schools, which he thinks will be the case.
However, what will hurt Penn Yan could be the governor withholding 19 percent of the STAR reimbursement funds to the school. Tomandl explained STAR funds are given out to schools from October to January, depending on need. He said Penn Yan has not needed the funds yet, so would normally expect to get all of the $1.6 million STAR reimbursement in January. However, he explained the governor proposed withholding 19 percent of that.
“It’s not even close to fair,” he said.
Tomandl explained some schools have already started getting the reimbursements. Therefore, the proposed 19 percent would only be on what those schools still need to get in January. He said since Penn Yan has yet to get any reimbursement funds, that 19 percent would be from all of the district’s STAR funds. Tomandl said for Penn Yan, that 19 percent would equal about $300,000. He added he believed these funds would be returned eventually, because of how it worked out not being the same “19 percent” for every school.
“If it is a true cut, it will really hurt us next year,” said Tomandl.
He explained school districts are allowed to appropriate funds at the end of the year to go against the tax levy. Penn Yan did that for this school year with $378,000. Tomandl said if the state aid and STAR reimbursements were not returned, the district might have to use those appropriated funds to cover the loss.
Watkins Superintendent Tom Phillips said $96,587 was withheld in state funds, Tuesday, Dec. 15. He said to cover that, money is being taken from reserve funds. Phillips explained the money being used to cover the costs is for bills the district will need to pay in the spring.
“It’s no way to run a business, it’s no way to run a family, it’s no way to run a household,” he said.
Frame said $55,000 in state aid was withheld from Odessa. He explained the district put a freeze on spending for the remainder of the school year, adding “it’s the only thing we can do.” He added the district is focusing on previously planned expenditures, and not things like paying staff to go to conferences. Frame said the lack of funds does not allow for curriculum development and meeting state standards.
“If we intentionally ran schools like this, the state would come in and take over,” said Phillips.
Both superintendents added the funds may not be given to schools at all. The governor’s office said the money would eventually be given, but Phillips said the cuts look permanent.
Phillips said if that is true, Watkins Glen will need to find a replacement for the money borrowed from the reserve funds when those bills need to be paid. He explained to cover the withheld funds, the district may have borrow money in revenue anticipation notes or decrease staff. However, Phillips said eliminating positions is an “absolute last option.”
Frame said, “we’re forced to operate with a clear set of rules.” He added he is not sure what to tell staff, teachers, and people in the district.
Phillips added the district is waiting to see if there will be a reduction in the STAR Reimbursement funds for January. He said the governor proposed decreasing that by 19 percent. However, he said a decision is expected next month.
 





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