NY schools near own budget deadline

ALBANY -- The delay in a state budget deal is putting pressure on school districts to come up with their own spending plans to put to voters on May 16.

With a state budget now a week late, schools are facing uncertainty over how much state aid they will receive from Albany.

Schools boards have an April 21 deadline to adopt their districts' budgets, and they have to submit details about their proposed property-tax levies to the state by April 24.

"Without an enacted state budget, school boards will have to make various assumptions about their state aid," the state School Boards Association in a statement.

Schools' decisions are complicated by the property-tax cap, which limits how much they raise from homeowners.

An override of the cap requires a 60 percent vote at the polls, which is difficult to achieve.

The cap for schools is 1.26 percent for the fiscal year that starts July 1 -- up from the 0.12 percent cap on their tax levies last year.

Schools received proposed aid figures -- called the "school-aid runs" -- when Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced his budget plan Jan. 17. But they would received updated ones if a budget is approved.

On Wednesday, he said schools should base their budgets off of his proposal, which would increase aid 3.9 percent, by about $1 billion, to $25.6 billion.

If more aid comes in when a budget deal comes through, then schools could adjust accordingly, Cuomo said. The Legislature passed a temporary budget to keep government operating through May 31.

"Whatever the final budget winds up being, it is going to be literally a plus or minus the 3.9 percent. Not a minus," Cuomo said.

"It will probably be a little bit of a plus, but for cautious planning, which is what I would ask the school districts to do, it should assume the funding levels that we send them in the run. If the actual budget winds up being a little higher, then so be it. But the 3.9 percent I think is a safe planning number, and we will do that by the runs."

Still, without final figures, school leaders said they are hamstrung in deciding how much to tax residents versus how much they can count on in school aid.

For rural and poor districts, state aid makes up a large majority of their revenue; while wealthier districts rely more on property taxes.

"The potential delay of a full fiscal year state budget for two more months may force school districts to make difficult choices that could otherwise be avoided," said Charles Dedrick, executive director of the state Council of School Superintendents.

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