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BKW to attend regional event about fiscal issues in public schools

As the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school district plans their discussions about next year’s operating budget, the tax levy that helps fund it and the fast approaching school budget vote on May 21, many districts in the Capital Region are receiving grim news from New York State – the loss of even more state aid.

*Updated on Feb. 6, 2013: Thank you to those who attended this event as a representative of BKW schools. View Rick Timbs' entire presentation from the event in the video below.

Regional Budget Woes

While BKW isn’t expected to lose more aid next year, it’s not an unfamiliar situation to the district. Over the last four school years BKW has lost over $1.8 million in its yearly state aid contribution to their school budget. While aid is expected to increase this year, it won’t make up that loss, especially with the increases the district faces in costs each year, including those associated with new educational mandates and standards the State is adopting. These, just recently, include the Dignity for All Students Act, the new Annual Professional Performance Review, and phasing in using computers for state testing.

Because of this, BKW leaders, educators, parents and community members are participating in an important event on Thursday, Jan. 31 to help draw region-wide attention to the fiscal crisis facing all public schools. They are joining representatives from 47 area school districts for a forum entitled, “Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril – Running Out of Time & Options.” The event, to be held at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Columbia High School in East Greenbush, will illustrate the magnitude of the crisis collectively facing all schools unless significant action is taken during the 2013 New York State legislative session.

Why join forces?

Since all our area public school districts face (and have been facing) dire financial scenarios, the purpose of joining together as one on January 31 is to:

• Draw regional attention to the looming fiscal crisis facing all public schools and warn of another round of unpopular to untenable school budget cuts forecast for 2013-14.

• Help our elected state representatives understand their responsibility to act with urgency to adequately and equitably fund public schools and deliver on the promise of mandate relief.

• Inform and energize influential stakeholder teams in the 47 school districts served by Questar III and Capital Region BOCES, and catalyze grassroots advocacy in communities all around the region.

What will be presented at this event?

 What: Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril – Running Out of Time & Options

 When: Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m.

 Where: Columbia High School Auditorium in East Greenbush

Headlining the forum is Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, who will discuss the importance this legislative session of eliminating state aid’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), providing adequate and equitable aid to education, and providing a meaningful measure of mandate relief to school districts.

Following Timbs’ presentation, leaders from three vastly different school districts – suburban Guilderland (Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles), Schenectady City (Superintendent Larry Spring) and rural Schodack (Superintendent Bob Horan), will offer their personal perspectives on how failure to act in Albany will continue to harmfully impact their students next school year, and for years to come.

The stark reality facing public education

The stark reality is that due to these economic circumstances, students who graduated in the Class of 2012 may have received the best education that most school districts will be able to offer for the foreseeable future. With the erosion of state aid across the state, staff has been cut and numerous student programs have been reduced and eliminated.

As such, the 47 school districts joining force on January 31, representing more than 112,000 students in seven counties, have lost over $110 million in state funding this school year alone due to the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

Because of this, Berne-Knox-Westerlo has worked carefully during the last four years to reduce expenditures and spend down its reserves (school savings account) and has found creative ways to maintain funding for their programs.

“While we are proud to say that the numerous cost-saving measures we have implemented have allowed us to become more efficient, efficiency will reach its maximum eventually,” said Superintendent Dr. Paul Dorward. “Recent budget seasons have been hard because we don’t want to over-burden our taxpayers, but at the same time, we also know how important it is to provide our children with the resources they need to be prepared for higher education and the work-force.”

Virtually attend the Jan. 31 forum

If you are unable to be there in person, you can watch “Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril – Running Out of Time & Options” live at the Education Speaks website (http://educationspeaks.org). The event will also be live-tweeted by Education Speaks editorial board members. If you’re on Twitter, follow @edspeaksny and #NYSchoolsInPeril to get the live coverage of the night. Education Speaks will also be posting content to its Facebook page throughout the night (http://www.facebook.com/EdSpeaks).

What’s next?

Following the January 31 forum, district stakeholders from across the region will be asked to take the next step and mobilize by the hundreds (perhaps thousands) by advocating for change with the elected leaders serving their communities. To help them in that process, the Niskayuna Central School District will host a second forum on the evening of Monday, February 11, to teach effective advocacy strategies and techniques. Joining us will be Robert N. Lowry, Jr., Deputy Director for Advocacy Research & Communications, for the NYS Council of School Superintendents (NYSCSS). More details will follow but, in the meantime, please save the date.

Please keep checking back to the BKW website for a calendar of budget related events and/or attend the district Board of Education meetings to get more involved or to ask questions about the district’s school budget.