Budget season in Albany is often a time of great angst and sometimes anger. It’s not surprising that the governor and legislators might get a bit squirrelly when $132.5 billion is not enough to cover the Empire State’s enormous fiscal obligations, public education not the least among them.
To say the state spends like a drunken sailor is an insult to drunken sailors. They, at least, eventually stop. The state’s spending habits, while ruinous, follow the need to maintain a bureaucracy that would make the old Soviet Union proud. Pardon me, comrade, where could I find the office of the commissar of education?
Ah, yes, the department of education, which dictates school policy and procedure from the opening bell to dismissal, and virtually everything in between, save what color tie or scarf a superintendent must wear (not to give them any ideas).
To offset those inflexible mandates, the state provides some aid to education. But the amount flowing to the East End is minuscule at best, even more so this year. Over the winter the Burghers of Albany played the yearly budget game of the governor — whose political affiliation is immaterial here — who suggested massive education spending cuts that lawmakers immediately declared unacceptable. In most years the wailing and gnashing of teeth ends with schools getting just a bit more than the previous year.
This year, and this fiscal climate, are anything but typical, but still the school spending game played out largely along those same lines.
With one major difference: All local schools are getting less. This year’s capitol controversy was rooted in just how much less.
This controversy is further complicated when the federal stimulus money channeled to school districts last year by the state is factored in. When that one-shot funding source is added to last year’s state aid figures, the reductions recently approved for this year appear that much more dramatic.
It all boils down to this: The state is still short on cash and schools are getting less aid as a result. But hereabouts, the state’s contribution to local school districts is but a drop in the bucket, so the impact on local budgets is growing minuscule as well.
In the future, schools should not count on any state aid when crafting operating budgets and accompanying tax rates. That way, any state assistance would be gravy and should be set aside to reduce the property tax burden.