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District Resources the Focus As School Year Begins

Recent Poll Shows School Officials Concerned With State’s Financial Picture

As students across New York return to school, local education officials are facing the dawn of a new school year with economic storm clouds on the horizon threatening school district resources.

Having dodged the harshest effects of declining state revenue because of federal stimulus funding last year, school board members are still wary about the state’s financial picture, according to a recent poll from the New York State School Boards Association.

Asked what issues were of concern as they begin the new school year, 40 percent of the 527 respondents to NYSSBA’s latest “Pulse Poll” signaled mid-year state aid cuts, 37 percent said adequate state funding for next year, nearly 30 percent said state government dysfunction, and 19 percent cited pension costs.

“Last year, we all saw the impact a poor economy has on local schools,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “No one wants to lay off teachers or slash programs that our students depend on in order to balance our budgets. We’ve been down that road already.”

While issues like swine flu and staff shortages may be making headlines, fewer than 10 percent of respondents cited those as their biggest concerns this fall.

Instead, school board members believe the more pressing issue for the year will be how to cope with this year’s projected state deficit of $2.1 billion and any economic fallout it causes. Furthermore, school leaders are nervously awaiting word this week from the state comptroller on what is expected to be a significant increase in pension contribution rates.

“Perhaps now more than ever, school district officials must maximize the resources available to them,” said Kremer. “While action is needed at the state level on big-ticket items such as pension reform and mandate relief, there are measures our local boards can take to stretch every available dollar.”

Kremer pointed to a report released last year by NYSSBA identifying 55 ways to help school districts contain costs and save local taxpayers millions of dollars annually. Several recommendations urged state lawmakers to remove basic obstacles that prevent school districts from operating more efficiently. Other suggestions encouraged local school officials to take advantage of current laws that allow shared services, purchasing cooperatives and consolidations. The entire report is available on the NYSSBA website,, under the “Advocacy/Legislation” section.

“This is the second year the economy has cast a pall over the start of the school year,” said Kremer. “Local leaders will do all they can to contain costs while awaiting further action from our state leaders.”

Results are based on 527 responses from school board members around the state who replied to an informal online NYSSBA “Pulse Poll.”

(Submitted by The New York State School Boards Association. NYSSBA represents nearly 700 school boards and more than 5,000 school board members in New York.)