Press-Republican

Local News

March 11, 2014

School officials say close the Gap

SARANAC LAKE — North Country schools are pushing for an end to school-aid cuts this year.

That reduction in funding — the Gap Elimination Adjustment — went into effect under Gov. David Paterson in 2010.

“The Gap Elimination Adjustment was done four years ago to help the state eliminate a $10 billion deficit,” Saranac Lake Central School Business Manager Dan Bower said. 

“It was supposed to be a one-time adjustment. But every year since, they include the GEA in the state budget.”

Since 2012, that loss in funding has been complicated by the state’s 2 percent tax-levy cap.

The combination, district officials say, has wedged schools between a rock and a hard place.

Bower said tax-levy increases at Saranac Central averaged 2.2 percent for the last five years — even before the tax cap went into effect.

And Gap Elimination took $4 million in school funding.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo partially reinstated school aid in his executive budget, mostly by cutting back Gap Elimination.

North Country lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly are looking to fully end it.

The state budget is approaching a $300 million surplus, while school districts don’t have much left to cut, officials point out.

This year, Bower said, even if the governor’s partial Gap diminishment becomes part of the final budget, Saranac Lake Central will lose $866,836 in state aid and is looking at a $1.2 million budget deficit.

“In Saranac Lake, we’ve eliminated 40 positions, mostly through attrition,” he said. “We have closed two schools but have been fortunate to be able to lease those properties and generate revenue. 

“We’ve been trying not to eliminate programs, but purchasing budgets have been reduced, and field trips have been cut.” 

PROGRAMS AT RISK

Filling the void left by Gap Elimination has dug into School District reserve funding.

It has reached a point where many schools have cut programs and may have to eliminate others. In Saranac Lake, music and athletic programs are on the block.

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