Press-Republican

March 26, 2014

Selling $2,800 cookies in Saranac Lake

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — A bake sale on Main Street here had a message in the cookie mix.

Teachers, parents and school officials staged a one-day Mock Bake Sale next to the Town Hall here on Saturday.

Pricetags asked for $2,800 per cookie, a cost reflecting the amount of state aid lost for every school student here over the past four years.

Don Carlisto, co-president of the Saranac Lake Teacher’s Association, said the bake sale drew attention.

“What we’ve been doing is having ongoing discussions about school funding and raising awareness of the financial challenges facing this district.

“We came up with a $2,800 dollar figure for cookies at the bake sale because that is the estimated average amount per student taken through Gap Elimination Adjustment over the course of four years.”

‘CONSOLIDATION NOT AN ANSWER’

Saranac Lake Central School District is looking at a $1.2 million budget deficit, even though it closed two schools and trimmed more than 30 jobs in the past several years.

Proposed 2014-15 budget Gap Elimination cuts withhold $866,000 in state school aid, a number that school officials have said would go a long way to close their deficit.

Saranac Lake is also the largest geographical district in New York, encompassing all or portions of seven towns, which makes discussion of consolidation here a hard sell.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo put significant school-aid resources toward projects that consolidate regional education. He also set aid funding priority for schools that achieve teacher assessment goals through several new grant programs. 

And he hopes to freeze property taxes for two years without fully restoring Gap Elimination cuts, which were meant to be a temporary measure four years ago.

“The property-tax-freeze proposal would require schools to do even more consolidation. In a large district like ours, that doesn’t seem reasonable,” Carliso said.

BRISK BUSINESS

Cookies at the bake sale didn’t actually sell for $2,800 each. But the prices did draw attention to deficit school funding.

“We thought it was a great way to highlight the impact of GEA. We had some very good conversations,” Carlisto said.

Despite the raw, windy day, he said, business was brisk at the cookie stand set up about 12:30 p.m.

“There were several people just looking to show support and buy some cookies. I think the cool part, we had parents that stood with teachers. It was a real community collaborative effort.”

The cookie sale also called attention to the Senate budget proposal, Carlisto said of the one-house plan looking to restore less school aid than suggested by the Assembly.

“The Senate budget was stunning,” Carlisto said.

“Money is being diverted to more competitive grants and to tax breaks for the wealthy, who support charter schools — that is what the Investment Tax Credit would do.”

There are no charter schools in the North Country, Carlisto said.

NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE

Budget talks in Albany continued Monday, as lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly negotiated terms of a single legislative spending plan that would reconcile differences in how much of the Gap Elimination Adjustment would be restored.

“We think that funding levels need to come in much closer to the Assembly’s proposal, which is still inadequate,” Carlisto said.

“The Educational Conference Board — a statewide board made up of the School Board Association, the teachers union and state school superintendents board that develops opinions on policy — has said we need $1.5 billion more (than Cuomo’s budget figure) so schools don’t have deeper cuts.”

Carlisto said the teachers union sees that figure closer to $1.9 billion, and the Regents have suggested school aid should be $1.3 billion higher to prevent deep cuts.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

Fiscal policy institute analysis

The Fiscal Policy Institute, based in New York City, said in its analysis of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget that state school aid is $5 billion below where it "would be had the state honored its 2007 legislative response to the Campaign for Equity lawsuit."

School aid, the Policy Institute analysis says, is "at its lowest level in 65 years."

Cuomo proposed a total $21.88 billion for school aid. The Senate budget allocates $217 million more than Cuomo's budget for public school aid and $250 million more through tax credits for charter schools. The Assembly proposes $22.2 billion for school aid with an increase of $970 million over state aid last year.

Read the analysis at: http://tinyurl.com/l8vsnmn.