Albany schools reopen facing hundreds of layoffs due to aid cuts

In an almost 5 hour meeting on Tuesday night, the Albany School Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the district’s revised plans for reopening, which may include cuts to between 200 to 250 school district staffers, many of which were unaware their jobs were in jeopardy before last week.

Even worse, many students and parents spent the past weekend before school was to reopen waiting for student schedules, which for many came only the night before students were to report for remote orientation.

The night was filled with politics, pleas and PowerPoint. The Albany School Board listened to statements from parents, students and even its own staff – in over 2 hours of public comment.

At the end, however, the district voted to adopt a plan that would potentially cut over 200 of its own staff. At many points during the evening, board members – including board President Anne Savage, appeared to stifle tears as they each read letters from concerned community members – even letters that condemned the board for failing to act sooner.

Albany Schools were in the same position as Schenectady Schools only a week before.

To offer some relief, Assembly Members Patricia Fahy and John McDonald did assure the board that they were working diligently – and were relatively sure – that they could push the State government to hold Charter Schools – of which Albany has 5 – to also see the same cuts. While this provides some relief to the districts, it falls only in the amount of roughly 6.8 million, far from the 21 million the district is trying to recoup. 

“First of all, we agree that the cuts should not fall disproportionately on high-needs districts”, Fahy said, addressing the same Board of Education she once served as President. 

Fahy told the Board that those in the Assembly were working on bills to bring new revenue to the districts affected. However, “The money from those revenue raisers would not hit until next year”.

Advocates are pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tax millionaires which Cuomo has stood fervently against. Only this week facing outcry from school districts across the state has he began mentioning the option as a possibility. Other revenue raisers include reinstating the stock transfer tax. 

“We can only plug so many holes”, she said later. “The Federal Government has to step up.”

Her colleague in the New York State Assembly John McDonald echoed Fahy’s sentiments, but did qualify that the funding for State Foundation Aid may not be permanent.

“The state has been waiting on the Federal Government”, McDonald said.

“We are waiting for congress… particularly the US Senate, to what – if anything – they’re going to do”, McDonald said. 

And so are the students in New York’s schools. 

At the heart of these cuts is the State’s withholding of ‘Foundation Aid’ – the funding that the state is required to disburse to districts to allow them to provide their State mandated constitutional service – to provide an education to the students in their district. 

Like a building, the ‘foundation’ aid provides the necessary support by which a school district is able to provide to its constituents.  On top of foundation aid, each district then receives school tax funds paid by corporations and residents in their local communities, various expense-based reimbursements from the state and other organizations, as well as targeted funding allocated for specific initiatives from state and local agencies, as well as school districts. 

Like any building, if that foundation is taken away, the building will crumble.

Eroding Foundation

However, while the intent of foundation aid was always to provide more equity, the 2007 formula to calculate how it is allocated across the state seems to be failing.

Kim Blasiak, Outreach Coordinator of the New York State PTA, says the organization has been advocating for equitable funding for years.

“We have gone to the capital. We have stood on the stairs, we have had press conferences, we have worked with our legislators”, Blasiak told 518Independent. “With these cuts, it has been brought to the forefront. It’s opening up the eyes of a lot of people”.

McDonald, at last night’s board meeting did point out “These are not a cut in this stage in the game, but a withhold. It’s important to understand the difference. A withhold is done at the intention that it will be made up at a later date.” Were the cuts to be made permanent, he explained, “The cuts are across every single spectrum,” 

However, New York State is already overdue on it’s promise to its school districts. In December 2019, in testimony in front of a State Senate public hearing on Foundation Aid, New York State United Teachers called on the state to release the $3.4 billion dollars in aid owed to schools across the state. Of that, $2.3 billion is owed to high-need districts, including Albany and Schenectady.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta testified that while the union believes the formula should remain the underpinning of school aid policy in New York, due to a lack of funding, it does not currently support or respond to the needs of students, educators and school districts.

“Our students don’t get a do-over,” Pallotta said. “Fully funding Foundation Aid is the difference between offering our students high-quality core subjects and enriching courses like art and music, and struggling to meet the constitutional requirement to provide a sound, basic education. This is about justice for our students and addressing the inequality that exists in our education system.”

That inequality was at the forefront of the debate in the School Board meeting, with parents urging the district and lawmakers to not allow one district to thrive while others struggle.

“This is devastating to the kids. They’ve already been thrown into uncertainty since March. and up until the last possible minute, they still don’t know what’s going on,” Blasiak said. “They just need a safe spot.”

Advocates hosted by All of Us and Alliance for Quality Education will march on the Governor’s Mansion in Albany this Saturday at 4:30 PM

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