The D.B. Coopers of School Budget Politicos

Sometimes the best way to hide an injustice is to slip into the landscape -- think D.B. Cooper in a prior life as a public schools budget analyst.  The NYT reports in an opinion piece that as New York state edges warily toward belt-tightening and a modicum of transparency, disparate treatment of school districts is business as usual. The Times compared Mohawk Valley's Ilion district with nearby (to me) Long Island's Syosset. At Ilion, more than a third of the students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches. Despite some increased funding over the past decade, Ilion offers only four of 34 AP classes. The budget for Ilion is $25M a year, and the proposed state budget would cut that another $1.1M. Couple that with reported mandated costs for raises, benefits and the budget will have to absorb a loss of $2.4M over the prior year. (New York state pension expenses -- which will cost all districts -- are required by the New York constitution, which the Times says "makes it illegal to reduce benefits for workers already enrolled in the system.")  Due its impoverished rural employer base, Ilion is relatively more dependent on state funding. That funding amounts to $14,100 per student after the adjustments.

Syosset's budget for its 6,600 students is $188M, but it gets only 13% of its funding from the state, where as Ilion relies upon the state for 75%. The district offers almost 30 AP courses, and was ranked as having the best arts education in the U.S. in 2002. Syosset's district will receive $1.4M less from the state according to the proposed budget. The amount isn't provided in the story, but I'd estimate that the district faces similar mandated cost increases -- perhaps $9.77M using a proportional rule of thumb. Using that estimate and the proposed reductions, the Sysosset per capita budget amounts to perhaps $27,000 per student. That's roughly twice as much as at Ilion.

According to the Times writer, 
Districts like Syosset also benefit from loopholes in the state funding formula that drive hundreds of millions of dollars each year toward wealthy and moderate-income school systems that could do without it.

What are those loopholes? What has happened in the recently passed New York budget? Where will school districts cut back in light of anti-tax activism? No public education policy maven, I don't have the answers, but let's see the numbers. These public education policy decisions deserve greater transparency.

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