Can t Get There From Here. Budgeting challenges call for new directions in state policy to help schools raise student achievement

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1 Can t Get There From Here Budgeting challenges call for new directions in state policy to help schools raise student achievement 2 nd Annual Survey of New York State School Superintendents on Financial Matters November 2012

2 Table of Contents Page Highlights 2 Introduction... 3 Overall Fiscal Condition Budgeting Choices Personnel Instruction Other direct student services Operations, maintenance and construction Other actions.. 16 Impact of Budget Decisions Adapting to the Tax Levy Cap 21 Assessing the impact Tax levy cap impact on collective bargaining Implementing Evaluation Reforms Anticipated cost impact Demands on administration Looking Ahead.. 28 Anticipated cost pressures Tax cap or state aid which is the greater concern? Priorities for mandate relief Priorities for new funding About the Survey: Between August 16 and September 3, 2012, the New York State Council of School Superintendents conducted an online survey of its members who are superintendents on budgeting concerns for their districts. The survey was conducted using the services of K12 Insight, a strategic partner of the Council. A total of 249 superintendents submitted complete responses, a response rate of 40.4%. Incomplete submissions from 47 superintendents were also included in the results. Superintendents serving the Big 5 Cities (New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse) and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services were not included in the survey because their systems budgets are not subject to voter approval and consequently do not report some of the financial data available for small city, rural and suburban districts. The Council conducted a similar survey in 2011, with a similar response rate. In some instances, we compare results between the two years. However, the samples are different, since some of the superintendents responded in one year and not the other. Finally, K12 Insight s survey tools permit extensive cross-tabulations and we do report some findings broken down by region or district character (i.e., urban, suburban, or rural). Particularly when examining regional results, it is possible that the districts whose superintendents responded are not fully representative of their region. We do find some regional results to be more positive than anecdotal exchanges with district officials would have caused us to anticipate. 1

3 HIGHLIGHTS The survey: The Council of School Superintendents conducted an online survey of its members on school fiscal matters; 249 superintendents (40.4%) submitted complete responses. Partial responses from 47 superintendents were also counted. Because their school budgets are not subject to voter approval, superintendents serving the Big 5 Cities and BOCES were not included in the survey. The Council conducted a similar survey in Overall condition: 52% of superintendents say their district s financial condition is worse or significantly worse than a year ago. In 2011, 75% of superintendents said their districts condition had worsened. The share of city superintendents reporting their districts financial condition is poor or very poor rose sharply, from 24% to 43%. Reliance on reserves: 83% of superintendents are concerned or very concerned by their district s reliance on onetime resources (reserves) to fund recurring costs. Without the use of fund balance this year, districts would have needed to raise taxes by 7 percent more than they actually did, or make cuts of corresponding magnitude. Financial insolvency: 9% of superintendents say that within two years, given current trends, their districts may become unable to ensure some financial obligations will ever be paid. This share would equate to roughly 60 districts. Altogether 41% foresee reaching that condition within 4 years. North Country superintendents foresee the most immediate threats. Educational insolvency: 18% of superintendents say that within two years, given current trends, their districts may become unable to fund all state and federal mandates for instruction and student services. 77% foresee reaching that condition, either within 4 years or beyond. Again, concern is most immediate in the North Country. Job cuts: Districts reduced their workforce by an average of 3.9% this year, on top of 4.9% in Reductions were generally steepest among city and rural districts and in non-teaching student support positions. Salary and benefit concessions: 35% of superintendents report a cost saving agreement with their teacher union this year, the highest percentage in 3 years. 45% percent report agreeing to freeze their own salary or make another cost saving adjustment as in 2011, this is a higher share than for any other employee category. Instructional cuts: 59% of districts increased class sizes this year, compared to 48% in % reduced summer school. 31% reduced or deferred purchases of instructional technology at a time when technology is seen as a key to improving outcomes and reducing costs budget impact: More than 40% of superintendents said their district s budget this year had a negative impact on core elementary school instruction, extra help for students who need it, operations and maintenance, extracurricular activities, athletics, and administration Tax levy cap: 67% of superintendents said that the new property tax levy cap led their district to adopt a spending level below what would have been done otherwise. 60% said the cap caused their adopted budget to have a more negative impact on programs than would have otherwise occurred. 59% said the cap makes it more likely that they will be able to negotiate cost savings with their teacher union or that it had already had that impact. Teacher/Principal Evaluations: 70% of superintendents said new requirements for teacher and principal evaluations will require their districts to spend significantly more than under prior practices. Professional development (training) needs are seen as the biggest cost-driver followed by new student assessment costs. 40% of superintendents say teacher evaluations will now consume more than 40% of a typical principal s time, raising concerns about how to balance other responsibilities. Tax cap or state aid which is a greater concern?: Asked which is the greater financial concern for their districts the tax levy cap or possible future state aid levels 44% picked state aid (up from 23% in 2011), 13% chose the tax cap (down from 25%), and 43% said they are of equal concern. In poorer upstate regions away from the Hudson River, only 5% of superintendents now pick the tax levy cap as the greater concern. Priorities for mandate relief: Superintendents top mandate relief priority is to amend the Triborough law s guarantee of step increases after a collective bargaining agreement has expired. Actions to reduce health care costs and stop unfunded mandates were other leading priorities. Priorities for new spending: As in 2011, providing more extra help for students who need it emerged as the top priority should new funding become available. 2

4 Introduction This is a report chiefly about the financing of education. But the real business of schools is learning, preparing young people to thrive in life beyond school. The surveys we summarize in this report explain the financial obstacles that school leaders foresee in their efforts to deliver that result for all the children and young people they serve. The challenge and the mission New York is a hugely diverse state, in ways that can inspire or discourage. Those disparities appear in schools, as well as other aspects of our state. We are home to some of the nation s absolute best public schools. Perennially, we dominate the Intel Science Talent Search. We rank second among the states in percentage of high school graduates earning a three or better on Advanced Placement exams. At the same time, by one measure, we rank 44 th in high school completion rate for African-American students, and 45 th for Hispanic students. We usually lead the nation in per pupil spending, along with our neighbors in the northeast. Yet we also have among the widest gaps in spending between high and low poverty school districts, exceeding all our neighbors. 1 Now the long quest to lift all students to high school completion by has been joined by a new goal not just in our state, but across all states: to guarantee every graduate finishes school prepared to succeed in college, a career, or both. That goal ought to be a common sense proposition: if a son or daughter meets the expectations schools and the State of New York have set for earning a high school diploma, that achievement should attest he or she is prepared to succeed in the next steps toward adult life. The goal also matches the promise of the state constitution a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be 1 Education Law Center, Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. June educated. Courts have interpreted the promise to mean schooling that prepares students for the adult responsibilities of competitive employment and civic participation, voting and jury service. High rates of remedial class-taking in college provide one piece of evidence that we have work to do to guarantee real readiness for adult challenges. 2 It is true that if this shortfall could be fixed in an instant, colleges would strain to adapt. Also, America s generosity with second chances is a national strength. But the demands that an aging population will pose on public resources in years to come require all our public enterprises to become more efficient. There is another practical imperative. Middle skill jobs have been disappearing, consigning workers to a choice of extremes and contributing to a widening in income inequality. 3 More than ever, a future worth aspiring to demands educating for higher skills. Our surveys illustrate one set of obstacles in our path to that destination. Two surveys, a common theme: alarm for the future A year ago, the New York State Council of School Superintendents published results from our first-ever comprehensive survey of our members about their districts budgeting choices and financial prospects. Stressing that districts had already been through two difficult years before the survey, the report noted, Concern over the accumulating impact of past budget choices is compounded by what lies on the horizon for schools rising expectations combined with diminished revenues. The report found near universal alarm about future prospects. THE COUNCIL conducted a second finance survey just before the start of this school year. We conclude that the level of alarm over the future has not diminished, although the pace of deterioration in school finances may have slowed. 2 For example, see Testimony of Drew Matonak, president of Hudson Valley Community College, New NY Education Reform Commission, July 10, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Regional Economic Press Briefing on Job Polarization and Rising Inequality (May 30, 2012). 3

5 Percent change over prior year Can t Get There from Here: A survey on school fiscal matters November 2012 Last year vs. this year Comparing results on questions posed in both years, a reader might conclude that, since smaller percentages of superintendents gave negative responses this year, conditions are improving. A key point, however, is that negative impacts accumulate, making future budgeting challenges greater. For example, for , superintendents reported eliminating an average of 4.9 percent of school positions. For , that figure declined to 3.9 percent. But the implication is that districts have eliminated an average of 9 percent of their positions over the past two years, and would face more painful personnel choices if future budgets demand more cuts. Insolvency New questions asked in the 2012 survey draw into focus the financial threats school leaders anticipate. In recent years, warnings that school districts and municipalities are threatened by insolvency have swelled. We asked superintendents, Do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to ensure that some of its financial obligations will ever be paid? Statewide, 9 percent of superintendents anticipate their districts could reach that position within two years. That share would equate to roughly 60 districts. Altogether, 41 percent of superintendents foresee facing that definition of insolvency within four years. Retaining the capacity to give all students a meaningful education is an even wider concern than just preserving financial solvency. Statewide, 18 percent of superintendents foresee their districts reaching a point within two years where funding all state and federal instructional and student service mandates will no longer be possible. Half of all superintendents anticipate their districts will fall into that state within four years. Insolvency fears are especially acute in the North Country, for example. Within two years, 25 percent of North Country superintendents see their districts facing financial insolvency, and 50 percent anticipate educational insolvency. Why? Why do school district leaders look to the future with such alarm? We see at least five reasons. First, schools have already been through a prolonged stretch of difficult budgeting. The lowhanging fruit easier budget balancing options have already been implemented. Most state aid was capped in , then cut in both and Districts typically did not turn to local tax increases to offset the austerity in state aid to the extent they did in prior periods. Proposed tax increases during the recent span averaged 2.9 percent more than five points below the 8.2 percent average increases proposed in 2003, the last time aid was cut. 10% 9% 8.2% 8.7% 8% 7.5% 6.9% 6.6% 6.3% 7% 6.1% 6.1% 6% 5.3% 4.8% 5% 4.3% 3.7% 4% 3% 2% 1% 0% Schools were holding down taxes and spending before the tax cap % Change in proposed tax levy % Change in proposed school spending SOURCE: Council analysis of NYSED Property Tax Report Card data ; Big 5 Cities not included 2.2% 2.3% 3.2% 3.4% 1.4% 1.3% 2.1% 1.7% Second, some large and hard to control costs have been surging. We estimated that pension and health insurance costs alone would have driven up total school spending an average of 2.5 percent in both and , even if all other costs could have been frozen. These are hard to control costs: schools cannot reduce pension obligations except by cutting jobs and, like all employers, they struggle with health care costs. Actual overall school spending increases proposed by districts averaged under 1.4 percent both years, indicating that districts cut other expenses to absorb those costs. Growth in pension costs slowed some for the current year, but last month the State Teachers Retirement System projected that employer contribution rates will need to increase from percent to between 15.5 and 16.5 percent in

6 The contribution rate is applied against the payroll for employees in TRS, so the rate increase is equivalent to mandating districts to absorb a cost equal to giving all those employees 3.6 to 4.6 percent raises, on top of any actual raises. Had the size of this increase been known at the time of our survey, results might have been even more pessimistic. There are other costs to absorb. A rule of thumb is that step increases in collective bargaining agreements additional pay for an additional year of service are commonly around 2 percent. With payroll typically accounting for half of school spending, a 2 percent increase in salaries alone would translate into a 1 percent increase in overall spending. The state s Triborough law guarantees payment of these increases even after a collective bargaining agreement expires. Superintendents see Triborough as an obstacle to negotiating both restraint on salary growth and actions that could save on health insurance. In the survey, superintendents identify amending Triborough and prescribing minimum employee contributions for health insurance as their two top priorities for mandate relief. Third, at least from a district-level perspective, state government s appetite for mandates on schools has not been satisfied. The Board of Regents and State Legislature have approved limited changes in special education mandates. District sharing opportunities through Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and joint purchasing have been expanded. But these are small steps. Governor Cuomo s Tier VI pension reform proposal was enacted and will significantly shift the balance of costs from districts toward employees, but its near-term savings impact is limited. At the same time, THE COUNCIL s surveys find schools straining under new mandates arising from the Regents Reform Agenda and the state s commitments under its federal Race to the Top grant. In our 2011 survey, 77 percent of superintendents said the cost of implementing Race to the Top items would significantly exceed their funding from that grant. This year, 70 percent said that new teacher and principal evaluation requirements will require significantly greater expenditures than past practices. Beyond the monetary costs, the demands new mandates create for school administration are causing alarm too. Statewide, 73 percent of superintendents predict that conducting teacher evaluations will now require more than 30 percent of a typical principal s work week, raising concerns about their availability to handle everyday student and family issues. At the same time, our surveys indicate that districts have cut their administrative staffs by an average of 12 percent over the past two years. Fourth, schools have been drawing from reserves to avert actions that would have had even greater negative impacts on students, local taxpayers, or both. Barring a reversal in other financial trends, that option will be exhausted. The State Education Department has reported that school district rainy day reserves shrank from $2.76 billion in , to $1.21 billion in Without use of appropriated fund balance in their budgets this year, districts would have needed to raise taxes by 7 percent more than they proposed (by 9.2 percent, instead of 2.2 percent), or make cuts of corresponding scale. Among the poorest 10 percent of districts, tax increases averaging 21 percent would be needed to replace these temporary resources. In open-ended comments, several superintendents warned that their districts financial condition will deteriorate rapidly as reserves are eliminated. Fifth, approximately 92 percent of school district revenues local taxes and School Aid are now subject to state imposed growth limits. 5 The property tax levy cap makes it harder for school districts to gain voter approval for local tax increases, and imposes harsher consequences if voter approval is not obtained districts are foreclosed from any increase in tax levy. As the chart on page 4 showed, school leaders were holding down tax and spending increases even before the cap became law. The cap has caused 4 New York State Education Department, 2012 Regents School Finance Symposium: Improving Student Learning in Fiscally Challenging Times, September 11, New York State Education Department, ibid. 5

7 further restraint, however. Responding to our survey, 67 percent of superintendents said the cap had led their districts to adopt a lower budgeted spending level than would have otherwise occurred. The test of a budget is not only whether it attains a numerical balance, but whether it advances larger purposes as well. Statewide, 60 percent of superintendents believe the tax levy cap caused their districts to adopt budgets with a more negative impact on programs and services than would have happened without it. Supporters have characterized the tax levy cap as a blunt instrument that will ultimately force tighter budgeting at the local level and action on mandate relief at the state level. Fifty-nine percent of superintendents do foresee the cap providing leverage to negotiate savings agreements in collective bargaining with their teacher unions. Less known is that the other major school revenue source state aid is also subject to a cap now. Tied to yearly changes in the total personal income of state taxpayers, the cap provided for a 4.1 percent ($805 million) increase in School Aid this year and is expected to allow for a lesser increase in Below is a chart comparing the per pupil increases in general purpose state aid in the state budget and the Gap Elimination Adjustment cut to overall aid in the state budget. Districts are sorted by property wealth per pupil. Three points are worth noting: The aid reductions were regressive, generally imposing larger per pupil cuts on poorer districts. The increases are more progressive. This year s restorations are critical, but remain small in comparison to what districts lost. Despite the increase, 83 percent of districts are still receiving less state aid than they did in It should also be recalled that this year s state aid increase was partly offset by the end of the federal Education Jobs Fund. Our survey a year ago revealed striking differences across regions over which revenue item was the greater concern. More affluent regions picked the tax levy cap, while poorer areas cited future state aid levels. Some districts, we said, were capped by circum-stances before they were capped by law so property poor that no plausible local tax increase could offset the combined impact of state aid cuts and employee benefit increases. (Poorest 10%) NYC NYS Per pupil change in major School Aid elements Districts grouped by property wealth per pupil Gap Elimination Adjustment General purpose aid restorations Per pupil change in aid -$1,500 -$1,000 -$500 $0 $500 -$1,472 -$1,487 -$1,298 -$1,185 -$978 -$1,096 -$1,070 -$944 -$812 -$805 -$536 -$400 Source: Council analysis of NYSED School Aid data $318 $342 $292 $250 $186 $195 $147 $160 $113 $54 Our 2012 survey shows roughly a 20 point shift in the direction of state aid as the greater revenue concern across nearly all regions. As we speculated a year ago, the tax levy cap raises the stakes over the distribution of state aid for all districts. Finally, the remaining 8 percent of school revenues federal aid is not capped by state law. But it is more likely to shrink than grow as Congress and the President wrestle to construct long-term deficit reduction plans. Conclusion This report illustrates profound concerns superintendents share over the finances of the school systems they lead. But they have larger challenges as well preparing new generations for the demands adult life will present them in the decades ahead. Whatever the prospects school leaders and voters might have for balancing district finances, meeting their greater goal at the same time will require help from state leaders changes in rules so that schools produce more learning for their students with the resources their taxpayers provide, and more consistent financial support from the state, especially for those serving the poorest children and communities. $21 $189 6

8 Overall Fiscal Condition THE COUNCIL s survey asked superintendents several questions related to the overall fiscal condition of their district. Some questions were repeated from the 2011 survey, to allow analysis of year-to-year change. New questions posed this year add to the wave of warnings about insolvency threatening schools and municipalities. For example, more than 75 percent of superintendents can foresee a time when their districts could be unable to ensure that some of their financial obligations would ever be paid. Writing of our 2011 findings, we said, The survey reveals widespread alarm about the financial outlook for the state s public schools. Questions repeated in the 2012 survey give continuing cause for alarm, with only a few faint signs of improvement from last year s survey. Insolvency About three years ago, school district leaders began warning of possible financial insolvency and asked whether it is possible for a district to declare bankruptcy. 6 More recently, leaders have begun to speak of educational insolvency envisioning schools reaching a point where they would be unable to provide students an adequate education. This year s survey explores both concerns. be a low share, but the figure would translate into roughly 60 school districts. 7 Yes, we are currently unable Yes, within 1 year Yes, between 1 and 2 years Yes, between 2 and 4 years Yes, beyond 4 years No, I do not foresee that time 1% 2% Alarmingly, 41 percent of superintendents believe their districts may face financial insolvency within four years, and another 36 percent fear it could come at some point beyond four years. Only 15 percent of superintendents said they did not foresee their districts threatened by insolvency. Superintendents of rural districts were most likely to anticipate possible financial insolvency for their school systems within the next two years. Total City Do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to ensure that some of its financial obligations will EVER be paid? Unsure 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 6% 9% 15% % of districts foreseeing financialinsolvency within 2 years 32% 36% 0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% 7% 9% To learn about fears of financial insolvency, we asked, Given current revenue and expenditure trends, and current reserve levels for your district, do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to ensure that some of its financial obligations will EVER be paid? Suburb Rural 4% 11% Statewide, 9 percent of superintendents said they anticipate their districts could face insolvency under that definition within two years. That may appear to 6 The short answer is no, there is no legal mechanism for a school district in New York State to declare bankruptcy. 7 A recent report by the New York State Association of School Business Officials (A Tale of Two Insolvencies, September 6, 2012) found that 215 lower wealth districts are on track to begin to exhaust all savings by District leaders will attempt to avert or delay actual insolvency, however. 7

9 By a wide margin, superintendents in the North Country region 8 were most likely to foresee the possibility of financial insolvency in their district s nearer-term future. % of districts foreseeing financialinsolvency within 2 years Total 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 9% Educational Insolvency Inability to fund the components of a basic education is a more immediate threat for districts than financial insolvency. The survey defined educational insolvency in terms of ability to fund state and federal requirements and asked, Long Island Lower Hudson Valley Mid-Hudson Valley Capital Region Mohawk Valley Central New York North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes Western New York 0% 0% 6% 7% 6% 8% 6% 12% 15% 25% Given current revenue and expenditure trends and current reserve levels for your district, do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to fund all the instructional and other student service requirements established by laws or regulations approved by the state and federal governments? Statewide, 5 percent of districts reported they are already unable to fund mandated instructional and other student services. A total of 19 percent of districts anticipate falling into this state of educational insolvency within two years, and 51 percent of superintendents believe their districts could reach that state within four years. 8 The regions used in this report are defined as follows: Long Island: Nassau and Suffolk Counties New York City Lower Hudson Valley: Putnam, Rockland, Westchester Mid-Hudson Valley: Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster Capital Region: Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington Mohawk Valley: Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Schoharie Central New York: Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, Oswego, Tompkins North Country: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence Southern Tier: Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga Do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to fund all the instructional and other student service requirements established by laws or regulations approved by the state and federal governments? Yes, we are currently unable Yes, within 1 year Yes, between 1 and 2 years Yes, between 2 and 4 years Yes, beyond 4 years No, I do not foresee that time Unsure 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 5% 5% 4% Consistent with other indicators of overall financial outlook, concern about educational insolvency was greatest in the North Country. In that region, 50 percent of superintendents said they foresee their districts becoming unable to meet state and federal student service requirements within two years, and 18 percent say their districts are currently unable to do so. 9% 12% 32% 33% Finger Lakes: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, Yates Western New York: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara 8

10 % of districts foreseeing educationalinsolvency within 2 years 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% To what extent, if at all, are you concerned that your district is drawing upon reserves to pay for recurring operating costs? Total Long Island 11% 19% % 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% Lower Hudson Mid-Hudson Valley 17% 14% Very concerned 49% 66% Capital Region Mohawk Valley 14% 22% Somewhat concerned 23% 34% Central New York North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes 12% 8% 15% 50% Not concerned, our use of reserves is limited Our district is not drawing upon reserves to pay for recurring operating expenses 6% 11% 5% 6% Western New York 21% Superintendents of rural districts were most likely to predict educational insolvency within two years. Compared to one year ago, how has the financial condition of your district changed, in terms of its ability to fund services meeting expectations of parents in the community? % of districts foreseeing educationalinsolvency within 2 years 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% Significantly worse Somewhat worse 10% 22% 42% 53% Total 19% About the same 23% 41% City 14% Somewhat better Significantly better 2% 6% 1% 1% Suburb Rural Other measures of overall fiscal condition One of the most striking findings in the 2011 survey was the near universal worry about reliance on reserves: 89 percent of superintendents said they were somewhat or very concerned by their district s use of reserves to pay recurring costs. For 2012, a similar share of superintendents expressed concern (83 percent), but the proportion saying they are very concerned declined from 66 percent to 43 percent. Statewide, 52 percent of superintendents describe their districts financial condition as somewhat or significantly worse than a year ago, down from last year s 75 percent figure. 18% 21% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% Despite grave worries for the future, few superintendents were willing to characterize their district s current fiscal condition as poor or very poor, either last year or this year. Comments volunteered in response to open-ended questions suggest superintendents focused on the immediate financial condition of their districts in their answers. For example, one downstate suburban superintendent wrote, Our current strong financial health is simply current - I will not be able to describe us as strong in a year or two. Comparing regions and types of communities As in 2011, there were variations across types of districts and across regions in the assessment of overall fiscal condition and trajectory. In both years, urban superintendents were more likely to view their district s financial condition as poor. The share of city superintendents assessing their district s financial condition as either poor or very poor jumped sharply from 24 percent to 43 percent. 9

11 How would you describe the current financial condition of your school district, in terms of its ability to fund services meeting the expectations of parents in your community? City Suburb Rural Total % Responding Poor or Very Poor % 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 12% 10% Superintendents leading urban districts were also more likely to say their district s financial condition had worsened from a year ago, and to express concern about reliance on reserves. Ninety-five percent of city superintendents said they were somewhat or very concerned by their district s use of reserves to fund continuing costs, compared to 83 percent for suburban superintendents and 82 percent for rural superintendents. Looking across regions of the state, results are mixed. Generally, superintendents in the North Country and Southern Tier appear to have the greatest concerns about overall financial condition and outlook. 20% 18% 17% 17% 24% Various measures of fiscal condition, by region Region Financial condition poor/very poor Financial condition worse than 1 year ago Reserves less than adequately funded 43% Concerned about reliance on reserves Total 17% 52% 31% 82% Long Island 2% 43% 21% 75% Lower Hudson Valley 13% 34% 32% 77% Mid-Hudson Valley 7% 53% 33% 73% Capital Region 27% 59% 42% 81% Mohawk Valley 18% 56% 30% 89% Central New York 20% 35% 25% 70% North Country 39% 54% 39% 94% Southern Tier 27% 65% 49% 87% Finger Lakes 6% 48% 13% 87% Western New York 17% 64% 29% 88% Digging into reserves The practice seems to have diminished, but for a time it was popular for elected officials and news sources to condemn schools for excessive reserves and call on them to drain those accounts to avert layoffs or property tax increases. There have always been at least three problems with this strategy. First, schools are more limited by law in the reserves they are allowed to maintain than other public entities in New York State. School districts are permitted to maintain an unrestricted fund balance equal to up to 4 percent of their budget. Municipalities have no percentage limit and the Government Finance Officers Association recommends maintaining an unreserved fund balance of between 5 and 15 percent of general fund revenues, or up to two months expenses. So what New York school districts are permitted to maintain as a maximum rainy day fund is less than what experts deem adequate as a minimum. Second, reserves run out. Eventually, a district must either permanently reduce expenditures to align them with its reliably recurring revenues, or raise taxes to match revenues with spending. The deeper the reliance on reserves, the more painful the day of reckoning when they run out. As noted in the introduction, the State Education Department has reported that school district rainy day reserves shrank from $2.76 billion in , to $1.21 billion in Third, year-in and year-out, schools already use reserves to manage turbulence in their financial operations, some of which arises from swings in the state s fiscal posture. For example, in the Property Tax Report Cards filed for their May 2012 budget votes, school districts reported using assigned fund balances totaling over $1.2 billion. Without these funds appropriated out of existing reserves or current year operating surpluses, districts would have had to raise taxes or cut spending by an equivalent sum. To put that figure in perspective, to match what they used from fund balances in their budgets, districts would have had to raise local taxes 10

12 by 6.8 percent more than they actually proposed (9 percent, rather than 2.2 percent). Or they would have had to cut spending by an average of 4.1 percent from what they actually budgeted. By these measures, poor districts depended on reserves the most in putting together their school budgets. Without what they appropriated from fund balance, the poorest 20 percent of districts (measured by property wealth per pupil) would have had to raise taxes by an additional 21 percent. The mandated low percentage limit on unrestricted reserves for school districts may have made sense when school revenues were more stable and predictable from year-to-year. But as state government became increasingly dependent on receipts from Wall Street-related activities, School Aid entered an era of boom and bust cycles, increasing financial uncertainties for all districts, and especially for poor, heavily aid dependent school systems. What happens when reserves run dry? Districts grouped by property wealth per pupil Change in unrestricted fund balance from to Additional tax increase which would be needed without use of fund balance (i.e., appropriated fund balance as % of tax levy) -35% -25% -15% -5% 5% 15% 25% Total State -14% 7% 1 (Proorest 10%) -31% 21% 2-23% 17% 3-9% 11% % -18% 10% 11% % -12% -9% 8% 6% 5% -4% 3% 10-7% 3% SOURCE: Council analysis of NYSED Property Tax Report Card data 11

13 In their own words: Overall Fiscal Condition We are at our breaking point. Classrooms are full, students in most 7-12 classrooms and students in elementary classrooms. We have cut all the low hanging fruit, and climbed the tree for the rest. Our next step is to start cutting off branches, which means we will be cutting off chunks of the learning we yield as an institution. No matter how much we have in reserves, TRS/ERS, health insurance, and Triborough along with meager NYS aid, makes the financial model unsustainable. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Our district is not able to offer the level of intervention services that our students need academically. We are getting by through under-spending our budget, being lean administratively and unfortunately not offering the depth of intervention serves our students need. ~ Upstate city superintendent We have developed a plan to burn reserves over the next three years and making significant cuts in each of those years to arrive at a point where we will stabilize. The reserves that we do have will provide us with the time make those cuts until we stop burning our fund balance. However, we will have to significantly reduce our ability to meet the educational needs of our community because of diminishing resources. ~ Downstate city superintendent We are currently using a significant amount of reserves as recurring revenue. The reserves are soon to expire. I have no good plan as to how we will replace this lost revenue stream. We have already eliminated 17% of our faculty and staff. People are complaining about class size now. Class size will only increase in years to come. Programs will be eliminated and down-sized. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent The fluctuating unknown costs of Special Education make it almost impossible to create a sound budget in a small, rural school district. We are not meeting the state and federal requirements for academic intervention services now, particularly at the high school level. We are straining to provide the necessary resources for our elementary and middle school children, because we know that in the long term children will not be successful without emphasis on early literacy. We have consciously chosen to forestall fiscal disaster by cutting everything possible and being out of compliance with older children. We have cut about 15% of staff in the last four years. However, we are using 400% more fund balance and reserves than in It is not sustainable and I fear that within two years we will be financially insolvent. We are in "ok" shape for now. No doubt many, many others are not. It's a slippery slope. Even if results show some districts like ours are "ok" - that will change before we know it. And what does that say for others who are already decimated. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent While we are solvent now, the tax cap will erode away at our fiscal stability. Uncontrollable expenses such as increases in retirement contributions, health care costs, unfunded mandates, fuel, etc. are eating away at our ability to deliver program. We are a Special Act School District and are rate based. BUT, funding remains an issue as our rate has not increased in 5 years and we are not allowed by law to carry a fund balance. If the gap elimination adjustment remains unaltered, we will not be able to accomplish our educational mission in the school year. The local community cannot support additional contributions to funding the educational programs offered their children, yet each child in New York State should have opportunity and access to a sound educational program. We have been operating by not filling positions due to attrition for the last 10 years Offering two languages was given up over 8 years ago. Three elementary buildings with a total of 600 students share 1 art teacher - that happened 5 years ago - we can't meet the mandates for PE at the elementary level. The HS offers 3 AP classes - the list goes on, but when someone retires, the position wasn't filled. Right now we are waiting for a retirement in the guidance staff, or we will have another reduction of a person. 12

14 Budgeting Choices The core of THE COUNCIL s survey is an exploration of the budgeting choices schools have made over the past three years. commodity. Instruction consumes a comparable share by purpose. Where school spending goes -- by purpose General observations about school budgets As in last year s report, we stress three points before presenting the survey s findings on the specific actions districts took in putting together budgets. Instruction, 74.1% Operations & maintenance, 6.5% Debt service, 6.6% First, You can t cut what you don t have. Poor districts are less likely to report that they eliminated advanced classes because they are less likely to have them in the first place. A district conducting all classes in a single building will not report that it closed a school, unless it takes the extreme step of tuitioning out all its students to a neighbor. Related, You cannot cut what you have already decimated. In last year s survey, for every specific budget action we identified, the proportion of superintendents saying their district had used it increased every year. That is not true this year; smaller percentages of districts exercised some options this year than in the year before. This could happen if a district s financial condition has improveed. But another explanation could be that a district has already cut the function as much as prudent, or as much as permitted by law our next point. Second, some items cannot be cut because they are mandated by Albany or Washington. For example, the operation of special education services is heavily prescribed by state and federal mandates and over multiple years, special education is seen as less negatively affected by budget decisions than any other service. In the same vein, the demands of the state s new teacher evaluation requirements have raised concerns about maintaining the administrative capacity necessary to comply. Third, understanding where schools can cut requires recognizing where their spending goes to start. One way to break down school spending is by the commodities it buys; another is by the purposes it serves. Personnel salaries and benefits comprises about three quarters of school spending by Other, 5.4% Transportation, 5.1% Central Office, 2.3% Source: Council analysis of NYSED School District Fiscal Profile data ( ); Big 5 Cities not included Where school spending goes -- by commodity Salaries & wages, 54.5% Employee benefits, 20.2% Everything else, 25.2% Source: Council analysis of US Census Bureau data ( ); Big 5 Cities not included Personnel As noted, 70 to 80 percent of spending in a typical district is devoted to personnel. That means 70 to 80 percent of any cuts needed to achieve a balanced budget are likely to come from personnel. Although the impulse of school leaders and voters may be to cut things before people, that becomes harder and harder after a series of lean years exhausts less painful options. There are two ways to reduce personnel costs: employ fewer people, or spend less per employee. Like it or not, districts have more latitude to exercise the former option than the latter salaries and many benefits are locked-in by contracts, and pension contributions are prescribed by state law and retirement system calculations. Nonetheless, THE COUNCIL s survey found districts using both approaches. 13

15 Teacher compensation is the largest single item in virtually every district s budget and reducing teaching positions was the most commonly reported personnel cost reduction. Statewide, 67 percent of superintenddents said their districts reduced teaching positions this year, down from 72 percent in PERSONNEL At least once in last 3 years Salary freeze or other cost reduction in salary or benefits for superintendent 45% 59% 34% 79% Cost-reduction concession in salaries or benefits for other central office administrators 36% 50% 22% 69% Cost-reduction concession in salaries or benefits for building level administrators 35% 45% 20% 66% Cost-reduction concession in salaries or benefits agreed to by teacher union 35% 31% 15% 54% Cost-reduction concession in salaries or benefits agreed to by any other union 30% 28% 13% 48% Reduction in central office administration positions 22% 25% 22% 47% Reduction in building-level administration positions 18% 25% 20% 43% Reduction in teaching positions 67% 72% 62% 87% Reduction in other instructional support or student services positions 56% 60% 46% 76% Reduction in other positions 59% 60% 47% 79% Other reduction in personnel costs 38% 33% 27% 47% We estimate that districts reduced their teaching staffs by an average of 3.6 percent, this year, down from 4.3 percent in Fewer districts also report cutting administrative positions this year there are fewer to eliminate. 9 But districts continued to cut these positions more steeply than teaching jobs, eliminating an average of 5.2 percent of their administrative positions. 9 By law, districts are required to report compensation for all administrative positions carrying the title superintendent, or deputy/associate/assistant superintendent, or any other certified administrative position (e.g., principal) paying more than $123,000. For , 301 districts 44 percent of the total report only one position meeting the criteria their superintendent. Some may have other central office positions bearing different titles and paying below the reporting threshold, but this measure does give some indication of how administratively lean many districts are. Percentage of positions eliminated by category, Total Positions Layoffs Attrition Eliminated Classroom teachers 2.2% 1.4% 3.6% Other instructional or student support personnel 3.9% 2.0% 5.9% Administrators 3.1% 2.1% 5.2% Other Employees 1.7% 1.0% 2.7% TOTAL 2.4% 1.5% 3.9% Position reductions are down across all categories compared to But it is essential to recognize that the impact is cumulative this year s 3.9 percent reduction in total positions comes on top of last year s estimated 4.9 percent cut. Further, data compiled by the Gannett News Service Capitol Bureau 10 shows that districts outside the Big 5 cities reduced total staffing by another 3.9 percent in the two preceding years ( and ). Compounding all these figures suggests that school districts have eliminated roughly 12 percent of their positions since Teachers Other Student Support Administrators Percent reduction in positions by category, and Other Total % 2% 4% 6% 8% 4.3% 3.6% 3.6% 2.7% 5.2% 4.9% 3.9% 5.9% As in , job cuts tended to be deeper in city and rural districts than in suburbs. City districts reported cutting total positions by an average of 5.2 percent, compared to 4.4 percent in rural districts and 3.3 percent in suburbs. 10 School enrollment, staff continue to decline, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, August 20, % 7.5% 14

16 Total positions eliminated, by category and type, City Rural Suburb Total Teachers 4.8% 4.2% 3.1% 3.6% Other Student Support 7.7% 6.0% 5.4% 5.9% Administrators 4.0% 6.1% 5.0% 5.2% Other 3.5% 3.5% 2.1% 2.7% Total 5.2% 4.4% 3.3% 3.9% Superintendents led other categories of employees in accepting salary freezes or agreeing to other compensation changes to save money for their districts: 49 percent of superintendents report taking such steps in , and 79 percent said they had done so at least once in the past three years. 11 Cost-saving concessions have been less common among unionized employees. Nonetheless, the percentages have grown. For example, 35 percent of superintendents report a cost-reduction agreed to by their teacher union in , up from 15 percent two years ago ( ). As discussed below, the property tax levy cap may have an impact on collective bargaining in some districts. Instruction While personnel is the largest area of school spending measured by commodity, instruction is the greatest expense area measured by purpose, accounting for 74.7 percent of total spending according to the State Education Department s School District Fiscal Profiles. Accordingly, when cuts are necessary, it is hard for schools to spare either of these large areas. By a wide margin, the most common cost reduction in instruction this year has been to increase class sizes, reported by 59 percent of districts, up from 48 percent in Next most common were reducing summer school and reducing or deferring the purchase of instructional technology, each reported by 31 percent of superintendents. Then came reduc- 11 According to administrative compensation data reported to the State Education Department, the statewide average superintendent salary has been roughly flat for the past three years $165,577 in ,$165,464 in , and $165,953 in In addition, in each of the past two years, over half the state s districts report paying their superintendent the same or less compared to the prior year. ing extra help for students during the regular school day or year. As explained elsewhere in this report, assuring extra help for students emerges as a top concern for many superintendents. This year s survey added questions asking specifically about actions affecting early childhood education kindergarten and prekindergarten. Although there have been warnings that some districts are forced to consider cutting kindergarten, it appears few have done so yet. One superintendent reported that his or her district eliminated kindergarten in In each of the three years asked about, one superintendent reported a district scaling back from full-day, to halfday kindergarten. This suggests that over the past three years, a total of 2 percent of districts have made that reduction in kindergarten services. For the current year, 5 percent of superintendents reported reducing prekindergarten, and 1 percent reported eliminating the service altogether. Not all districts offer pre-k, however, so the prevalence of cuts would be higher if counted against districts which actually had a program to cut. INSTRUCTION At least once in last 3 years Increased class size 59% 48% 30% 67% Reduced non-mandated art classes 16% 18% 11% 31% Reduced non-mandated music classes 20% 19% 9% 33% Reduced advanced or honors classes 17% 13% 7% 24% Reduced summer school 31% 27% 20% 44% Reduced extra help for students during the regular school day or year 22% 23% 14% 32% Reduced student enrollment in career and technical programs 18% 12% 7% 23% Reduced/deferred purchase of instructional technology 31% 26% 20% 42% Reduced/deferred purchase of textbooks 18% 13% 8% 21% Reduced/deferred purchase of library materials 17% 13% 9% 22% Eliminated prekindergarten 1% 0% 1% 3% Reduced prekindergarten 5% 2% 1% 8% Eliminated kindergarten 0% 0% 0% 1% Moved from full-day to half-day kindergarten 0% 0% 0% 2% Other reduction in kindergarten 0% 1% 0% 3% Combined grade two levels in a single classroom 4% 2% 1% 7% Other reduction in instruction 34% 23% 14% 38% 15

17 Other direct student services THE COUNCIL survey finds that districts have continued to make cuts to other student services. The proportions of superintendents saying their districts reduced sports or other extracurricular activities declined from , after sharp jumps in reported cuts to those areas last year. The share saying they had reduced special education rose. In all of these areas, over half of superintendents said their districts had made cuts at least once in the last three years. OTHER DIRECT STUDENT SERVICES At least once in last 3 years Reduced interscholastic sports 34% 41% 27% 57% Reduced other extracurricular activities (other than interscholastic sports) 34% 39% 22% 55% Changes in special education which reduced costs 41% 37% 22% 52% Reduced other direct student services 27% 22% 12% 32% Reduced pupil transportation 28% 28% 12% 42% Other reduction in student services costs 21% 16% 11% 24% Operations, maintenance and construction Operations and maintenance costs comprise only 6.5 percent of total school spending on average, but in striving to cut things rather than people, districts have continued to be aggressive in seeking savings from this area. Of all the budget actions across all areas, implementing some form of energy conservation (57 percent) was the third most common, behind the connected actions of cutting teachers (67 percent) and increasing class sizes (59 percent). The share of superintendents reporting their districts have deferred maintenance is rising, from 26 percent in , to 40 percent this year. An apparently small proportion of districts anticipates deferring a capital project this year (16 percent). But not all districts need to take on a capital project in any given year. OPERATIONS, MAINTENANCE AND CONSTRUCTION At least once in last 3 years Deferred maintenance 40% 36% 26% 47% Any form of energy conservation 57% 48% 33% 66% Delayed a capital project 16% 14% 10% 24% Outsourced custodial/ maintenance work 2% 2% 2% 4% Reducing or deferring purchases of supplies, other than those related to instruction 41% 36% 26% 48% Other reduction in operation, maintenance or construction costs 39% 32% 22% 45% Other actions Our survey also allowed superintendents to checkoff an assortment of miscellaneous budget cutting strategies. At least 40 percent of superintendents reported reducing funding for staff travel and professional development, reducing participation in BOCES services, making other shared service arrangements outside of BOCES, and reducing reserves. Some of the districts which reported reducing use of BOCES services said they had also increased their use of these services. From past anecdotal information gathering efforts, we have found districts scaling back participation in BOCES special education programs, choosing to serve students with disabilities in-house instead. At the same time, districts also reported making more aggressive use of BOCES administrative services, including cooperative purchasing, shared business offices, and energy management, for example. The survey also shows steady growth in shared service arrangements outside of BOCES, reaching 40 percent in Statewide, 14 percent of superintendents report that their districts closed a school building at least once in the past three years. As observed above, you can t cut what you don t have. Small districts operate fewer schools, so, not surprisingly, only 2 percent of districts with fewer than 500 students closed a building. But 29 percent of those with over 5,000 students report having done so. 16

18 OTHER ACTIONS At least once in last 3 years Closed a school building 5% 7% 3% 14% Change in school schedule for the purpose of reducing costs (e.g., discontinuing block scheduling) 14% 10% 4% 23% Reduced funding for staff travel 52% 48% 35% 61% Reduced participation in professional development by administrators 44% 41% 28% 54% Reduced participation in professional development by teachers 42% 40% 26% 51% Reduced participation in professional development by other staff (other than teachers and administrators) 32% 30% 20% 38% Reduced participation in BOCES services 42% 36% 23% 51% Increased participation in BOCES services 25% 21% 9% 31% Increased participation in other shared services arrangements (not through BOCES) 40% 25% 13% 43% Reduced or eliminated undesignated reserves 52% 43% 26% 58% Reduced or eliminated designated reserves 47% 41% 22% 53% Changed purchasing practices 36% 28% 16% 42% Other 8% 7% 4% 11% Impact of budget decisions Our survey also asked superintendents to assess the impact of their districts budget upon various functions. More than 40 percent of superintendents anticipated that the adopted budget would have a negative impact on these functions: operations and maintenance (50 percent), extracurricular activities (49 percent), extra help for students who need it (48 percent), administration (46 percent), athletics (45 percent), and core instruction in elementary grades (41 percent). Percentages of superintendents anticipating that their districts budget would have a negative impact were down modestly across all service categories. Few superintendents anticipate positive impacts, however. Extra help for students who need it drew the highest share of superintendents foreseeing a severe negative impact from the district budget, with 9 percent. Budget impacts by district type Rural superintendents were more likely to anticipate negative effects on basic instruction from their districts adopted budgets than were their city and suburban counterparts. City superintendents exhibited widespread concern about extra help for students who need it, as well as operations and maintenance, administration, and extracurricular activities, with over 60 percent foreseeing negative effects in each area. Among rural superintendents, extracurricular activities (53 percent) and extra help (52 percent) were most commonly seen as negatively affected. Impact on administration was the most common concern among suburban superintendents (49 percent), followed by operations and maintenance (46 percent). Conversely, between 10 and 15 percent of suburban superintendents anticipate their districts budgets will have positive effects on core elementary, middle or secondary instruction. 17

19 Impact of and budgets on selected school operations Severe negative impact Some negative impact No change from prior year Positive impact 2011 Instruction in English, mathematics, science, and soc. studies 2012 Core instruction in elementary grades 2012 Middle level instruction in English, math, science, and soc. studies 2012 High school instruction in English, math, science, and soc. studies 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% 2011 Extra help for students who need it 2012 Extra help for students who need it 2011 Advanced or enrichment classes 2012 Advanced or enrichment classes 2011 Instruction in art 2012 Instruction in art 2011 Instruction in music 2012 Instruction in music 2011 Special education 2012 Special education 2011 Athletics 2012 Athletics 2011 Other extracurricular activities 2012 Other extracurricular activities 2011 Student transportation 2012 Student transportation 2011 Other student services 2012 Other student services 2011 Operations and maintenance 2012 Operations and maintenance 2011 Administration 2012 Administration 2011 Other district operations and services 2012 Other district operations and services 18

20 Percentage of superintendents anticipating some or severe negative impact from budget decisions on various school operations -- by district type: Total City Rural Suburb Core instruction in elementary 41% 33% 43% 39% grades Instruction in English, math, 33% 33% 36% 29% science, and social studies in the middle level grades Instruction in English, math, 37% 40% 42% 28% science, and social studies in high school Extra help for students who need 48% 73% 52% 37% it -- any level Instruction in art -- any level 27% 23% 27% 26% Student transportation 33% 57% 34% 27% Advanced or enrichment classes 35% 50% 39% 28% Special education 20% 14% 23% 15% Athletics 44% 43% 47% 40% Other extracurricular activities 48% 62% 53% 39% Instruction in music -- any level 26% 23% 32% 19% Other student services 34% 15% 39% 31% Operations and maintenance 49% 80% 48% 46% Administration 46% 69% 40% 49% Other district operations and services 43% 57% 43% 43% Budget impacts by region Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley are the state s most affluent regions, measured by property wealth or resident income per pupil. Superintendents in those regions were less likely to anticipate negative consequences from school budgets than their colleagues in other regions. Yet Central New York is one of the poorest regions and its superintendents were also more optimistic on average than colleagues elsewhere. Superintendents in the North Country, Western New York, and the Mohawk Valley were more likely to foresee negative impacts from their district budgets. Seventy-four percent of North Country superintendents believe extra help for students who need it will be negatively affected by their school budget, the highest negative share for any service in any region. Once again, you can t cut what you don t have or what you have only in minimal quantity. This may explain the low negative impact anticipated for advanced classes in the Southern Tier, or art and music in the North Country. 19

21 In their own words: Budgeting Choices We were forced to take drastic budget measures in the school year. During that year, we reduced our staff (all areas) by 10%+. We continue to operate at a skeleton level of services for our students. As a rural school district, we already offer a many fewer programmatic opportunities than our wealthier colleagues. Any further reductions in programs and/or services would severely limit the educational prospects of our students. We have been routinely reducing administration (25% over three years) and were forced to go deeper at central office this year to avoid further reductions in the buildings. Set minimum class sizes at HS and allowed class sized to be larger than previous years in accelerated and advanced courses. Reduced the heck out of O and M [operations and maintenenance]. Outsourced leadership for O and M. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Because of the reduction in administration at the central office level a few years ago, we are all doing more with fewer personnel, including sharing secretaries. We have not had much impact on serving our AIS students because the board has been adamant re no cuts. We also support kids via federal grants. Our class sizes in HS and MS are nearing 30 so we could have smaller class sizes in the elementary grades, i.e., 22-24/class. We have cut all the non-instructional we can. We really don't know where we can cut yet again, it will be the fifth year in a row. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent We had little to cut since major cuts were undertaken before the school year. We are struggling with the reductions to this point but will make it through the year. However, without support from the state even for low need schools we will be forced to continue to challenge the cap or eviscerate program components as operational components can no longer be cut and maintain the district operations. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent The lack of cuts to administration is not because of excess administrators, it is because we have one Principal in the elementary school, a middle school Principal that is also the CSE (committee on special education) chair and one HS Principal. There are no other central office administrators besides the superintendent, so there is no place to cut. With the increased requirements under 3012-c (teacher/ principal evaluations), it will be difficult at best to complete the new requirements. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Because of the massive layoffs required to pass the budget, the board decided to exceed the tax levy limit in our first budget vote. We did not pass. We reduced to the tax levy limit, and passed on the second vote. The entire process was contentious funding reductions and somewhat divisive. We need some sort of "consideration" from our teachers unit, but have yet to receive it. This is harming our ability to gain community support for our budget. As a superintendent, my salary has been frozen for the fourth year, I am paying more for my health insurance, I have a smaller administrative team with which to work, and I am having a hard time keeping people motivated and positive particularly given the rapid pace of change in regulations from NYSED. As a small rural district, we do not have the capacity that other districts do, and our effectiveness is slowly being eroded as a result of funding reductions. In my opinion we are out of magic. We have eliminated over 51 positions through attrition over the past three years. We have closed 2 schools. We have doubled our appropriated fund balance and will be under the 4% allowable amount. We have squeezed all that can be squeezed. We do not spend anywhere what we need for technology. We are postponing capital projects. We have kept spending under 1% and the levy increase under 2% for each of the three past years. My salary has been frozen twice and the administrators have made serious concessions. However, CSEA and NYSUT employee costs ---and they are 90% of our work force--- continue to increase well in excess of 2% per year. We are experiencing an increase in enrollment but are constrained in the addition of teaching and student support positions because of the tax cap and the current economic situation. Our classes and our programs are at capacity and I am really concerned because my honest assessment is that we are stretching people and programs too far. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent 20

22 Adapting to the tax levy cap Districts developed and adopted their budgets under the state s new property tax levy cap law for the first time this past spring. Actual proposed budget figures and our survey responses point to the same conclusion: the cap led districts to propose lower spending and tax increases than would have occurred under the old rules. In the first round of voting, districts proposed budgets with spending increases averaging 1.7 percent and tax increases averaging 2.2 percent. Budget vote day brought the second highest known approval rate 96.5 percent 12, including 99 percent of districts proposing increases within their levy limit. Almost two-thirds of the districts attempting to over-ride their levy limit were successful in obtaining the 60 percent of voters needed for approval. Ultimately, only two districts were required to adopt a contingency budget, with no increase in tax levy over the prior year, as required by the new law. Assessing the impact For the state as a whole, 67 percent of superintendents said that the tax levy cap had led their districts to adopt budgets with spending levels below what would have been done without the cap. Included in that share were 17 percent of superintendents who described their districts adopted spending level as significantly lower. Asked to appraise how the tax levy cap affected programs and services, 60 percent said it caused their adopted budget to have either a somewhat more negative impact (50 percent), or significantly more negative impact (10 percent) than would have occurred without the cap. Impact by region Looking at the perceived impact of the tax levy cap by region, it is hard to identify patterns. With some reflection, however, it becomes apparent that there are multiple considerations which might interact to affect how the cap would influence budget impact. 12 The highest pass rate was 97.3 percent in 2009; the State Education Department has figures going back to Poorer districts tend to be more heavily dependent on state aid for two reasons. First, state aid does have progressive elements which direct greater revenue per pupil to poorer districts. Second, they have less property wealth to tax with identical tax rates, a poor district will raise less local revenue than a wealthy district. So local taxes typically comprise a larger share of total revenues for wealthy districts, suggesting they would be more likely to ascribe budget impacts to the tax levy cap. But even with a tax increase within the levy limit, a wealthier district will raise more revenue than a poor district levying at the same rate. Further, rich or poor, local political considerations also affect judgments about how large a tax increase taxpayers might support. Last, while exemptions from the cap might allow districts a higher tax levy limit, many local leaders ruled out seeking increases greater than 2 percent, believing their voters would apply that widely cited number as a benchmark. Among regions, superintendents in the Lower Hudson Valley, with the greatest property wealth per pupil, ascribed the least impact on spending levels to the cap. Perhaps their ability to raise relatively larger sums at any given tax rate cushioned the impact of the tax levy cap. On the other hand, the North Country, with many low wealth districts, had a high rate of perceived impact on spending. This may reflect the limited sums many of these districts can raise at any tax rate. Total Long Island Lower Hudson Valley Mid-Hudson Valley Capital Region Mohawk Valley Central New York North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes Western New York Impact of tax cap on budgeted spending levels Somewhat lower Significantly lower 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% There were similar results for these two regions on the questions about how the tax levy cap affected programs and services. 21

23 Total Long Island Lower Hudson Valley Mid-Hudson Valley Capital Region Mohawk Valley Central New York North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes Western New York Impact of tax cap on programs and services Somewhat negative Significantly negative 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Though often cited as a model, Massachusetts s tax levy cap is more generous to local governments and schools than New York s version. Massachusetts communities may increase their tax levy by up to 2.5 percent without seeking voter approval, and may over-ride that cap with a simple majority of voters. New York s law forbids schools any increase in tax levy without approval by at least a simple majority of voters, and requires 60 percent of voters to over-ride. Yet although Massachusetts s law is more favorable to local governments, one study 13 concluded it had more adversely affected poor communities they were less likely to attempt over-rides and less likely to succeed when they did try. THE COUNCIL s analysis of past school district budget votes suggests similar risks high need small city and suburban districts seem likely to have the greatest difficulty winning over-ride votes. But with so few unsuccessful votes this year, it is not yet possible to draw reliable conclusions about future over-ride prospects. As a group, high need rural districts proposed the lowest tax increases, made the least use of exemptions, and were least likely to attempt over-rides Tax levy decisions by SED Need/Resource Category Need/Resource Capacity Category Proposed Tax Increase Proposed Tax Levy as % of Levy Limit % Attempting Tax Cap Over-Rides High Need Small Cities and Suburbs 2.2% 99.4% 6.5% High Need Rural 1.8% 97.9% 5.8% Average Need 2.1% 99.4% 8.6% Low Need 2.4% 99.7% 7.5% TOTAL STATE 2.2% 99.4% 7.6% SOURCE: Council analysis of NYSED Property Tax Report Card and budget vote data 13 "Hidden consequences: Lessons from Massachusetts for states considering a property tax cap." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 25 May Web. 27 Sept Tax levy cap impact on collective bargaining Some tax levy cap proponents described it as a blunt instrument which would force state officials to get serious about enacting mandate relief, and compel local leaders to manage more efficiently and negotiate more aggressively with employee unions. Our survey asked superintendents for their impression of how the tax levy cap might affect collective bargaining with their local teacher union. We singled out teacher unions and did not inquire about other employee categories in order to limit the overall length of the survey, and because teacher compensation is the largest expense in virtually every district budget. Statewide, 59 percent of superintendents said that they thought that the tax levy cap increased the likelihood that their district would be able to negotiate a cost saving concession with their teacher union, or that it had already contributed to achieving savings. Thirty-one percent thought the cap would not affect the prospects for negotiating cost savings, while 10 percent said doing so was not a priority. A superintendent might give the latter answer if the district had previously negotiated savings, or if it is believed that its teacher compensation is not competitive. Perceived impact of tax cap on chances of negotiating cost-savings with teacher union Already contributed to negotiating savings Significantly more likely Somewhat more likely Negotiating savings not a priority now No impact 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 5% 10% 15% 31% 40% In response to our invitation for open-ended comments, a couple superintendents said that the tax cap had had a negative impact on bargaining prospects. 22

24 In their own words: Contemplating the Tax Cap We may be able to go on for three more years only without additional funding. A two percent increase yearly only nets us a little over 40 thousand dollars. The impact of the tax cap was softened this year by the savings from a significant number of teacher retirements in response to an incentive. We expect to face an ongoing imbalance in expenses vs. revenue after this year. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Significant fund balance and reserves were used to get to the 2% tax levy increase. We chose to stay at 2% even though our allowable increase was 3.8%. The feedback we were getting was that anything over 2% wouldn't pass due to the large amount of publicity of the 2% and misunderstandings around this idea. ~ Upstate city superintendent The tax cap has achieved its intended result - which was to curtail the salaries and benefits to employees. Long term consequences of this have yet to be determined. Class sizes are "creeping up" - while still manageable, may be a problem within two or three years ~ Downstate suburban superintendent Poor rural districts could never balance a budget or make up for lost state aid through an increase of the local tax levy. We have been near or under 2% for years. Community assumption - no more than 2% tax levy increase. We feared a defeated budget if we raised it to our limit, about 8%. This year, the tax cap was near our traditional offering to the public. At $33,000 per 1% of the levy, the tax cap has minimal impact with a passed budget under the cap level. We do have concerns if a budget goes to contingency... We are entering a second year without a teachers' and administrators' contact and the tax cap is not recognized at the table as a concern on their part. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent Our teachers union does not want to hear anything about the tax levy limit- they believe that either we should crumble, or utilize every last cent of reserves before they should be asked to give anything back. It is difficult to compare options under the tax cap when you raise less that $15, 000 with 1% increase on the tax levy. We share multiple services and have tried to consolidate every way possible. Districts needs a choice beyond the concept of a merger. The Regional High School (if done right) could give multiple new opportunities for kids as well as a positive choice for communities. The cap may not assist in negotiations when the contracts are governed by Triborough. Most situations will guarantee large raises and maintain benefits under Triborough and there is really no impetus to move if Triborough gives you a great deal to maintain the status quo. Luckily not all districts have to deal with a militant unit and can reach some type of a solution that can benefit all. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Our tax levy was under 2% for the three years before the tax cap so significant cuts were already made. The cap will leverage some short term advantages in bargaining with this 3-year trend that preceded it - but this is all short term. It will come back to haunt us and everyone unless other mandates are removed and the state gets its priorities straight. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent Our district raises about $76,000 per 1% increase in the tax levy, making foundation aid the critical element in our budgeting process. We completed contract negotiations with the teachers last spring. The tax cap contributed to the discussion but was not the sole reason we successfully controlled costs through negotiations. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent The Gov has touted Massachusetts for its "workable" tax cap. We need to make sure that people know that NYS has not matched the same levels of funding that MA did. There is a lot of misinformation and our politicians have not helped. 23

25 Implementing evaluation reforms In the 2011 survey, we posed two questions regarding Race to the Top (RTTT) the Obama Administration s education reform initiative which promises New York State nearly $700 million over four years to support systemic improvements in standards, assessments, data systems, teacher and leader quality, and low-performing school interventions. In 2011, 91 percent of superintendents said that the costs of implementing RTTT activities would significantly exceed the amount of aid their district would receive through that federal grant. The average basic grant to school districts outside the Big 5 cities is estimated to be around $100,000 to be paid over four years. In the other RTTT question a year ago, 81 percent of superintendents agreed with the statement that cost considerations will prevent their districts from implementing new teacher and principal evaluation requirements in a manner that would best serve students. This year we chose to focus on one dimension of the Race to the Top agenda the efforts to implement changes in teacher and principal evaluation practices, as required under state legislation enacted in 2010 and revised in Some district leaders have referred to the initiative as the mother of all unfunded mandates. Anticipated cost impact Statewide, 98 percent of superintendents said compliance with the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) requirements will cost their districts more than what it would have traditionally spent on evaluations the highest statewide response percentage of any question in our survey. An overwhelming majority (70 percent) of superintendents offered that the new APPR requirements will significantly increase evaluation costs in their districts compared to what was spent under prior practices. To what extent did complying with the new APPR requirements require your district to increase what it expects to spend on teacher and principal evaluationbeyond what it would have traditionally spent? Significantly increase spending Somewhat increase spending No signicant effect Reduce spending 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 2% 0% 28% This mandate complicates school finances across the state, no matter region. Mid-Hudson Valley districts anticipate the greatest fiscal impact from the new APPR: 93 percent of the region s superintenddents said complying with the new APPR law would significantly increase spending while the remaining 7 percent said compliance would somewhat increase spending. Lower Hudson Valley superintendents were least negative in appraising cost impact, with 56 percent concluding the new requirements would significantly increase costs. Nonetheless, every superintendent in that region anticipated some additional cost impact. Total Long Island Lower Hudson Valley Mid-Hudson Valley Capital Region Mohawk Valley Central New York North Country Cost impact of new teacher evaluation requirements Significant increase above past cost 56% 70% 68% 67% 67% 63% 79% 93% 44% 28% 29% 30% 33% 38% 14% 70% Somewhat increase above past cost 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 7% Southern Tier 65% 35% Finger Lakes 76% 24% Western New York 64% 30% 24

26 Only a few districts statewide stated that compliance with APPR would not significantly affect costs over what has traditionally been spent on teacher and principal evaluation. The overwhelming majority of districts who indicated APPR would not significantly affect costs are small, with less than 500 students. It might fairly be asked why, if schools have been evaluating teachers and principals all along, would new requirements impose added costs? So we asked superintendents what they identify as the largest cost drivers within the new evaluation mandate. Professional development for teachers and principals were listed as the first and second largest new cost components, followed by new student assessment costs. By better than a two-to-one margin over any other item, superintendents picked teacher profession development as the single largest costdriver, and 74 percent of superintendents chose it as one of the top three cost drivers. Professional development for principals and other administrators followed, with 65 percent of superintendents identifying it as one of the top three cost drivers. There has been considerable debate about new student assessment demands required by APPR, both on budgets for school districts, and instructional time for students. 14 Purchasing of tests from vendors was listed as the third largest cost driver for APPR, followed closely by development of additional student assessments by district staff. 14 The new procedures require that 20 percent of an evaluation be based on student growth on state assessments, and 20 percent on locally assessed measures of student performance, with the percentages shifting to 25 percent state/15 percent local once the Board of Regents approves a value added measure. For teachers in subjects not covered by state assessments, districts are required to develop Student Learning Objectives which will commonly require pre- and postinstruction tests to determine student growth. Looking at the list below, what do you believe will be the largest components of any additional costs for your district in implementing the new APPR requirements? Please rank the top 3 items. Rank 1 Rank 2 Rank 3 Weighted Score 1. Professional development for teachers Professional development for principals 2. and other administrators Purchase of additional student 3. assessments from vendors Development of additional student 4. assessments by district staff Paying current staff for additional time needed to implement APPR (for purposes other than development of additional 5. student assessments) Purchase of other materials (not student 6. assessments) from vendors Additional staffing Consultant costs Other costs Demands on administration Administrative expenditures by school districts are often a popular target. But policymakers depend on school administrators to ensure that all the mandates they impose are faithfully executed. At the same time, our survey shows that administrative positions have been cut more steeply than teaching jobs across the state. We estimate that over the past two years districts have eliminated an average of 12 percent of their administrator positions. Not surprisingly then, many district leaders are alarmed by the challenges they foresee in administering the new APPR mandate. Statewide, 73 percent of superintendents estimate that more than 30 percent of their principals or other administrators time will be spent conducting teacher evaluations in accord with the new mandate. Within that total, more than 40 percent predict completing teacher evaluations will consume over 40 percent of an administrator s time. Some superintendents caution that devoting 40 percent of the work week to evaluations (for example) may be appropriate, but questions arise over how time is spent. Do districts have adequate capacity to do evaluations well and meet other administrative demands? Can they strike a good balance between complying with evaluation protocols for every teacher and focusing on those who need the most attention to be successful? 25

27 Approximately what percentage of a typical principal or other administrator's timedo you anticipate will be spent on conducting teacher evaluations in compliance with the new APPR requirements? 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% Shares of districts projecting principals will need to spend more than 20% of their time on teacher evaluations --by region More than 20%, up to 30% More than 30%, up to 40% More than 40% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Under 10% 0% Total 19% 32% 41% More than 10%, up to 20% 8% Long Island Lower Hudson Valley 32% 29% 37% 41% 18% 18% More than 20%, up to 30% 19% Mid-Hudson Valley 7% 20% 47% More than 30%, up to 40% 32% Capital Region 7% 41% 48% More than 40% 41% Mohawk Valley 13% 13% 60% Central New York 19% 13% 56% Administrative time spent on APPR evaluations varies by district type. Superintendents from city school districts foresee the greatest administrative demands from APPR evaluations: 73 percent of city superintendents indicate more than 40 percent of their principals time will be spent on APPR compared to 24 percent of suburban superintendents. Shares of districts projecting principals will need to spend more than 20% of their time on teacher evaluations --by region More than 20%, up to 30% More than 30%, up to 40% More than 40% Total City Suburb Rural 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 19% 13% 15% 7% 26% 30% 32% 38% 73% 41% 49% 24% North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes Western New York 13% 12% 25% 21% 25% 42% 32% With the advent of state-imposed limits on the two major revenue sources for schools property taxes and School Aid new state-imposed costs almost inevitably require reductions in other school functions. This is true for the new teacher and principal evaluation mandates. Some of the monetary costs they require are transitional, and will diminish as new procedures become established. But there is no reason to anticipate any appreciable diminution in the pressures they impose on school administration. Principals now will also be called upon to play pivotal roles in carrying out new state mandates to thwart bullying and cyber-bullying. 32% 54% 41% 43% 45% By region, administrative time spent on teacher evaluation is slightly varied. But again the overwhelming majority of all regions seem to indicate that more than at least 30 percent of a principal s time will be spent on complying with the new APPR requirements. Superintendents, educators and parents have often voiced their concern the time principals will be spending on complying with APPR will remove them from their needed instructional role in school buildings. These survey results seem to echo this sentiment. 26

28 In their own words: Evaluation Mandate The APPR has been the largest unfunded mandate and has had the most impact to my budget since I became Superintendent 7 years ago. This new APPR which would otherwise be a positive thing for schools, has turned into a fiasco between the time it has taken to negotiate new terms and conditions regarding its implementation and the cost of the implementation. All of these issues have had a negative impact on the annual budget because we have continually gone back to the BOE for approval of things which were not budgeted for initially in order to deal with the implementation of the new APPR. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent Impossible to properly implement APPR due to limited number of administrators - Too many other administrative demands already exist, not enough time - the current 60 hour week for administrators can't be expanded. To conduct APPR properly, more administrative positions are needed, yet the community can't support such. It is humanly impossible. ~ Upstate city superintendent We continue to cut administrative positions each year as we add on more and more daily responsibilities. While evaluation and student management should always be top priorities, there is a limit to what a person can accomplish in any given day The cost to meet the SED standards is significant as we will now be required to purchase outside vendor products for evaluation. Our former model was clinical, research based, and fair. I do not believe the new expensive system will change our decisions in regard to what employees are terminated due to poor performance. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent I think that principals must be instructional leaders. I agree their time should be spent IN classrooms. What has not been taken into consideration are the management duties for principals. If principals are in classrooms, who manages the building? Who deals with all of the parent issues? Student issues? Approval of purchase requisitions... the list goes on and on The new APPR, as negotiated in my district, requires me to be available for appeals. As a result, I cannot do any formal observation of teachers. This results in my principal taking the full burden. I normally observe 25-33% of the staff annually. Once again, capacity and scale impact our ability to do this work. We developed a quality APPR plan, but are currently at impasse with teachers, as they will not settle without a salary agreement. Even with what was quality work, there are improvements that need to be made in our evaluative approach and process, that will not be made for some period of time, because of all of the other items that are taking the time and attention of the administrators. I have no idea how our principals are going to be able to sustain themselves working under these conditions. They were worked to exhaustion prior to these changes, now between APPR and the Dignity Act, I truly have no idea how this work will get done. Hiring "help" is not an option. The entire APPR process is misguided. It is costing the district enormous amounts of resources in time, money, and personnel. The emphasis on testing is taking away from precious classroom instructional time. The emphasis on training for lead evaluators and multiple formal classroom evaluations as well as summative evaluations will severely and negatively affect the ability of administrators in all districts who "wear numerous hats" to be effective administrators in other areas of their job performance (discipline, leading curriculum development/ implementation, budgeting, hiring/firing, etc.). Illconceived from start to finish. It is going to take more effort and time for administration to properly evaluate staff. I know that the current configuration of administration will not be able to keep up with the new APPR particularly the implementation of TIPs if done properly. More staff is needed, but the community will not support it because they value lower class sizes over anything else in the budget. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent 27

29 Looking ahead Our survey concluded by asking superintendents to think ahead to estimate how much spending would need to increase to cover baseline costs, to gauge which might have greater significance for their districts the tax levy cap or future state aid levels, to cite priorities for mandate relief, and to say what they would prioritize if new revenue became available for their districts. Anticipated cost pressures In the recent past, it been common to hear school district leaders warn that their district s spending would increase by 4 or 5 percent or more under a roll-over budget a budget continuing existing service levels while adjusting projected expenses to reflect foreseeable changes in costs, such as negotiated salary increases. THE COUNCIL has estimated that pension and health insurance costs alone would have driven up overall spending by 2.5 percent in each of the two years prior to this, even if all other costs could have been frozen. Yet over the past four years, the school budgets actually proposed to their voters would have raised spending by an average of less than 2 percent per year. Superintendents and boards cut from baseline spending levels in order to hold down tax increases while accommodating austerity in state funding and surges in employee benefit costs. In both the 2011 and 2012 surveys, we asked superintendents to estimate the approximate percentage change in your district's spending if it adopted a budget maintaining current services, given collective bargaining agreements, enrollment changes, and other cost considerations. Looking ahead to next year, please estimate the approximate percentage change in your district's spending if it adopted a budget maintaining current services, given collective bargaining agreements, enrollment changes, and other cost considerations. Percent of districts Spending would be reduced below level 11% 2% There would be no change or almost no change in spending 4% 7% Spending would increase by up to 1% 3% 4% Spending would increase by more than 1%,up to 2% 9% 18% Spending would increase by more than 2%, up to 3% 13% 24% Spending would increase by more than 3%, up to 4% 25% 20% Spending would increase by more than 4%, up to 5% 17% 12% Spending would increase by more than 5%, up to 7% 11% 7% Spending would increase by more than 7%, up to 10% 5% 3% Spending would increase by more than 10% 2% 2% But there is reason to suspect that these expenditure projections may be optimistic. This month after the survey was conducted the State Teachers Retirement System projected a much larger increase in its employer contribution rate for than districts had to absorb in their current year budgets. The rate increased by 0.73 percentage points for school budgets (from to percent). But for , TRS estimates the rate will need to rise at least by at least 3.6 percentage points, to between 15.5 and 16.5 percent. District contributions are determined by multiplying this rate by the payroll for employees in TRS. So the new projected rates will require districts to absorb a cost equivalent to giving the covered employees raises of at least 3.6 percent, and perhaps as much as 4.6 percent. Comparing results from the two years suggests slowing of baseline spending growth for schools. In 2011, 56 percent of superintendents said their district budget for the following year would need to rise by more than 3 percent in order to accommodate foreseeable costs. In the 2012 survey, that share has fallen to 40 percent. 28

30 18% 16% 14% 12% 10% 8% 6% 4% 2% 0% 7.63% Employer Contribution Rate for Teachers Retirement System Actual contribution rates Projected range for % 6.19% 8.62% 11.11% Tax Levy Cap or State Aid which is of greater 11.84% 15.50% School fiscal year SOURCE: Compiled by Council from NYS TRS Administrative Bulletins concern? One of the most striking findings in the survey is a sharp increase in the importance attached to state aid as a revenue source for schools. Both last year and this year we asked superintenddents, Thinking about the future financial prospects of your school district, which is of greater concern to you the property tax cap or possible future state aid levels? This year s results show a 19 percent jump in the percentage of superintendents citing state aid as the greater concern. Thinking about the future financial prospects of your district, which is of greater concern to you -- the property tax cap, or possible future state aid levels? Tax Cap Equal Concern State Aid 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% For example, in the Lower Hudson Valley, the percentage of superintendents citing state aid as the greater concern for their districts moved slightly, from 5 percent to 11 percent. But the share identifying state aid and the tax cap as of equal concern soared, from 30 percent to 67 percent. In contrast, across the poorer Upstate regions away from the Hudson River, only 5 percent of superintendents now cite the tax levy cap as the greater fiscal concern for their districts. A year ago we observed that some districts were capped by circumstances before they were capped by law they simply could not ask their taxpayers for local tax increases great enough to offset cuts in state aid, surges in employee benefit costs, or both. According to data filed in property tax report cards last spring, 20 percent of the state s school districts would raise less than $50,000 through a 1 percent tax increase. Obviously, some of these districts are very small. But even a small district will need to spend $50,000 or more to pay salary and benefits to retain a single professional position. Among superintendents foreseeing the possibility of financial insolvency within two years, 71 percent identified possible state aid levels as the greatest revenue concern, compared to 44 percent for all superintendents. When superintendents foresee insolvency and what is the greatest revenue concern for their district Possible state aid levels Roughly equal concern Property tax cap 0% 50% 100% Insolvency within 2 years 49% 33% 18% % 52% 23% Between 2 and 4 years 49% 43% 8% At some point beyond 4 years 44% 44% 13% % 43% 44% Do not foresee a time when my district would not meet obligations 38% 41% 21% Unsure 9% 64% 27% As with the 2011 survey, the question yielded divergent reactions across regions, with poorer, more state aid dependent areas more likely to cite state aid as the greater concern in both years. Nonetheless, the 2012 survey shows superintendents across all regions assigning greater priority to state aid. 29

31 Thinking about the future financial prospects of your district, which is of greater concern to you -- the property tax cap, or possible future state aid levels? Region Total Long Island Lower Hudson Valley Mid-Hudson Valley Capital Region Mohawk Valley Central New York North Country Southern Tier Finger Lakes Western New York Property Tax Cap These results should not be interpreted to suggest that after one year with the tax levy cap, school leaders have concluded it s not so bad. More probably, superintendents see the tax levy cap as a fact of life, unlikely to be lifted or amended in the near-term. Therefore, they now attach more importance to securing additional help for their schools through state aid. In last year s report we observed, Equal Concern State Aid % 52% 23% % 43% 44% % 44% 7% % 46% 10% % 30% 5% % 67% 11% % 50% 25% % 53% 33% % 64% 14% % 46% 42% % 47% 32% % 36% 64% % 58% 33% % 38% 63% % 60% 23% % 46% 46% % 69% 19% % 38% 58% % 50% 33% % 26% 68% % 39% 42% % 39% 52% even if the property tax cap is the greater concern for a district, greater state aid is a way to address that concern. By reducing access to local revenues, the tax cap has the potential to raise the stakes in competition for state aid. Just one year of experience with the tax cap seems to have brought that dynamic into sharper focus. Priorities for Mandate Relief In the debates over whether to enact the tax levy cap, we said THE COUNCIL s position could be expressed in just 10 words: A tax cap will hurt schools. There are better options. As examples of better options, we urged state leaders to repeal or amend mandates so that schools could control costs and gain more impact from their spending. We also said the state needed to become a more reliable partner in supporting public education through School Aid. Now that the tax levy cap is in place, the need for action to deliver both forms of state help is more urgent. This year s survey includes a new question, asking superintendents to choose from 25 options and identify their top five priorities for actions the state could take to help schools reduce or control costs or gain more impact from their spending. Three priorities stand out in the results. Amending the Triborough Law, setting mandatory minimum employee and retiree contributions for health insurance, and stopping new unfunded mandates were chosen among top five priorities by more than half the superintendents responding to the survey. No other option received support from more than a third of superintendents. Triborough: Under the Triborough law, provisions of an expired collective bargaining agreement remain in force until a successor agreement is negotiated, including step increments which provide salary increases for an additional year of service. Seventy-three percent of superintendents picked amending Triborough to eliminate automatic step increases under an expired contract as one of their top five priorities and 43 percent picked it as their number one priority. Superintendents believe Triborough removes incentives for unions to settle contracts since negotiated benefits remain in place and most members continue to receive raises. THE COUNCIL advocates eliminating the guarantee of step increases but leaving benefit protections in place when a collective bargaining agreement expires For the record, if a superintendent s contract expires and is not renewed, he or she will be out of a job. 30

32 Although the specified change to Triborough would affect only salaries and would come into play only as a union contract reaches or nears expiration, it would be a pivotal reform, creating greater balance in collective bargaining and giving districts greater capacity to gain changes across the full range of issues subject to negotiation. Health Insurance: Establishing mandatory minimum contributions toward health insurance by employees and retirees was the second leading mandate relief priority, chosen by 64 percent of superintendents as one of their top five options. As part of the Let New York Work coalition, THE COUNCIL has supported capping employer contributions so employees pay at least 15 percent for individual coverage and 25 percent for family coverage. This change would reduce costs for districts now paying a larger share of health insurance costs. It would have broader effects as well: if union members must pay a higher share of costs, they may become more receptive to changes in plans which would lower total costs. But requiring greater employee and retiree contributions toward premiums would not directly address the most fundamental issues with health insurance that its cost is too great and is growing too fast. Another option offered in the survey is to require all public employees in a region to belong to a single health insurance plan, presuming that larger coverage pools would ultimately result in lower costs for both employers and employees. This option was the fifth most favored priority. Past surveys by THE COUNCIL have found districts moving to join health insurance consortia. But an impediment to maximizing the potential of this strategy is that health insurance benefits typically are collectively bargained and those contracts expire at different times. A state requirement would advance implementation of the strategy. Unfunded mandates: 55 percent of superintendents chose no new unfunded mandates as one of their top five priorities. As one example noted above, there is widespread frustration over the Looking at the list below, what would be your top five priorities for actions the state could take to help your district reduce or control costs, or gain more impact from its spending? Rank Weighted % Citing as Options Score a Prioriity 1 Amend the Triborough law to eliminate % automatic salary increments if a collective bargaining agreement has expired 2 Establish mandatory minimum % employee and retiree contributions for health insurance 3 No new unfunded mandates % 4 Reduce the role of seniority in layoff % decisions (i.e., modify "last in, first out") 5 Require all public employees in a % region to belong to a single health insurance program 6 Authorize the State Education % Department to order school district mergers, without voter approval, based on considerations including local financial capacity and inability to maintain comprehensive educational services, following a review with local input 7 Revise middle school requirements % 8 Authorize regional high schools to % serve students from multiple school districts 9 Other change in health insurance % 10 Revise special education class size % requirements 11 Streamline procedures for tenured % teacher hearings ("3020a reform") 12 Reduce reliance on "seat time" % requirements in high school by allowing students to earn credit by demonstrating proficiency in a subject instead 13 Other special education changes % 14 Other state actions to help schools % reduce or control costs or gain more impact from spending 15 Expand opportunities for districts to % share sertvices through BOCES 16 Revise due process procedures for % resolving special education disputes between districts and parents 17 Revise evaluation requirements for % making special education placements 18 Reduce mileage limits for mandated % transportation of nonpublic school students 18 Amend the ""Wicks law" to reduce or % eliminate the requirements to use multiple prime contractors in construction 20 Align teacher certification and tenure % areas 21 Streamline procedures for voluntary % school district consolidation while retaining a requirement for local voter approval 21 Require districts to collaborate in % providing out of district pupil transportation 23 Revise requirements for Academic % Intervention Services 24 Expand opportunities for students to % satisfy graduation requirements through career and technical education (CTE) options 25 Require districts below a minimum size to share some administrative functions % 31

33 cost of the new teacher and principal evaluation procedures required by the state. THE COUNCIL has supported legislation to limit the growth of unfunded mandates, for example, by requiring three-fifths approval by both houses of the Legislature before new ones may be adopted. There have also been proposals to enact a prohibition by amending the state constitution. Although the notion is popular, it is hard to enact into policy, in part due to the complexities of defining what is a mandate (is Triborough a mandate?) and establishing whether one imposes costs which are not completely funded. Also, any law to bar new unfunded mandates could be circumvented simply by passing a new law. The complexities of establishing what constitutes an unfunded mandate could make a constitutional prohibition an invitation for endless legal quagmires. But there is one simple way state officials could stop unfunded mandates by pledging to neither propose nor approve any new unfunded mandate. Reduce the role of seniority in layoff decisions: Under state law, when teacher layoffs are implemented, the must be done strictly on the basis of seniority, a policy summed up as last in, first out, or LIFO. Reducing the role of seniority would give districts latitude to retain higher performing newer teachers. This was the fourth most popular option, chosen as a priority by 34 percent of responding superintendents. School district consolidation and regionalism: The sixth most popular cost saving/ resource optimizing option might be a surprise. As one of their top five priorities, 20 percent of superintendents would authorize the State Education Department to order school district mergers, without voter approval, based on considerations including local financial capacity and inability to maintain comprehensive educational services, following a review with local input. Another interpretation of this result is that 80 percent of superintendents did not choose that option as a priority. Nonetheless, in some regions of the state superintendents see a need for their districts to join in mergers and are frustrated by the process for consolidation and by the common outcome voter rejection. Often superintendent support is motivated just partly by financial considerations, if at all. In communities which have suffered steep and steady enrollment losses, superintendents see their districts losing the capacity to provide students with comprehensive educational opportunities, especially at the high school level. At the same time, promoting consolidation is not a realistic option for the state as a comprehensive financial survival strategy for public education. First, assembling combinations of small, poor districts only results in larger poor districts. Also, the aggregate savings to taxpayers is small by definition. Second, administrative costs comprise a very limited portion of most school budgets particularly in small and poor districts and any savings in that function has typically been more than offset by the cost of leveling-up compensation established by the previously separate districts and their unions. Third, some of the districts which are lowest in wealth and smallest in enrollment are also largest in geographic area. For example, the average North County district serves under 1,000 students but occupies over 170 square miles. So merging pairs of districts in this region would necessitate transporting some students over areas bigger than New York City (322 square miles). Fourth, there are other states with comparable numbers of school districts and they do not spend at New York s per pupil levels (Illinois and Texas for example). So the number of school districts operating in New York does not explain our higher costs. Other options for regional collaboration won support. Expanding opportunities for districts to share services through BOCES and authorizing the establishment of regional high schools were chosen as priorities by 15 percent of responding superintenddents. These options would allow communities to retain control over local elementary schools while 32

34 saving on overhead costs and enhancing the ability to maintain more complete high school programs. Requiring districts below a certain size to share certain administrative functions finished last among the offered options. Special education: Special education is frequently cited as a major cost-driver for schools and an area where New York State mandates significantly exceed what federal law requires. Four different special education mandate relief options won support from at least 10 percent of the superintendents. Laws and regulations governing how these services are determined and delivered are extremely complex. THE COUNCIL has long called for an independent study to recommend changes, or merely to identify how New York diverges from common and effective practices in other states. Pension Reform: As explained above, pension costs have been a major cost driver for schools. We did not offer a pension reform proposal among the options, however, because the bitter debate over Governor Cuomo s Tier VI proposal made it seem unlikely that the Legislature would revisit this topic over the near-term. However, the previously described 3.6 to 4.6 percentage point increase in employer contribution rates for the Teachers Retirement System will rekindle interest in finding ways to level-out cost increases. TRS estimates that Tier VI will dramatically shift the employer/employee shares of long-term costs. Where the old Tier IV split costs 89 percent for employers and 11 percent for employees, Tier VI will divide them 49 percent/ 51 percent. But near-term savings will be small, both because districts typically are cutting jobs rather than rather than filling them now, and those that are filled are done by recalling laid-off workers who are entitled to continue in one of the earlier, more costly tiers. mandates and your current level of services? They were invited to name three top priorities. As with the 2011 survey, increasing extra help for struggling students was the top choice, and by a wider margin than a year ago. Reducing the local tax levy came in second, but with 19 percent fewer superintendents citing it as a priority, perhaps reflecting the impact of the tax levy cap. Increasing advanced or enrichment classes jumped three places (from 6 th to 3 rd ). Reducing class sizes, increasing reserves, and expanding professional development each moved down one place to round out the top six. The priority attached to increasing extra help aligns with the finding that the highest percentage of superintendents cited it as an area negatively affected by current year budget actions. If your district were to receive an increase in funding beyond what would be needed to fund state mandates and your current level of services, what would be your top three priorities for the use of that funding? % of superintendents choosing as a priority Increase extra help for struggling students 64% 66% Reduce property tax levy 57% 38% Increase enrichment/advanced classes 23% 37% Reduce class sizes 30% 26% Increase funding of reserves 29% 27% Expand professional development 28% 28% Increase other student support services 24% 21% Strengthen administration (district or building level) 9% 17% Purchase technology 12% 16% Improve maintenance 10% 8% Purchase other instruction-related materials 10% 7% Expand extracurricular activities or athletics 3% 5% Other 2% 3% Purchase other equipment 0% 2% Priorities for new funding We closed our survey with a hopeful question, asking superintendents what they would prioritize, if your district were to receive an increase in funding beyond what would be needed to fund state 33

35 In their own words: Looking Ahead Over the past two years we have cut almost 15% of staff. Depending primarily on TRS, ERS and health insurance we will have to cut another 5-10% of remaining staff for ~ Downstate suburban superintendent At the pace we are going we will be bankrupt within three years. Mandated cost increases for pensions and health insurance, combined with the 2% tax cap threaten the long-term capability of our instructional programs ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Our district is not able to offer the level of intervention services that our students need academically. We are getting by through under-spending our budget, being lean administratively and unfortunately not offering the depth of intervention serves our student s need. ~ Upstate city superintendent The District and the community have worked together to reduce expenses for four years with budget to budget increases of 1% to 1 1/2%. Even with these continued cuts to services and programs we cannot make up the massive loss of revenue as a direct result of the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment). Multiple years of this state aid cutting formula has put us in a position which will now force us to cut academic programming that will directly impact achievement results. Programs such as UPK, Kindergarten, and Summer School. The "Tax Cap" will serve its purpose and begin to control costs, but to implement this new law and continue with the GEA is simply a recipe for disaster. We are out of strategies and out of time. The GEA needs to be addressed now! ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Three years of using reserves, cutting 120 staff members, seeking and receiving major concessions from bargaining units, and continuing to have deal with GEA, withdrawal of ARRA [i.e., federal stimulus aid], and flat state aid at the best have taken a draconian toll on our district. There is really nothing left that this district can do except finish dismantling an outstanding educational institution. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Our district is on a downward spiral. It is difficult to think of the gravity of the situation facing us next year and in the near future. To fund the escalating costs of health insurance, special education and liabilities for ERS/TRS, it will take significant cuts to do so, given the constraints of the tax cap and the diminished State Aid funding over the past several years. Unless something changes, children will be denied a free and APPROP- RIATE education. Their exposure and experiences in extracurricular activities will go by the wayside to ensure we comply with MANDATES first. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent We are just "getting by," living from year to year. We will not be able to keep pace with community expectations in the future. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent Our district is one year away from having to cut extracurricular and interscholastic offerings as well as having to increase class size across the district. Subsequent years will bring about additional cuts to program. The issue is not the near term expenses or revenues but the long term rate of growth of healthcare and retirement costs relative to my districts expected increases in revenues from local taxes and state aid. Spending is not the problem, lack of revenue is. State Aid formulas and the GEA have devastated our revenue, all reserves and fund balance have been dipped into, and the tax cap is the final right hook. It is obvious that our state government is limiting our revenues in an effort to choke off smaller schools that are more dependent on State Aid. This is shameful They are perpetuating a system where education is the great equalizer only if you live in the right school district. Special Education costs / mandates are out of control. Cost should be an allowed consideration, just as it is for regular education students. ~ Upstate suburban superintendent Require every legislative action related to education to include a cost-benefit analysis; a cost-per-district estimate; and a benefit/impediment analysis prior to vote. For example: 1)APPR and $700 million RTTT does not reveal real costs to districts; 2) The new cyberbullying off campus law will raise extreme costs in administrator time, legal fees, and police time/expenses. ~ Downstate suburban superintendent 34

36 NEW YORK STATE COUNCIL OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS 7 Elk Street, Third Floor Albany, New York

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