MAYVILLE - A lot of interesting information, but little good news was shared with about 60 folks who gathered in the Chautauqua Lake Central School library on Tuesday, March 5 to hear New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer and Chautauqua Lake Superintendent Benjamin Spitzer describe the outlook for the many small school districts in the state.
"This is a very complex time for public education," Kremer said at the start of a session, which lasted two hours and forty minutes.
To anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to problems faced by Chautauqua County and many other upstate schools Kremer's main focus - money - was not a surprise.
Photo by Dave O’Connor
Timothy G. Kremer, shown standing, shared his knowledge and views as Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association Tuesday evening, March 5 in the Chautauqua Lake Central School library.
"The challenge is the funding right now," he said to the teachers, staff, parents, students and district residents who attended the district's "School Program and Finance Forum."
Public education, according to Kremer is, "one of the most regulated and litigated" areas in the state and, he added, "kids many times are not considered" during "political and regulatory battles."
About the present method of distributing state education money, Kremer was blunt.
"It's wrong and its got to get fixed," he said.
He pointed to the so-called Gap Elimination policy instituted by former Governor David Paterson's administration as a prime example of what, he believes, is wrong.
Gap Elimination is essentially a take back from education by the state to help eliminate deficits in overall state spending. The policy is just one of many "New York State formulas that don't reflect reality" when the needs of schools around the state are examined, according to Kremer.
Overall, state funding for public schools is $5.5 billion less than originally estimated five years ago, he said.
Kremer outlined efforts by the New York State School Boards Association and other groups to address what they see as the causes of inadequate funding as well as ever increasing costs in local districts. However, he was not optimistic.
"I'm not getting any traction with the state legislature with any of this stuff," he said.
The Tri-Borough Amendment was named by Kremer as just one of the factors behind increasing costs. The amendment requires lapsed contracts between teachers and respective school districts to remain in force until and if a new pact is approved. Realistically, Kremer explained, this makes negotiating contracts with anything less than the lapsed contract very difficult to negotiate and pass.
Kremer was more upbeat on the topic of regional schools and believes they will come about in what he termed, "a gradual process."
Superintendent Spitzer looked at Chautauqua Lake in the light of state-wide realities. Concerning revenue and spending, he said of the district, "I honestly don't think we're in a crisis, but I think it's coming."
"How do we exert power?" Board of Education Vice President Jay Baker asked during the question and answer portion of the session. "Our (state) legislators here are ignored. Do we need lawsuits? Our children are being shafted."
In response, Kremer pointed to work by the Campaign for Educational Equity and Columbia University Professor Michael Robell. The professor and group are pursuing two lawsuits against New York, with both actions brought to increase public education funding as a matter of right.