TIME FOR BREAKFAST — Pictured, from left: Springville-Griffith Institute Board President Mel Williams, School Superintendent Dr. Paul Connelly and S-GI Board Vice President Delia Bonenberger. Photo by Andrew Manzella.
SPRINGVILLE — The Erie County Association of School Boards held its annual legislative breakfast on Feb. 9 at Michael’s Banquet Facility on Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg.
Members of local school boards, parent-teacher organizations, League of Women Voters and school faculty members were in attendance, to represent their districts’ needs to the government representatives present, at the event.
Questions from district representatives were aimed toward Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, Senator Mark Grisanti, State Assembly Member Jane Corwin, Assembly Member Dennis Gabryszak and Assembly Member Michael Kearns, who were in attendance.
The first portion of the event was devoted to pre-arranged questions concerning funding across the districts. Attendees from any school district were then invited to pose questions to the representatives.
Depew School District Superintendent Jeff Rabey focused on the issue of equity in government funding for education, across the county.
He said that a main complaint he’s heard was that the formula used to determine this funding is ineffective and “helps the richer districts become richer, while the poorer districts get poorer.”
In reference to what he called the unevenly-weighted state aid increases in wealthier districts, Rabey said, “[It] continues to foster an unfair and inequitable educational experience for a student in Depew and a student downstate.”
He added that this inconsistency reaches across the county, into many other districts.
“Only 50 percent of students graduate in the city of Buffalo. It’s atrocious,” said Kearns, adding that gaps in district budgets are being felt across the county.
Kearns said that statistics showed that some school districts may be getting lost in the mix, when it comes to funding. He added that, without adequate monetary assistance, a district may be forced to cut programs and employee benefits, ultimately keeping the standard of education from flourishing.
“The formula is really a disadvantage for students,” Ranzenhofer said.
According to local school board members, the aforementioned formula that determines state aid has also hit home, to Springville-Griffith Institute. The average funding increase across the state was 4.4 percent, but the S-GI schools received only a 1.13 percent increase. This boils down to approximately $1 per student, per day.
“We’re not sure exactly what the impact is going to be, until we go through the entire budget process,” said Springville-GI Superintendent Dr. Paul Connelly.
According to Ranzenhofer, a few relief options are available for districts to participate in.
A district can waive New York state requirements for special education and adopt the federal level, to save money.
Grisanti also pointed out the option for districts to sell ad space on the sides of their school buses, to raise money. Local school boards would determine individually, what type of ads will be allowed.
Grisanti reported that this technique has been successful, in other school districts.
As far as reform in Erie County schools, “state education, in my opinion, does a lot of micromanaging and the Legislature does a lot of micromanaging, on the financial side of things,” Corwin said.
“In my opinion, what we need to be doing is giving the money to [the districts] and letting you figure out what to do with it, because our society is changing and the needs of our students is changing and, unfortunately, the system we have right now cannot keep up, or be as innovative,” she added.
According to those present at the breakfast, local school districts are looking for less time devoted to testing and more time to learning.
“There is an overwhelming amount of testing, but not enough for teaching,” Kearns explained.