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The New York State Association of School Business Officials heard from 250 of its member school districts for the survey. It found that more than 30% expect to exhaust their fund balances within 18 months.
Michael Borges is director of the Association, and he says the message from school districts has been the same for a few years now: the state is tying their hands financially. "The state imposed a property tax on local revenue, they imposed a cap on how much state aid we’re getting. So, our revenue has been capped, but our expenses have not been capped," said Borges. According to him, 99% of school districts are currently using their fund balances for operations. And the new survey found that 80% expect to exhaust their fund balances within five years.
Borges says districts are going to be forced to make changes and said, “I think you’ll see closure of schools, I think you’ll see mergers of schools. That’s I think that’s something state policy makers are supporting.”
If a district actually closes, Borges says neighboring districts become responsible to educate those students. Some schools in the North Country, including Canton Central and Potsdam Central, have started talking about some level of merger or consolidation. Borges says this hasn’t happened often in the state. He says it brings up a lot of concerns, especially in rural areas because it can mean long bus rides for students.
Borges says districts may have to consider these options. But local districts shouldn’t be the only ones making tough choices. Borges said, “On the other hand, the governor and the legislature haven’t dealt with mandate relief in any way.” Borges says the state legislature has passed pension and procurement reforms, and that should help school districts. Hoewver, he says schools need more mandate relief.