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District faces budget gap, braces for potential mid-year aid cuts in light of COVID-19

Cohoes school leaders are adjusting the proposed 2020-21 budget based on the New York state budget released on April 2 against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on state finances. Under the state budget, school foundation aid is flat and could be reduced even more. New provisions in the state budget contribute to significant uncertainty in an already difficult budget which predates the pandemic. The introduction of three periodic reviews of state revenue could result in mid-year school aid cuts. The first review period is April 1-30.

On Wednesday, April 22, Superintendent Jennifer Spring and School Business Official Stacy Mackey shared updates to the district’s proposed budget with the Board of Education.

The proposed spending plan currently stands at $43.9 million, the same as the current year budget. The proposal will require spending cuts and efficiencies to close a $1.6 million gap. It proposes a 2.32 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s allowable limit.

“Our goal is to preserve the quality of education for our students as much as we can under these very difficult circumstances,” Spring said. “While none of these reductions will be easy to make, I am working together with the board of education, district leaders and our three collective bargaining units to minimize the impact. We are analyzing class size data, the return on investment of programs and services, as well as existing contracts to identify potential savings and efficiencies.”

Potential for mid-year aid cuts based on state revenue

The district’s proposed budget is not final and could change. Schools across the state have been advised to wait to adopt final budgets for the upcoming school year, as the first measurement period to review state revenue will conclude on April 30. The State Division of Budget will evaluate revenues and potentially withhold or adjust aid to localities, including school districts. These periodic reviews will occur three times. The possibility for mid-year aid cuts means that schools may receive even less state funding than is currently promised in the already distressing state budget.

“The state aid projections for next year are uncertain and represent a challenge for all schools, but even more so for districts like Cohoes that rely heavily on state aid for their revenue,” Spring said. “At least 55 percent of our budget revenue comes from state aid.”

Budget vote & board elections delayed

School leaders are still awaiting a rescheduled date and process for the budget vote and board member elections. An executive order delayed the vote and elections until at least June 1. “Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections,” the executive order states.

Additional guidance related to the budget timeline and board member elections is not yet available.

What’s next?

Make your voice heard

As we continue to plan for next year’s budget, we want to hear what is important to you and what we should prioritize within our district. To gather your feedback, we’ll be using a tool called Thoughtexchange. All of our voices and ideas matter, so your participation is crucial.

You’ll be asked to respond to one open-ended question, consider and assign stars (essentially “likes”) to some of the ideas shared by others, and learn what’s important to the group.

A link to the exchange will be sent Monday morning via Blackboard and also posted to cohoes.org. It will be open until 9 a.m. on the following Monday, May 4. At that time the results will be compiled and shared with the Board of Education.

Next Board Meeting/Budget Workshop

The board is set to meet for another budget workshop at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Board members and district leaders will review the community’s input from Thoughtexchange and continue budget discussions, with a goal of approving the 2020-21 budget at their May 13 meeting. Board meetings will continue to be held remotely, with a live stream link available to the community.

Preparing our students for success in tomorrow’s world.

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