If you live in the Victor Central School District, you should be really angry at the state of New York. If you currently have children enrolled at VCSD, you should be furious. Why? The state of New York has withheld nearly $70 million from VCSD over the last 10 years, and it will likely withhold another $7 million next year. Let me explain.
The state of New York provides aid to schools through what is called Foundation Aid. The state’s Foundation Aid formula is supposed to be based on the number of students actually attending a school district; however, in an effort to balance the state budget during the economic crisis 10 years ago, the state froze the number of students used to calculate the Foundation Aid formula and it has remained frozen.
VCSD receives Foundation Aid as if it only had 3,827 students — the number of students that were enrolled at VCSD in 2007. The current enrollment at VCSD is approximately 4,329. VCSD receives zero Foundation Aid from the state for the roughly 500 students added during the last decade. VCSD loses approximately $7 million each and every year the Foundation Aid formula remains frozen. VCSD has already lost $70 million. Keep in mind that the current budget for VCSD is $65 million, so an entire year’s budget has been lost.
In fairness, all state schools lost state aid during the last decade and had to make budget cuts. Most state schools lost money through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which ended last year. VCSD also lost money to the GEA, an additional $12 million, but unlike most school districts VCSD continues to lose state aid, because the Foundation Aid formula remains frozen. Please don’t contend that VCSD is wealthy because you think VCSD receives sales tax from Eastview Mall. That’s simply not true. Sales tax in Ontario County goes to the county, not the local school districts.
I served on the Victor Central Board of Education for nine years from 2007 to 2016. I am acutely aware of the negative impact this huge financial loss has on our children’s education each and every day. The per pupil expenditure at VCSD is $9,400 per year, which is the seventh lowest in the state. I’m all for being frugal, but why should the children in our community suffer when our money is being wrongly withheld by the state? We sent our money to Albany; now we just want to get back our fair share.
The teachers and staff at VCSD are simply incredible and they have done everything possible to meet the children’s educational needs on a very limited budget. VCSD has, in my opinion, reached a tipping point. VCSD does not have the funds to reinstate all of the staff positions and programs cut since 2008 nor does it have the funds needed to invest in new, innovative programs. Class sizes have increased. Resources and financial reserves have dwindled. More teachers, administrators, counselors, aides, nurses and custodians are needed to deal with the population growth. It simply isn’t fair that the state is withholding the taxpayers’ money and harming the children’s education.
What can you do? Advocate. Contact your state legislators — State Sen. Rich Funke, R-55th Dist.; State Sen. Pam Helming, R-54th Dist.; and Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-131st Dist. — and the governor’s office. Tell them to unfreeze the Foundation Aid formula, tell them to consider special legislation for growing districts like VCSD and tell them it’s not fair that our tax money is stuck in Albany.
Also, educate yourself about how your money is spent on education. Attend the upcoming VCSD budget meetings; the info is on the VCSD website. Talk to your children’s teachers and administrators. Find out what they need and find ways to help them in the classrooms with resources and time. Volunteer!. Fundraise. Get involved. We’ve spent the last decade trying to do more with less. It’s time for everyone in the VCSD community to stand up and say, “Enough. We deserve to receive state aid for each and every one of our students.”
Kathryn Hart is a former member of the Victor Central Schools Board of Education and former president of Victor’s Partners in Education.