ALBANY — With New York classrooms facing a cut in state aid of as much as 20%, school district leaders are warning that tens of thousands of educators could lose their jobs without a massive infusion of federal dollars.
"The quality of public education in all of our communities — urban, suburban and rural — is at stake," said Robert Schneider, director of the New York State School Boards Association.
School districts face choppy waters, with the Cuomo administration warning that steep cuts in state support may be in the offing because of an abrupt, pandemic-driven drop in state revenue.
The school boards are pinning their hopes on Congress passing a new stimulus measure that would drive $200 billion to public schools nationally.
Their association noted that following the national recession that began in 2008, New York schools lost more than 20,000 professional jobs, as a combination of layoffs, attrition and early retirement programs reduced the ranks of teachers, counselors and administrators.
The financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic, said Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, will likely prompt all schools and other institutions that rely on government funding to look for ways to make their operations more efficient.
They have little choice, Morinello said.
When it comes time to design budgets, he said, "the realities of the revenue situation dictate that the expenditures have to follow suit."
Some New York school districts have warned that layoffs will come soon.
Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the Empire Center for Public Policy, suggested the funding shortfall will spur state leaders to find ways to educate children more efficiently.
"This could be Albany's moment to take a look at why it costs 43% more to educate a student in New York than it does in Massachusetts," Girardin said.
The concerns over school funding come at a time when it is unknown whether students will return to classrooms before the end of the academic year in June.
Cuomo has suggested reopening nonessential businesses should be done simultaneously to having children return to school buildings.
"You couldn't really get to (the next phase of reopening) without opening schools," he said over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the union for teachers, NYSUT, has been urging its members to sign a petition demanding coronavirus testing, infection tracing and cleaning protocols be put in place before schools reopen.
Sharing the school districts' funding fears are New York's county governments.
With the state deficit now pegged at $13.3 billion, and the gap expected to widen until 2024, counties fear they will be hit by a state funding cut of $1.25 billion.
"County leaders urge state officials to understand that local taxpayers are in no position to backfill state funding cuts and that flexibility to reduce the costs of programs and services that are provided at the local level is needed," said Jack Marren, president of the New York State Association of Counties and chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors.
The counties are projecting their treasuries will see sharp drops in collections from sales taxes, occupancy taxes and tourism fees, all revenue that helps to offset property taxes.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com