February 11, 2013
graders fired up over State Aid Inequities
fourth graders at Hamilton Elementary School were outraged last
week when they learned that their school district is getting a
significantly lower percentage of state aid than many other
districts across the state.
Superintendent Larry Spring has been relentlessly advocating for
the Schenectady City School District’s fair share of New York
State School Aid. He has presented his argument to school
district staff, administrators, community members, and elected
officials. Last week he had a new audience. The fourth graders
at Hamilton got a lesson on state aid, inequities, government
and advocacy. As they were presented the facts from the
superintendent, they were not happy with the picture before them
and are ready to take action.
started his introduction by providing the students with an
overview of the district – how many schools, students and
employees are included in the district. He discussed his role
as superintendent and noted that it’s his job to make sure
Schenectady Schools and students get what they need. “It takes
money to run schools,” he pointed out. Spring talked about the
costs of running a school district and gave examples of expenses
such as salaries, books, equipment, operating and heating costs
and food. He then explained to the students that school
districts get the money through property taxes and state school
aid to pay for the expenses.
how the amount of aid a school district should get is determined
by formula. Therefore, all districts do not get the same
amount of aid. “Schools that don’t get a lot for property
tax should get more money in the form of aid,” said Spring.
"Some schools get 100% of what they should get. Some get close
to 100%. Some get more. Some get less. Some get a lot less.”
he challenged the fourth graders with some math problems. “How
much more is 200% than 100%?” asked Spring. “Twice as big,”
said one of the students. Spring explained to the students that
there is a school district in New York State that receives
2000%, or 20 times, more than what they should be getting.
“Schenectady gets 54% of what we should be getting,” said
Spring. He asked the students to think about what he just said.
“54%,” repeated Spring. The students immediately reacted with
“whaaaaat,?” “you’re kidding,” “whoaaaaa!”
again and asked the students, “Does that seem right?”
with a loud and resounding, “no!”
further that some cities have a lot of money. Those cities
don’t need and aren’t supposed to get as much school aid. “We
have less money than the average district, so we should get more
aid than the average district,” said Spring. He asked, “if a
district is receiving 2000% of aid, do you think that it’s a
poor district or a wealthy district?” All agreed, that only a
poor district would receive that much aid. Spring explained
that such is not the case. “This district receiving 2000% of
aid is actually a wealthier district in New York State; 45 times
wealthier than the average district in New York State,” he
said. The students eyes lit up and they wanted answers.
“How is it that
one of the poorest districts, like Schenectady, only gets half
of their aid, but wealthier districts get 2000 times their aid?”
asked Spring. “We should ask that question.”
pointed to a chart that included about 35 local school districts
and the amount of state aid and percentage of aid each
receives. The highest is at 1403% and the lowest is Schenectady
at 54%. “This is Schenectady right here,” said Spring, as he
pointed to the bottom.
That’s crazy,” said one of the students. The students
collectively grumbled. Every student in the room was focused on
what the superintendent had to say and the chart before him.
They were clearly not happy with what they were hearing.
Spring told the
students to have a 30-second discussion with the classmate next
to them. They were buzzing. “This is ridiculous,” one student
said loudly. They were pointing at the charts and talking
amongst themselves about how unfair the situation is.
Spring then broke
the money amounts down for the students. “We are supposed to
get $135 million per year from New York State,” he said.
“Instead we get $70 million. They short us $62 million each
to a bar graph, Spring said, “Look at this. Some are over
100%. Some are close. Most are in the range of 75-90%. Then
there are a few in the 60’s. But look here, the biggest gap on
the chart….see where it drops right here…. That’s Schenectady.
That is us.” The students remarked that “it’s not fair, it’s
wrong,” and asked “how can that be?”
They know about
fairness and equity.
All of the fourth
graders learned about equity and fairness the day before
Spring’s visit when some students were selected to enjoy a
cupcake while others were not. The students who were not
initially invited to enjoy the treat said they felt “left out,
angry, lonely, disappointed, frustrated, confused and
said he understands those feelings as he pointed back to the
charts. “Every one of these districts is getting a higher
percentage of their state aid than Schenectady,” he said. “It’s
frustrating and confusing.”
Spring then asked
the students, “What can we do?”
suggested putting signs around to let everybody know about the
Another said, “We
should demand it and explain how we will use it.”
to the President,” was one suggestion. “Ask why. Write letters
to the Governor and the President.”
that he has an appointment with the Governor's staff to ask just
that. Spring also suggested writing to senators and Members of
makes a budget proposal and determines how much aid school
districts get,” said Spring. He explained that Governor
Cuomo’s proposal did give Schenectady a 4% increase, “but that
doesn’t even get us to the bottom district on the chart.” “We
need to make sure that our senators and assemblymen know that
the Governor was way off,” he said. “We need them to know that
this is not okay.”
“How many of you
think that this is unfair and that it needs to change,” he
asked. All of the students raised their hands and nodded their
heads in agreement.
Spring told them
to think again about how they felt when some students got
cupcakes and some didn’t. “It was unfair, right?” He
continued, “That’s just what this is.”
suggested that the students write to the senators and
assemblymen and ask them to fight for money for the school
districts that they each represent. “We have to ask them to
help us,” he added.
“Can you believe
this,” asked one student to another. “Wow, its crazy,” he
VanDerlinden, principal of Hamilton said the students were
definitely fired up and would be writing letters to elected
officials the next day.
Learn more about
State Aid Inequities and how you can
advocate for Schenectady's Fair Share.