School districts react to delay in state aid payments

By Julia Green
Following an announcement by Gov. David A. Paterson last week, the state has delayed $2.1 billion in school aid payments that were scheduled to be made April 1. The announcement came following a failed attempt between Paterson and the state legislature to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that began April 1.
“Plummeting revenues and record deficits have once again forced me to take extraordinary cash-management actions in order to ensure the continued orderly operation of our government,” Paterson said in a statement.
He added that although schools were expecting the payments last week, the state “intends to meet the June 1 statutory deadline for making this payment, assuming sufficient cash is available at that time.”
This marks the second time Paterson has delayed the payment of school aid in an attempt to address cash-flow problems: the governor withheld $750 million in payments to school districts in December but ultimately sent the checks in January.
“Deferring payments … does nothing more than delay an inevitable day of financial reckoning,” the statement read.
While local school districts, which are in the middle of assembling budgets for the coming year, will undeniably have to take the delay into account, superintendents from Margaretville and Roxbury central schools were quick to guarantee that their schools would see no immediate impact of the cuts on their short-term spending, adding that they had anticipated the possibility of such a delay following the similar delay at the end of last year.
In Margaretville, the delay in state aid translates to approximately $580,000.
“We will need to cover that cost, and we’ll be able to do that,” said Margaretville Superintendent Tony Albanese. “The difficulty is, we can’t keep going in the direction of being uncertain when we’re getting our payments. So this year, we can cover that and it’s something we’ll be able to deal with, but in the future my hope is that the governor comes up with a different plan of how funding that should be available to school districts comes into play so we can take care of what we need to take care of on bills and payroll and that sort of thing. But we’re not going to have an issue right now.”
Roxbury Superintendent Tom O’Brien was similarly unfazed.
“Just as long as all it is delayed, we should be OK,” he said. “Some school districts won’t be, but we’ll be fine. We should be OK just as long as we get the money.”
In Roxbury, the delay translates to approximately $390,000; O’Brien added that given the delay in December, Roxbury was also anticipating the possibility of another delay in state aid.
“Just as long as we can make up with it by the end of the fiscal cycle, we should be fine,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can to maintain fiscal and program health here in Roxbury, and whatever cooperation we can get from state and having them fulfill their obligation would be greatly appreciated.”