continued “When the state made a flat percentage cut in aid across the state it hurt us (Adirondack) schools more than others,” the superintendent said. “A cut of $100,000 means a lot more to us than to a much larger school. The big school may eliminate a language program, so it’s only offering four languages instead of five. Here, we only offer two languages. That’s a much more serious cut to our students.”
The current state education aid formula is based on a district’s assessed property value and its poverty level, as measured by the number of free and reduce price lunches served to students.
“Property values are not a good measure of a community’s ability to pay taxes,” McDonald said, noting the existence of many high-value second homes in the park. “A community can have high property values, but its year-round residents may not be able to afford higher school taxes.”
He used Ticonderoga as an example. The Ti school district, which borders both Lake George and Lake Champlain, has the highest property values in this area. Yet, the school serves free or reduced price lunches to 48 percent of its students.
The rural nature of schools in the Adirondack Park is also a problem.
“As school enrollments drop, school leaders and boards of education are able to cut costs associated with certain parts of the school program, however other costs remain consistent,” McDonald said. “The costs of maintaining a facility does not fluctuate based on enrollment. Energy costs, insurance, debt service and daily maintenance are just some of the expenses that do not change when enrollment drops.
“It is incumbent on school districts to constantly assess their organizational structure in order to find opportunities to consolidate buildings and services, but that is not always an option given the vast distance between communities in the park,” he said.