Stressing out larger schools

Public schools are never run with a bottom line in mind. It is why state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli watches district spending, the reserves and the potential for being in financial distress.

In Western New York, the East Aurora district was recently reported by DiNapoli in “significant fiscal stress,” though there were no red flags in Chautauqua County. Nearby, Lake Shore Central Schools was noted as “susceptible” for stress.

Both the East Aurora and Lake Shore schools are in districts that are similar to Fredonia when considering demographics. The more wealth in a district, the less state aid that comes back. Fredonia annually receives less than 50 percent of state aid for its budget. For East Aurora, the number is about 28 percent.

That is much less than smaller districts in this county, such as Pine Valley, Brocton or Forestville. State aid in those districts can be as much as 75 percent of the budget.

So small districts are not in stress because the state continues to over-subsidize them. Bigger, wealthier districts — such as East Aurora and Fredonia — are pinching pennies.

Something is wrong with this formula, which allows small districts to keep unsustainable schools going. It also penalizes taxpayers in larger school districts — because the state believes the community can afford the higher rates.

It is just one more reason schools fail to consolidate.

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