Court Settlement Could Restore School Funding

Jul252014
school_lhs_120Since 2010 school districts across New York State have received significantly less money than promised by state legislators.  Called the 'Gap Elimination Adjustment' (GEA), the program is costing the Lansing district about two thirds of the money promised.  On Monday State Senator Mike Nozzolio sent an email to constituents to rally their support for a plan he hopes will eliminate the GEA forever.

"As a result of a landmark settlement between the French Bank BNP Paribas and regulators at the State and Federal level, New York State will be paid over $3 billion dollars by BNP Paribas due to their repeated violations of U.S. laws and sanctions," Nozzolio said.  "This plan will invest the over $3 billion settlement from BNP Paribas back into New York State’s local schools. Under the plan, the $1 billion remaining in the GEA would be eliminated for good!"

Lansing School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso led a small group of local legislators to Albany Tuesday to tell NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) members about the negative impact closing the Cayuga Power Plant would have on district taxpayers and school programs, and to talk to Nozzolio about the Lansing district can support his plan.

"I support anything to get rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment," Pettograsso says.  "I know Senator Nozzolio previously looked at a two to three year plan to get rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, but with these new funds he is saying it is a priority for school districts."

Pettograsso says that diverting the $1 billion would eliminate the GEA for next year's budget, but would not make up promised revenue from previous years.  In the 2014-15 budget year alone Lansing schools were promised about $1.2 million, but only received about $400,000.  If Nozzolio's plan is accepted the district could recover remaining $811,000.  She says that since 2010 the Lansing district has lost about $6 million in promised school aid funding.

The timing of the GEA couldn't have been worse for Lansing.  At the same time the state was pulling funding from school districts the value of Lansing's biggest taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant, plummeted.  The PSC will decide whether to repower the plant with natural gas or close the plant entirely at the beginning of December.  While the repowering plan has received much opposition elsewhere in the county, Lansing has been lobbying fiercely to keep it open.  This has been a top priority for Pettograsso especially as the school district has the most to lose of any of the local taxing authorities if the plant closes.

"We're going to share the financial concerns that we would face if the Cayuga Power Plant were to leave our district," she says.  "When communities face their largest business taxpayer leaving their areas, there is no catch-all to help communities when that happens.  We're asking either for them to support education when these types of things happen, and to let them know what the consequences will be to the district."

Nozzolio says that strong public support is essential if his plan is to have a chance of being accepted in Albany.  He set up an online petition and asked constituents to sign it.

"Nothing is more important to me than our children's education," Nozzolio said.  "We must continue to provide our young people with every opportunity to learn and succeed so they can compete in today's global marketplace. A great education is the key that can open the door to a bright future for our children, and you have my continued commitment to eliminate the GEA as quickly as possible."

Nozzolio says his proposal would also support scheduled school aid increases, helping school districts to keep strong programs in place, while easing the financial burden on property taxpayers.

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