Addressing the possibility of mid-year cuts in school aid, which Senate leaders are pledging to avoid, Governor Paterson is quoted in today’s Newsday as saying: “Seventy-one percent of the resources we spend on education are administrative. We can make a lot of cuts … without touching the classroom or affecting teachers.”
In fact, according to 2006 data from the state comptroller’s office, just 2.3 percent of school district expenditures are classified as administrative. Counting a different way, the state Education Department classifies 77 percent of school expenses as “instructional.” Either way, Paterson’s quoted estimate of administrative expenditures is wildly overblown.
Which is not to say that school aid can’t or shouldn’t be cut. It’s risen by nearly 30 percent in the last three years and, under the current formula, would rise another 30 percent over the next three years. A $1 billion cut in school aid in the state’s 2009-10 budget would translate into a net reduction of roughly 3 percent in total school district expenditures. As it happens, school districts outside New York City currently have unrestricted reserves averaging 3 percent of their budgets.
The problem for schools is that the bulk of their budgets—typically exceeding, as a percent of operating expenses, the 71 percent figure that Paterson misapplied to administrative expenses—is tied up in contractually dictated salaries and benefits for personnel, mainly teachers. That’s why any reduction in school aid needs to be accompanied by significant legislative relief from Taylor Law provisions like the Triborough amendment, which forces districts to continue paying longevity “step” increases even after a contract has expired.