Tri-Lakes school boards urge end to Gap Elimination Adjustment

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake school board passed a resolution Wednesday night urging the state Legislature to discontinue the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which reduces state aid to school. The Lake Placid school board passed a similar resolution on Tuesday. The Tupper Lake board passed a similiar resolution in February and sent a letter to state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The GEA went into effect in the 2009-10 school year, enacted by Gov. David Paterson’s administration. Legislators used it to help the state reduce its revenue shortfall by shifting costs to school districts, which have been dealing with the impact of reduced funding for four years.

“These cost shifts have resulted in unsustainable measures to balance the budgets in the Saranac Lake Central School District due to the projected reduction of school district fund reserves,” the Saranac Lake board’s letter states.

The letter also calls on the state to uphold its responsibility in the state Constitution to maintain adequate funding for education.

Since 2010 the GEA has reduced state aid to the Saranac Lake Central School District by a total of $3,983,648, to the Lake Placid school district by $1,489,079 and to the Tupper Lake school district by $1,860,000.

The Saranac Lake school board said in the letter that its district has been proactive in controlling cost shifts by closing two school buildings, reducing and eliminating school programs and cutting dozens of full-time personnel. Over a five-year period, the school district reports an average annual budget increase of 2.2 percent and an average annual spending increase of 1 percent.

The Lake Placid school board wrote that it had reduced some school programs and services and eliminated others. Over a five-year period, the school district reports an average annual tax levy increase of 2.8 percent and an average annual spending increase of 2.2 percent.

Saranac Lake school board member Clyde Baker and Assistant Superintendent Dan Bower plan to attend a meeting with state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey to address their concerns with the GEA.

“My biggest thing is to talk about the GEA and to eliminate it,” Baker said.

“Restoration of the GEA is number-one (priority) for everyone,” Bower said. “We want to show them our support. This is not just the school district; it’s community support we have for eliminating GEA.”

In Saranac Lake, a coalition of local government and organizations backs the school board on the resolution to end the policy.

“I have in my hand (letters) from the village of Saranac Lake and Harrietstown in support of our resolution,” Baker said.

The Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce also backs the resolution. Executive Director Katy Van Anden told the Enterprise Thursday she was in the middle of writing her letter of support.

Don Carlisto, co-president of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, said that group also intends to support the resolution.

“I think our local legislators are signaling ending GEA as a real possibility this year,” Carlisto said. “That would be an incredible help for schools who have struggled.”