Southwestern Discusses Gap Elimination Adjustment, Veterans’ Tax Exemption

A fifth straight year of the state-imposed gap elimination adjustment on schools is taking center stage as districts struggle to build their 2014-15 budgets – and Southwestern Central School is no different.

As Southwestern continues its series of budget presentations during regularly scheduled Board of Education meetings, Superintendent Maureen Donahue says the state aid her district is missing out on as a result of the gap elimination adjustment is of chief concern.

“We’re very concerned about the significant GEA amount, and that leads to a budget gap. We cannot sustain another year of cuts,” Donahue said.

Donahue reported that Southwestern’s cumulative gap elimination adjustment losses have been $6,782,850 since the 2010-11 school year, when the gap elimination adjustment was first instituted statewide. Between that and the state’s freezing of its Foundation Aid Formula – which guaranteed annual aid increases to districts across a five-year time period beginning in 2007-08 – Donahue said the financial stress felt by her district is unsustainable.

“I cannot stress enough that the gap elimination adjustment has got to go,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state has been gradually reducing the amount of funding it is withholding from districts in what is known as the gap elimination adjustment restoration. Donahue said the maximum amount districts can hope to see restored for the 2014-15 school year is 45 percent, though Southwestern only received an 11-percent restoration.

Also discussed at the board’s meeting Tuesday evening was the possibility of implementing the state’s Alternative Veterans’ Exemption program – which was recently made available to schools on a discretionary basis after being signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December.

Donahue said the board has held one public hearing about the impact a veterans’ exemption would have on its tax base, and will hold another prior to its Feb. 25 meeting before making any final decisions.

“(The state) has put its school districts in a very difficult position with this exemption,” Donahue said. “You want to be fair, and you want to help out your veterans, but this is not an easy decision for us to make.”

The deadline for New York state schools to apply for the exemption is March 1.