JEFFREY P. SIMONS, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS
email@example.com - (315) 338-6521
School Report Card
These days, we've been hearing a lot about what's wrong with public education and not a lot about what's going well.
Most of us feel like we received a good education in our local public schools, whether that was in Rome or somewhere else, and credit our successes in life to the education we received. We often look back fondly on our teachers, coaches and mentors and feel a great deal of pride and satisfaction when thinking about all the people who have helped us along the way. I proudly tell people that I'm a Rome Free Academy graduate, and I know many of you feel the same way about your public schools. This is a district that provides its students with a broad range of courses and programs and highly values an education that includes the arts, athletics, extracurricular and enrichment activities. These options, while not required to be offered, are essential in providing students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for a successful future.
Public education is important, especially in tight fiscal times. And we are certainly in tough times. The governor's budget proposal reduces Rome's basic operating aid by more than $6 million. Some of our expense-driven aids, like transportation and building aid, have increased -we are being reimbursed for money we are spending now - but the net loss of state aid to our district is about $3 million for the coming school year. That equals a 10 percent tax increase, something that is not an option for our district.
And take a look at this year's state aid cut in conjunction with other lost revenues. Over the last two years, we have lost $6 million in state aid. In previous years, the federal government made up some of that funding cut with stimulus money, which helped prevent many job and program cuts, but that money expires this year. In addition, the governor is heavily pushing a 2 percent property tax cap and it has already been approved by the state Senate. In Rome, a 2 percent tax increase brings in just $580,000 in revenue - that is only about one-third of the increase we are required to pay to the state this year in retirement system contributions.
On top of those revenue cuts, the new mandates imposed by the federal Race To The Top program are creating additional expenses we have not had before. Race To The Top requires us to provide academic intervention services (AIS, or extra help) to all students who received a 1 or 2 on their state math and English language arts exams. When state Education Department officials subsequently changed testing requirements and benchmarks last summer, they increased the number of students eligible for AIS in both subjects. We do not currently have enough reading and math teachers on staff to meet this mandate. That means this well-intentioned program will force us to hire additional AIS teachers at a time when we are trying to cut our budget.
We are not against budget cuts. In fact, we have cut significantly in the last few years in the areas of administration, personnel, buildings and grounds, operating costs, and student programs. Last year, our employee unions agreed to modify their salary schedules, making this district a model in the state for cooperation between administration and employees. We used our fund balance, or savings account, last year and we expect to do so again - but our savings will not last indefinitely. At the current state aid levels, we are likely to run out of money in less than two years.
The current budget dilemma we face was created by this combination of lost revenues for multiple years and increasing educational mandates, which create additional expenses. The current scenario, if left unchanged, will force the district to cut some non-mandated programs and services in order to pay for other programs and services mandated by the state and federal government. This makes little sense, and yet we are bound by these regulations, which detract from the high-quality public educational program you have come to expect in Rome - and that we ourselves expect to provide for you. During the next few months, I hope you stay informed as the state and local budget process develops and provide us with your input. We have many financial and policy constraints to address, but our students and their education remain our highest priority.
Jeff Simons, Superintendent
Rome City School District