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Ten Ways to Cut Costs in New York Public Schools Without Hurting the Classroom

May 6, 2011

The Alliance for Quality Education released ten concrete recommendations for actions New York State, and school districts, can take to enact cost savings without making classroom cuts. AQE is calling for state leaders to implement a series of legislative changes and promote policies that will enable school districts to implement cost savings in order to redirect funding to the classroom and mitigate cuts. Quick action by the state is urgent as school budgets will be voted on later this month and then districts will move towards implementing cuts for the coming school year. Some highlights of the recommendations include:

•    consolidation of administration and back office services,

•    shared purchasing and contracting among school districts and with other levels of government,

•    use of the New York State Power Authority and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to reduce school district energy

      consumption by 25%      

•    allowing reverse bidding in negotiating vendor contracts,

•    amortization of short term spikes in pension costs,

•    expanding health insurance consortia, and

•    offering early retirement incentives.

“School children got the short end of the stick in this year’s state budget,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “We heard a lot of noise about cost savings, but most of the sensible ideas that can save money in our schools require legislative action and policy leadership out of state government.  Actually securing significant cost savings is hard work that requires thoughtful planning, specific legislation and statewide leadership. Starting with Governor Al Smith, the father of New York Progressivism, we saw real leadership to create the big picture policies to produce administrative cost savings in our public schools. This year the state has yet to offer a comprehensive program of legislation to help school districts secure cost savings without hurting students or punishing teachers. We hope that this set of proposals can help move us to a constructive conversation on actually saving dollars in order to lessen the inevitable impacts of the Governor’s cuts on the classroom.”

In 1925, when Al Smith was governor, the state had close to 10,000 school districts many of which were one room school houses. Under Governor Smith the state enacted legislation that promoted consolidation and offered necessary financial supports to make it possible. As a result, over the next three decades the number of school districts was reduced by over 8,000. As a result of subsequent consolidations the state has 677 school districts. While further consolidation of school districts is not among the AQE’s top ten recommendations, the success of past consolidations is instructive. As with some other effective cost savings strategies, these consolidations required advance planning to ensure positive outcomes, not negative consequences. Most of the proposals offered by AQE require no upfront investment such as cooperative purchasing or reverse auction bidding. As was the case with thoughtful school district consolidation upfront funding is sometimes required to secure long term cost savings energy conservation is a good example. 

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