Senate Majority Passes Mandate Relief Package

Four-Measure Plan Will Reduce Unfunded Mandates, Protect Taxpayers & Provide Districts Better Budgeting Abilities

The New York State Senate passed four measures today which will finally provide mandate relief across the state, and reverse New York’s long-standing practice of passing financial burdens onto local school districts.

Identified by school districts as vital to their operations and ability to budget in a prudent manner, the Democratic package will allow them to more effectively manage the resources they have, and make the best possible decisions for their communities in this time of fiscal crisis.

Components of the mandate relief plan include:

·         Education Mandate Relief Act of 2010 (S5523A/Oppenheimer)

·         Universal Pre-Kindergarten Flexibility (S6777/Oppenheimer)

·         Paperwork Reduction Act (S3874A/Oppenheimer)

·         Flexibility in Claims Auditing (S5637/Oppenheimer)

Senator Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck), Chair of the Senate’s Education Committee said, “These difficult economic times compel us to look for ways to restructure government at all levels to make it operate more efficiently. The education reforms I have championed afford school districts relief from  burdensome mandates and the  flexibility to contain costs, lessen the property  tax burden and channel every available education dollar to classroom instruction.  School districts are depending on us to deliver reforms that will cut their costs in this challenging fiscal climate.”

Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) said, “In order to relieve pressures on school tax levies, we must do everything we can to help districts reduce spending and become more efficient. I applaud Senator Oppenheimer for advancing a legislative package that will greatly help in achieving  this goal. It is my hope our colleagues join us in passing this, and other measures that will help tame out-of-control property taxes.”

Senator William T. Stachowski (D,C-Lake View) said, "Although there may be a misconception that the State Legislature is adverse to taking steps to reduce the number of unfunded mandates coming out of Albany, the Senate Majority is working to achieve real results when it comes to reform and change. This package of bills affirms my commitment to boosting efficiency, cutting costs, and relieving the burden of mandates placed on local schools. Simple measures like digitizing paperwork and keeping local school districts involved in the regulatory process will go a long way towards cutting costs, and cutting local taxes."

Senator Brian X. Foley (D - Blue Point), a member of the Senate’s Education Committee said, "I am pleased to support the passage of these legislative initiatives because they will directly help school districts on Long Island and across New York State. By controlling unfunded mandates, reducing unnecessary and redundant paperwork, and giving schools the flexibility they need to spend aid as efficiently as possible we will not only help schools but also lower the burden on property tax payers,.”

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-35th District) said, “For too long our schools have been required to comply with mandated expenses without a means to pay for them; forcing school districts to raise property taxes or cut services. Mandate Relief legislation allows schools to streamline services and create savings that can be passed on to taxpayers. Mandate relief is an important step in my continued effort to ensure our State Government works to become more efficient.”

Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida) said, “This package of legislation represents our commitment to government efficiency. It just makes sense to give school districts the tools to best manage their resources, especially in these difficult economic times.”

Senator Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent) said, "Now more than ever it is incumbent on the Legislature to pass meaningful mandate relief for school districts to do more with less. Decisions on how to stretch limited revenue are best made at the local level where school officials know best the priorities that must be met. This legislation achieves much of what I've been pushing for in that it will free localities to stretch the scarce funds available so we can provide services and save taxpayer dollars."

Florence D. Johnson, President of the New York State School Boards Association said, "School districts are facing some of the most difficult budget conditions in recent memory. This package of legislation would provide some flexibility and relief for school boards in the areas of transportation, prekindergarten programs, reporting requirements and auditing, as well as require state lawmakers to give greater consideration to the cost of legislative and regulatory mandates going forward.”

Robert Lowry, Deputy Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents said, “The Council of School Superintendents thanks Senate Education Committee Chair Suzi Oppenheimer and her Senate colleagues for their leadership in attempting to help school district leaders develop better budgets for the students and taxpayers they serve. Given the state’s troubled fiscal outlook, superintendents are now wrestling with hard choices to balance school budgets that can preserve quality education for students while keeping taxes at levels that their communities’ can sustain. We are grateful for the Senate’s efforts to help school leaders maximize the impact of the resources taxpayers do provide. The proposals the Senate is considering today would expand the use of shared services across school districts and reduce senselessly burdensome state reporting requirements distract school leaders from activities with more value for students and taxpayers.  The proposals would also expand districts’ flexibility in the use of state aid for Universal Prekindergarten and remove state roadblocks to cost-saving measures that make sense.”


Education Mandate Relief Act of 2010

Enacting a prohibition on the imposition of new mandates on districts after the passage of school budgets, this comprehensive legislation provides schools greater authority and responsibility over their budgets by authorizing:

·         Reviews of potential regionalized cost containment/shared services (by BOCES districts).

·         “Piggyback” transportation contracts.

·         BOCES boards to fill  mid-year vacancies by appointment rather than a special election.

·         BOCES to perform aidable auditing services for school districts.

·         The establishment of reserve funds for TRS contributions.

·         Districts to use a five year rolling average of the consumer price index when calculating the contingency budget cap.


Universal Pre-Kindergarten Flexibility

Unrealistic regulations placed on districts has kept allocated funds from being used. This legislation permits a school district eligible for a universal pre-Kindergarten grant but who may be unable to fill some allocated funding slots the ability to utilize unspent funds in alternative ways, such as creating full-day slots, supporting the cost of transporting pre-K students and other program-related initiatives. 

Given the economic climate, additional funding for educational programs is limited, however, in granting districts the flexibility in budgeting for pre-kindergarten programs allows them to continue the successful programs without placing any new burden on taxpayers.

Georgia Asciutto, Executive Director of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts said, “New York State has a history of support for early childhood education in its urban centers.  This legislation would build upon the State’s commitment to provide pre-kindergarten opportunities by allowing districts to maximize the use of available funds.  Flexibility with resources is critical to continued increases in academic achievement in the State’s large cities.”


Paperwork Reduction Act

A priority for school districts, this legislation requires the state Education Commissioner to establish a unified electronic data collection system in order to reduce the enormous costs of paperwork, mailing, processing and filing done by the department and education system. It also requires the Commissioner to take regulatory action to  reduce reports, and statutorily eliminate or alter  the submission and filing of 8 statutorily required, but unnecessary and costly reports, plans and applications.  


Flexibility in Claims Auditing

Providing school districts with additional flexibility to manage how claims auditing is performed, this legislation maintains a high standard of oversight while allowing for efficient and cost-effective processing and payment of claims.

Under current law, school districts’ bills cannot be paid until they have been verified by the full school board which is oftentimes a lengthy and convoluted process which results in additional costs and resources to the district. Additionally, while the school board is allowed to appoint a claims auditor responsible for verifying requests for payment, because many school districts have just one person in that role, illness or resignation impedes the district's ability to pay its claims. In the case of the Big 5, schools, the persons in this role are completely overwhelmed.

This bill allows school districts outside the Big 5 to appoint a deputy claims auditor, and the Big 5 to appoint multiple deputy claims auditors. It also clarifies the process by which BOCES may be used to perform claims auditing functions, by authorizing the Board to review claims made by BOCES. 

Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said, "For decades, Albany spent more than it had and stuck local communities and taxpayers with the bill. Today's action will give school districts the flexibility they need to reduce their costs and make the right decisions for their communities. By making government more efficient and effective, the Senate will cut costs, lower taxes, and create a less expensive and more sustainable economy our taxpayers can afford.”

Senator Antoine M. Thompson (D-parts of Erie and Niagara Counties) said, "Mandate relief is desperately needed across New York State. Not only will this legislation provide districts with improved abilities come budget time, it will also protect the taxpayers of New York."

Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Finance Committee said, “Providing school children with a quality education remains one of our foremost priorities in New York State and also one of our greatest challenges in the current economic climate. This mandate relief package will assure that precious resources are being spent where they should be spent, in order to assure that our next generations of leaders can successfully meet the challenges that will be presented to them.”

Senator Neil D. Breslin (D-Albany) said, “I am pleased to support this  package of legislation that would allow school districts to operate more efficiently by relieving them of mandates and affording them more flexibility to utilize the resources they have.  Reducing the burden of  unfunded mandates to our school districts will in turn reduce the burden on local tax payers, which is essential in this time of financial hardship.”

Kevin Casey, Executive Director of the School Administrators Association of New York State said, "This legislation providing for mandate relief and the streamlining of reporting requirements will have a significant impact on the efficient operations of New York’s schools. We thank the Senate for their efforts and for supporting our public schools at this most critical time."

Deedrick Bertholf, Executive Director, New York State Association of School Business Officials said, "School business officials support this package of reforms. The proposed mandate relief will not only allow school districts to operate more cost-effectively but also engage in improved long term planning on behalf of students and taxpayers. Senator Oppenheimer is to be commended for her tireless efforts."