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End of GEA means millions more dollars for schools, supporters say

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The days of balancing the New York State budget on the backs of public school districts are over. So say those who hail the end of a budgetary practice that diverted millions of dollars from education to close Albany's overall multi-billion dollar deficit.

State leaders in 2009, facing a $10 billion budget deficit, introduced the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which lessened the levels of funding earmarked for school districts. Opponents of GEA say it saddled those districts unfairly. According to the Erie County School Board Association, more than $400 million was lost to local public districts as the result of GEA.

State Senator Tim Kennedy, who opposed GEA, calls the practice a gimmick. He joined several local school superintendents inside Cheektowaga Central High School to hail the elimination of GEA from the state's 2016-17 budget.

"In Cheektowaga Central they've lost over $10 million because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment," said Kennedy.

Cheektowaga Central officials say GEA would have forced them to resort to layoffs in order to close its own budget deficit. Kennedy says not only will districts like Cheektowaga avoid layoffs, they'll get millions more dollars and much needed relief. In addition to dollars that won't be lost to GEA, Kennedy said the state has increased school allocations in the new spending plan.

"Over $75 million dollars more for schools for public education in Erie County alone," he said. 

Superintendents in attendance took turns explaining how the end of GEA will benefit not only their respective schools but also the taxpayers who support them.

In the Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free district, for example, an additional $300,000 coming in will allow them to continue with two new Academic Learning Centers, added honors courses and new course offerings in meteorology and astronomy.

"It is always our commitment, however, to balance our quality education programs with taking burden away from our taxpayers," said Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free superintendent Andrea Galenski. "This restoration of the GEA (funds lost) will allow us to do that as well. We're very excited about that opportunity."

Cleveland Hill Union Free School District, meanwhile, will include a tax levy reduction in its new budget for the second consecutive year.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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