Gary Finch meets with Auburn advocacy committee

Assemblyman Gary Finch shakes hands with Auburn Enlarged City School District Board member-elect Danielle Wood on Monday when the district's advocacy committee delivered hundreds of petitions requesting an equitable fix to the state's Foundation Aid formula for school districts.

AUBURN — Parents, students, staff and leadership from the Auburn school district delivered stacks of petitions to state Assemblyman Gary Finch's office Monday, requesting the state provide equitable funding to what they described as one of the state's most underfunded districts.

The group presented approximately 600 signatures of a petition asking for the formula used to calculate the Foundation Aid — the primary source of state aid — for each district to be fixed to more accurately reflect their need.

Among other factors, a district's Foundation Aid is calculated based on a financial analysis of its community. The formula uses data from 2003, which Auburn Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said does not accurately reflect the level of need within the district and community.

"As taxpayers, we pay our share, we want New York state to pay its share and what's fair," parent and advocacy committee member Devon Roblee said.

Without accurate funding from the state, Pirozzolo and the other members of the district's advocacy committee Monday at Finch's office said, Auburn has been forced to make significant cuts over the years and may have to do so again.

"It's going to really hurt us," school board President Kathleen Rhodes said.

According to the text of the petition, Auburn spends $18,273 per pupil compared to the state average of $24,712, despite increasing costs and 26% less funding per pupil.

Because of the way the formula works, along with other measures like one that prevents districts from receiving less aid than they previously did, Pirozzolo said wealthy districts have been receiving more aid while needier districts receive less.

Pirozzolo said that's resulted in larger class sizes, a lack of support services, increased pressure on staff and other problems that negatively affect educational outcomes.

Finch told everyone gathered that he was already in their corner, describing education as the most important thing the state government does, and that he would make funding discussions a priority in the last days of the legislative session.

However, the real battle, Finch said, would be convincing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the rest of the state legislators to fix the Foundation Aid funding formula.

Finch said community members couldn't quit now, and recommended they make a concerted effort of calling and mailing Cuomo and other state Senate and Assembly members to push for the fix.

"You need to be holding our feet to the fire and demanding something be done about the situation here in Auburn," Finch said.

More information, including the text of the petition, can be found at the advocacy committee's website https://sites.google.com/aecsd.education/fixandfundit/home. 

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin