Sullivan West waits for state aid number

$2 million hangs in the balance

Posted 4/18/24

JEFFERSONVILLE, NY — Sullivan West is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst as the state aid formula is being hashed out in Albany.

The district stands to lose $2 million in …

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Sullivan West waits for state aid number

$2 million hangs in the balance


JEFFERSONVILLE, NY — Sullivan West is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst as the state aid formula is being hashed out in Albany.

The district stands to lose $2 million in foundation aid—a 17 percent drop—according to a proposal the governor pitched earlier this year.

“Other schools face similar cuts,” said Sullivan West Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Bressler. “But we were the second-hardest hit in the county. This means we’ll be getting the lowest amount we’ve received in the past 10 or 12 years.”

According to the state education department, $11.4 million in aid was approved for Sullivan West for the 2024-25 school year. The proposed cut would bring that number down to $9,451,051.

To put the numbers into perspective, Sullivan West received $10.3 million in 2016-17 (see sidebar), which means the district will get less aid next year than it did eight years ago—if the cut goes through.

'Hold harmless'

At a press conference on April 15, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would postpone ending the “hold harmless” provision that guarantees no district will receive less aid than it did the year before. The provision offers stability: No district will have to face a sudden drop-off in funding—even if they’ve lost students or have a large surplus—so that it can better plan its budgets.

But Hochul said foundation aid needs “a closer assessment.” A funding study will “track down where the money is going to waste,” she said.

In January, Hochul proposed ending hold harmless because so many schools in New York have lost population. At another press conference on April 17, she continued to emphasize its effects. “We get caught in these ruts,” she said. “Education funding—why are we still funding schools on the same formula we had in 2008? It doesn’t account for population, up or down? The population of students has gone down a lot, and we’re literally funding empty classrooms.”

Hochul’s proposal has been criticized for hurting rural schools. Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said state aid cuts would hurt rural schools the most.

“Schools may now be serving fewer students than in the past, but most are doing much more for their students and their families, helping with needs beyond academics—providing mental health services, health and dental clinics, child care, and after-school care, food assistance, and adult literacy instruction, for example,” he said in testimony to the state senate and assembly on February 1. “In rural communities, a school may be the only agency where families can find the help they need. Absent health services provided by schools in many rural communities, low-wage parents would need to go without pay to travel to seek health and mental health services for their children.”

Sullivan West has lost 43 percent of its population since the district was created in 1999-20. Back then, the district had 1,755 students and has been steadily losing population ever since (see sidebar). In 2022-23, there were 995 students enrolled.

Preparing Plan B

The governor and state legislature are still haggling over the budget details. A possible bright spot is what’s being called a “conceptual budget”—a handshake deal that does not have the force of law but restores the hold harmless provision.

But Sullivan West is prepping its Plan B.

“We’re still exploring areas of reduction,” Bressler said. “Even if tomorrow we get all the hold harmless money back, we know we’re at risk for next year.”

Jeff Bishop, communications director for NY Senator Peter Oberacker (R, 51), said Thursday he was in Albany as budget negotiations were getting busy. He could not confirm whether the hold harmless provision would survive.

“We have seen nothing from the education portion of the budget,” he told the River Reporter on Thursday. And, he added, “We have not seen the final school aid runs”—the final list that shows the state aid breakdown by school.

“That’s a major problem for school districts,” Bishop said, since they must finalize their spending plans before they are put up for a vote. This happens annually on the third Tuesday of May.

NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D, 100) struck a more hopeful note on Thursday. “We’re doing a restoration,” she told the River Reporter. “But it’s not over ‘til it’s over.”

Without knowing next year’s final budget numbers, Sullivan West is struggling to come up with contingency plans for staff cuts that will have the least impact on student programming. Bressler is working on a three- to five-year plan that will preserve jobs, review all positions for retirement, look for grants, and possibly restructure the administration.

If the hold harmless provision is not restored in the final state budget, faculty members will be informed of any necessary changes to their schedules.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said school board vice-president Kathleen Meckle.

Editor’s note: Pamela Chergotis contributed to the reporting of this story, which has been updated and corrected.


2024-25: 11,400,426

2022-23: 11,068,375

2023-24: 11,068,375

2021-22: 10,745,996

2020-21: 10,433,006

2019-20: 10,433,006

2018-19: $10,917,676.98   

2017-18: $10,582,479.36

2016-17: $10,296,015.35

Source: NYS Department of Education (


2022-23: 995

2021-22: 984

2020-21: 997

2019-20: 1,014

2018-19: 1,046

2017-18: 1,060

2016-17: 1,007

2015-16: 1,023

2014-15: 1,090

2013-14: 1,134

2012-13: 1,171

2011-12: 1,210

2010-11: 1,276

2009-10: 1,339

2008-09: 1,313

2007-08: 1,386

2006-07: 1,413

2001-02: 1,642

2000-01: 1,672

1999-20: 1,755

Source: NYS Department of Education (

Jeffersonville, Sullivan West School District, foundation aid, Kathleen Bressler, education, Kathy Hochul, hold harmless, Robert Lowry, New York State Council of School Superintendents, rural schools, Jeff Bishop, Peter Oberacker, Aileen Gunther, Kathleen Meckle


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