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Central New York, North Country schools have most schools in fiscal stress

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The New York State Comptroller’s office says the number of school districts in the state that are in fiscal stress has increased from 26 to 33. In its annual report, the office looks at several measures to assess a school district's budgetary solvency including its fund balance levels, operating deficits, cash-on-hand, and reliance on short-term borrowing.

Tracey Hitchen-Boyd, Assistant Comptroller for the Local Government and School Accountability Division at the Comptroller’s office, said the report found that the regions with the largest proportions of districts in fiscal stress are central New York and the North Country.

"Central New York - that region has the highest level of fiscal stress for school districts in the state with 8.3 percent of the school districts in stress compared to 6.3 percent of the districts last year," Hitchen-Boyd said. "And when you look at the North Country, that had a more dramatic change from 1.7 percent of the districts being in stress last year to 6.9 percent this year."

The report also noted that some districts are in what it calls "chronic fiscal stress", having been in fiscal stress for three years in a row. The Norwich City School District in Chenango County made that list after having run budget deficits for the past four years. The school district's new interim Superintendent Diana Bowers said in a statement that they are taking steps to reach financial stability, including bringing in an auditor and new business managers.

The Cortland Enlarged School District in Cortland County is also considered in chronic fiscal stress. But Cortland Superintendent Michael Hoose said because the report focuses on the 2018-2019 school year, it hasn't taken into account the steps school officials took last year to address the problem.

"We’ve made major strides toward that," Hoose said. "We actually closed two of five elementary schools last year and transitioned from K-6 elementaries to grade centers. We also eliminated 21 positions."

Hoose said despite that progress, the state needs to increase the funding it provides to schools, especially for those like Cortland that are designated high-needs districts.