Was It The Lottery? Port Byron Would Lose Total State Aid Under Cuomo Plan

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FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2015 photo, Port Byron resident Richard Loveless, center, talks about the numbers he played to win $42 million from the New York State Lottery at the Weedsport Pit Stop.

FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2015 photo, Port Byron resident Richard Loveless, center, talks about the numbers he played to win $42 million from the New York State Lottery at the Weedsport Pit Stop.

The Port Byron Central School District could be in line to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid during the New York’s next fiscal year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018-2019 executive budget proposal released Jan. 16 has Port Byron among a handful of districts that would see a net decrease in state funding.

Neil O’Brien, the district superintendent, said he believes that drop can be at least partially attributed to a 2015 lottery win in the area. O’Brien has been lobbying state officials for several years over the impact of retired electrician Richard Loveless’ $42 million victory could have on the aid that Port Byron receives. That lottery win raises the district’s combined wealth ratio, as a district’s overall income impacts the amount of aid it receives.

Under Cuomo’s plan, Port Byron could lose $358,035, or 2.83 percent, in total state aid without factoring in building aid. With building aid factored in, the decrease would be $763,154, or 5.43 percent. The total state aid decline would come even as the governor’s budget has Port Byron receiving a 1.55-percent boost in foundation aid.

Because there is a three-year drag with how state aid is calculated, that 2015 lottery windfall could affect the district’s 2018-2019 budget. O’Brien said the district is still working on determining the extent to which the lottery potentially affected the district’s proposed aid. 

But Morris Peters, spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget, said that lottery win isn’t related to Port Byron’s dropped proposed aid. Peters said the change can be attributed more to the district’s dropping building aid and BOCES-related aid. The district’s building and building reorganization incentive for 2017-2018 was $1,385,896 and is $980,777 for the proposed 2018-2019 budget. The district’s BOCES numbers came to $2,078,944 for 2017-2018 and dropped to $1,567,843 for the proposed 2018-2019 numbers.

Peters said it’s possible that the building aid numbers went down because the district has completed payments on its building projects from years ago, so the district isn’t getting as much in building money as a result. He also noted that the numbers appear as if the district was spending less money on BOCES, which would also affect its numbers for BOCES aid.

“Whether they have a lottery winner in the district has no bearing on the building or BOCES aid that they receive,” Peters said.

O’Brien is not convinced. He noted Port Byron is the only Cayuga County-area district to lose state aid.

“There’s nothing materially different in how Port Byron is operating than how other school districts in the area are operating,” O’Brien said.

Jay O’Connor, assistant director for the state aid and financial planning with Questar III BOCES, which examines the finances for over 650 school districts, looked at how the lottery would impact Port Byron’s 2018-2019 foundation aid over the summer. O’Connor said he will be studying what can be attributed to Port Byron’s proposed aid decline at some point. Until then, though, he suspects the lottery, the district’s building aid numbers and the BOCES numbers all contributed to the slump.

“I think all three of those are in play,” O’Connor said.

Meanwhile, the district has reached out to state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua. O’Brien said her office is looking into ways the district’s shortfall could be made up through the budget process.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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