30 Mar Cuomo Comments Add to Anger School Officials are Feeling (NY)March 30, 2011
By: Matt SurtelSource: The Daily News
YORK — Officials from 22 area school districts have a dire vision of what will happen if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget is enacted.
Intensive layoffs and program eliminat ions are in the offing as the districts from Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties try to offset a steep decrease in state aid.
Adding to their anger was a Buffalo News interview from Thursday in which Cuomo accused school districts of widespread fraud and abuse.
“We are reduced to pleading with our elected officials,” said Dr. Michael Glover, superintendent of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, during a question-and-answer session with state legislators at York Central School. “Pleading to reduce a cut of $1.5 billion to something approaching $1.25 billion. Any way this thing shakes out, the children in these communities are going to be irreparably damaged.”
The legislative breakfast included state senators Catherine Young, Michael Ranzenhofer and Patrick Gallivan; Assemblyman Steve Hawley; and Scott Gardner from Assemblyman Daniel Burling’s office.
The lawmakers were supportive of the school districts, but the latter’s worries are huge. They said area high schoolers will be left with diminished opportunities, while those in more-affluent districts feel nowhere near the effects.
School districts in Wyoming County are facing a $1,937 per student state aid reduction, which would be the most severe statewide. Those in Genesee and Livingston counties would lose $1,713 and $1,603 respectively.
In comparison, New York City-area counties would lose anywhere from $722 to $906 per student, and aren’t as dependent on state aid.
The State Senate’s proposed budget would restore $280 million in state aid, while the Assembly’s version would restore about $200 million. But a portion of that funding would still need to be shared with New York City-area schools.
Cuomo and the opposing chamber would likewise need to approve any budget proposal.
Ranzenhofer noted the possibility Cuomo could simply place his entire proposed budget in an extender bill, if an agreement isn’t reached by the April 1 deadline — which would end any hope of restored funding.
The legislators also sympathized with the schools over the governor’s fraud and abuse allegations.
“I thought that was a very unfair and very political type of slap across the face,” said Ranzenhofer, R-Clarence. “It was really uncalled for.”
The question-and-answer session covered a variety of issues. State mandate reforms, such as Medicaid and property taxes, were key issues.
Although it has received widespread support from citizens, the school officials said the state’s 2 percent tax cap won’t be effective — and won’t make sense — without mandate relief.
The schools are also pushing to reform school foundation aid formulas. They added it doesn’t make sense to for the state to reduce non-instructional BOCES funding, when shared services are actually saving money.
Glover said area schools are representing 26,000 children who won’t get a “do-over” on their education. He said they’ll be left with a second-rate education if Cuomo’s proposed reductions are enacted.
“If you don’t think for a moment that middle-class families won’t flee rural communities if their children don’t have the opportunities, and if their children are attending class with 35 other students, you know that’s untrue,” he said.
Board of Education member Deborah List of Byron-Bergen Central School aske d if it’s known what will happen if schools can’t fund themselves and enter the financial “red.”
Ranzenhofer said he believes Cuomo may think schools have enough reserves to cover the problem.
“I don’t think he really has thought it through or has a plan,” Ranzenhofer said. “I think his belief is it’s not an issue because there’s enough there in reserves.”
The session ended shortly afterward. Officials advised people to call and send letters to Cuomo and their legislators.
School districts remain worried.
“We’re looking at taking away business programs and downstate they’re looking at taking a fifth language out of their program,” List said after the meeting.
“(The legislators) seemed to say what we all believe,” added Jeff Lathan, another Byron-Bergen board member. “What I don’t understand is why that message isn’t getting up further, and why the governor doesn’t know 22 school districts, at a short look, don’t have the funds in reserve. Or if they do, it would basically bankrupt their schools.”
“I think (the legislators) are trying to do everything they can,” said Don Hobart, a Le Roy Board of Education member and president of the Genesee Valley School Boards Association. “It’s difficult I think for the Assembly Republicans being a minority the way they are, because the Assembly is controlled so much by downstate.”
Board member Ernest Morris of Wyoming Central School said each time officials don’t think it can get worse, it does.
He said the state has overreacted to incidents such as large-scale fraud at a Long Island school district in 2006. That spurred two rounds of audits for s chools statewide, with potential for a third.
Morris said each audit costs the schools and state money. If fraud is occurring, he said, it should be tracked down and those responsible need to be jailed, but rural districts haven’t been the problem.
The focus needs to be on education and the kids, he said.
“The governor seems to have tried to make us out as bad people and we aren’t,” Morris said. “I’ve been in this since 1981 and I’ve never seen the likes of what’s going on … You don’t see (the fraud and waste) out here and they’re trying to tar us all with the same brush.”