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December 16, 2009

 

Schools grapple with state aid cuts

Districts lose hundreds of thousands as governor cuts aid payments by 10 percent

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net

Local school officials learned Tuesday just how much of their current state aid payment will be delayed by Gov. David Paterson, but are still unclear about the long-range implications.
Paterson announced Sunday that he has withheld $750 million in school aid, or 10 percent, that was due this week.
School superintendents, who never know how much each aid payment will be, waited to see the impact.
Cortland city schools had just over $120,000 withheld, Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring told the city Board of Education.
“It was worse than I expected, since he withheld several kinds of aid,” Spring told the board Tuesday. “As expected, several organizations are mounting lawsuits.”
Cortland schools were cut in three aid categories: $104,000 in excess cost aid, $7,400 in lottery aid and $10,075 in general aid, for $122,138 total.
Spring said excess cost aid is for special education programs that provide a high level of help for students. Lottery aid is paid out from state lottery programs.
Other districts in the region had aid withheld as follows:
- Cincinnatus $3,423;
- DeRuyter $1,943;
- Dryden $116,693,
- Groton $52,830;
- Homer $98,000;
- Marathon $47,640;
- McGraw $29,688;
- Moravia $23,319.
Cincinnatus and DeRuyter were not listed for payments in general or excess cost aid. Moravia was not listed for a payment in excess cost aid.
School leaders were left guessing Monday after Paterson said he would withhold 10 percent of school aid and another 19 percent of STAR aid payments at the end of this month, to make up for a $500 million budget gap left after the state Legislature cut $2.8 billion in total state aid.
“We never know exactly what our aid payments will be, since the state likes to hold onto its money as long as it can, to get the most interest,” Spring said this morning. “The one that’s going to hurt is the STAR money being withheld, because our tax bills already went out. People already paid their taxes. If the state doesn’t reimburse us, it’s as if the governor is assuming the school district will just eat the cost.”
Steve Hubbard, Cincinnatus superintendent of schools, wondered after Paterson’s announcement whether this latest action is a delay or a permanent cut.
“If it’s a delay, we can get by and make up for it with our spring aid payment. If it’s permanent, we need to have next year’s budget reflect it,” Hubbard said.
“The amount of the governor’s authority is a gray area,” Spring said. “The payments can’t be released without his approval, but another law says he can’t eliminate those funds without the Legislature’s approval.”
Spring said the city district could use reserve funds if it needs to, although the funds are intended for specific purposes.
“The smaller districts that rely more heavily on state aid will be hit hard,” he said.
“In the end, we’ll do what we have to do, and our decisions will reflect what is best for the children,” Hubbard said.

 

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