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December 27, 2013

Cuts, curriculum sparked debate in '13

Area public schools dealt with one familiar problem in 2013 and one that was becoming clear, some familiar with the situation said.

The year began with concerns over budgets in area schools. Fittingly it made the news in January, as it has for the last few years, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed his state budget.

While the plan called for an increase of 4.4 percent, superintendents and business officials who are familiar with the process said they wanted time to analyze the state plan to see if it truly offered all that was promised. The state had been subtracting a so-called "gap elimination adjustment" from school aid in order to reduce the state budget.

Later in that month, officials said that when the totals were analyzed, the aid will not be enough to meet mandated costs such as employee retirement services and health insurance.

Unatego business manager Nicholas Rosas said that with the aid still being assessed, several years of relatively low state funding left the district running out of areas to cut.

Everything would be on the table, he said. In 2012-13, the district consolidated its two elementary schools to stay within the tax cap. It considered closing one of those to close a budget gap of about $1 million, and faces a similar situation this year.

Other schools said that they would also face tough choices this budget year.

Schools in the two area BOCES attended a forum with area legislators to discuss the issues facing schools at Otego Elementary School at the end of February. The day before that, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, brought Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan to a meeting at Oneonta High School to hear concerns of area school officials.

The Legislature at the time was expected pass the state budget in a little more than one month, so “the next few weeks are critical,” Seward said. Although he was from Long Island, Flanagan said, in his travels around the state, he has become an advocate for rural schools as he became aware of the problems of fiscal insolvency they are facing.

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