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January 24, 2014

Cuomo's plans make some area schools cringe

Area school officials commenting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s school aid proposals said Thursday they were largely disappointed with what they heard.

The process is not yet finished, and several of those interviewed expressed optimism that the final state budget, due April 1, will be an improvement. Schools present their budgets to voters in May.

The overall increase of $806.98 million to elementary and secondary school is a 3.83-percent increase over last year, according to the 2014-15 state executive budget presented by Cuomo on Tuesday. In addition, the budget supports initiatives for enhanced education technology, full-day pre-kindergarten and rewarding teacher performance.

“It’s a starting point,” said Oneonta City School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich, but it’s disappointing that such key categories as foundation aid, typically the largest aid category, will remain flat compared to 2013-14. The proposal calls for a $487,883 increase in Oneonta aid as compared to last year, which would be a 4.5-percent increase. The actual increase is still to be determined, a school official said.

Yelich said he was hopeful that with the state projecting a budget surplus, the so-called “gap elimination adjustment,” which withholds some state aid to help close state budget shortfalls, would be eliminated. The total Cuomo is proposing to withhold from Oneonta aid is about $1.5 million — a reduction of $167,476 from last year.

However, while the district faced a $1.5-million deficit going into that budget season, it is looking at a $400,000 deficit at this early stage in the process, Yelich said. After several years of cuts and changes to the district to meet budget challenges, he said, he was hopeful that programs would at least be maintained.

Yelich said he hasn’t yet seen information on funding universal pre-kindergarten, and said if it’s not fully funded it, such a goal will be difficult to achieve. Its early in the budget process and he will be meeting with legislators, he said, who will be weighing in on the issue before a state budget is approved.

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