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February 16, 2013

Forum planned on school aid

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — With area schools facing tough choices following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013-14 budget proposal, the Unatego Central School community group, Save Our Schools, is hosting a legislative forum.

It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb, 28 in the Otego Elementary School gym.

Organizers are hoping the meeting will help encourage legislators to more equitably distribute state school aid to area schools when they finalize the budget, which is due April 1.

Schools in the Delaware-Chenango-Madison Otego BOCES and the Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES have been invited to attend. Local legislators invited include Sens. John J. Bonacic and  James L. Seward, and Assemblymen Clifford Crouch, Pete Lopez and William Magee. It will begin with welcoming remarks by representatives of each school district attending.

It is similar to a forum held at Unatego High School that was attended by more than 600 people who talked with area legislators about economic problems resulting from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget 2012-13 proposals. His 2013-14 plan appears to increase aid many schools, but a gap elimination adjustment — to help the state meet its budget shortfall — leaves many schools with little, if any, net increase and reduces aid for others.

Seward said he plans to attend. Aid to education and equitable funding are some of his top priorities in the budget making process, he said, adding that it’s always helpful to meet with representatives of schools, including officials, parents and community members.

This year’s proposal is a better starting point, but the gap elimination cuts hurt area schools, Seward added.

He said will be talking about ways that Unatego and other schools can get more funding from Cuomo’s plan. This

includes $203 million in fiscal stabilization funds that haven’t been designated and $75 million that has been earmarked for new initiatives. That may be laudable, but “not at a time when we are not covering what we have in place,” he said.

He said brought back more than 600 letters from last year’s forum to show Cuomo the depth of local concerns.

“That’s very impressive,” he said. “It helps bring back the message to Albany.”

SOS Chairman Florian Reyda said the forum will provide an opportunity for community members to become more informed, express their concerns and hear from legislators. He said he was hoped it would lead to more equitable distribution of aid to underfunded districts that don’t have the tax base to offset state cuts.

Cuomo’s proposal sounded nice but “we are not getting enough to fund the school,” he said. Unatego made a lot of cuts last year, including realigning the elementary schools. If nothing changes, he said, one of the district’s two elementary school could be closed to meet this year’s budget shortfall, something the administration has said is a possibility.

Unatego business manager Nicholas Rosas said that with the district facing a gap elimination cut of about $900,000, the financial situation is similar to last year. The details of the budget shortfall are still being worked out, he said. Last year’s forum had an effect on the process, Rosas said.

“It was the first time we ever attempted to do anything on that scale,” he said, adding that SOS got the attention of legislators.

“It will take a while to build, but it’s become a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

Anyone with questions about the forum can call Unatego Superintendent Charles A. Molloy at (607) 988-5038.