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December 6, 2012

Albany makes local schools suffer too much

The Daily Star

---- — Through the years, New Yorkers have become so accustomed to the clown-show behavior of our state Legislature that we tend to throw up our hands and just muddle through while our taxes go up and our standard of living goes down.

This not-so-proud tradition of our legislators’ embarrassing conduct predates the United States of America. New York was the only one of the 13 colonies to abstain on the unanimous vote approving the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Decades of corruption, sloth and budgetary legerdemain have pretty much inured many of us to the foibles of our representatives in Albany.

But now, we can’t afford to be bemused or ignore what is and is not going on at the Capitol.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of the Assembly and state Senate congratulate each other over getting the state’s fiscal house in order, our public schools are going broke.

“The state has been balancing its budget on the back of school districts,” Unatego Central School Superintendent Charles Molloy told The Daily Star.

A report by the New York State Council of School Superintendents found that 9 percent of school districts won’t be able to make ends meet within two years.

It’s understandable that parents and other people concerned with the idea of schools closing, leading to more kids riding buses and more classrooms being overcrowded, will want to search for easy answers.

They see superintendents making six-figure salaries. Teachers unions are another easy target. Even special education children are blamed.

But the real culprits work in Albany, where indifference to the legitimate problems of local school districts lurks and thrives.

The 2011-12 budget cut almost 7.5 percent of state support of public education. Called — innocently enough — the “gap elimination adjustment,” this reduction in school aid has dire consequences.

“We have to get rid of the gap elimination adjustment,” Molloy said. “I can’t in good conscience cut programs that encourage kids to stay in school.”

On Tuesday night, while speaking to the Delhi Rotary, Assemblyman Clifford Crouch was asked about local school superintendents’ budget concerns and what could be done about them.

Crouch danced around the question, offering no solutions, but he did put his finger on one major problem. Schools in rural, less-populous and -affluent areas are having a much tougher time dealing with the effects of the reduction in school aid.

Therein lies the main responsibility of Crouch, his local Assembly colleague Bill Magee and Sen. James Seward. Somehow, they have to persuade Albany that when schools start closing, the first ones will be in rural areas.

And our schools’ time is running out … fast.