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January 26, 2013

Cuomo's budget could be worse, officials say

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — With Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently releasing his proposed budget, including aid to area schools, future finances were on the mind of many involved in education.

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said in a media release that fiscal responsibility has been especially important over the last two years in Albany and Cuomo’s budget proposal appears to maintain that goal. He was pleased with the overall spending plan, which offers a baseline to build on as budget negotiations begin. A final budget is due to be approved April 1.

Besides programs backing upstate agriculture, tourism and small businesses, Seward was glad additional funding for schools was included. Now it is important to direct the bulk of the new money to the neediest districts, he said.

“Boosting overall aid is helpful,” he said, “however, the real key is correcting the distribution formula.”

While the mandate relief proposals, like capping pension costs, are a start, more attention needs to be focused on this area to provide help to local governments and schools as they struggle to make ends meet and keep property taxes down, he said.

New York State Council of School Superintendents Executive Director Robert J. Reidy, Jr. said in a media release that although the state continues to face financial uncertainties, Cuomo provided a strong start to helping schools with their ongoing financial challenges through his proposed budget for 2013-14.

“We will need time to study details and evaluate how much help the governor’s proposals will provide to all school districts,” he said.

He offered several observations.

The NYSCOSS survey conducted earlier this year found widespread worry about financial and educational insolvency among top school officials.

Sharply rising pension costs are the leading cause of fiscal stress for many because these costs are likely to rise more than what most districts would receive from either an average state aid increase or the 2 percent local tax increase.

Cuomo has offered a creative proposal to help schools manage their pension costs while the savings from last year’s “Tier VI” legislation begins to materialize, Reidy said.

“We also applaud Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to allow school districts to gain relief from specific state mandates in special education, an area where New York’s requirements and costs exceed those of most other states.

“We need more details on how the $203 million Fiscal Stabilization Fund will be allocated,” he said.


In other school-related news, an interesting take on area efforts to bolster important skills in the job market has been offered in a media release from the Afterschool Alliance.

The study, “Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool,” involved after-school providers and leaders in the field. It sought to identify such things as the aims and outcomes that after-school program leaders and supporters believe the field can contribute. The report includes recommendations for policymakers, so they can develop a realistic vision of what after-school programs can accomplish; for after-school program leaders, so they can set appropriate and measurable goals; and for researchers and evaluators, so they can design appropriate assessment tools.

“Education policymakers are rightly looking to after-school programs as a key player in the effort to build our future workforce’s STEM skills,” Anita Krishnamurthi, the Afterschool Alliance’s director of STEM policy said. “That conversation needs to reflect the best judgment of the after-school community, and that’s what we set out to capture. The bottom line from the study is that after-school programs can contribute in important ways that help students achieve in the STEM fields, by drawing them into STEM and helping them learn the foundational skills they need to succeed.”

MARK BOSHNACK can be reached at