School officials fear aid 'delays' may become permanent cutbacks

By Julia Green
Area school officials are maintaining their skepticism that the “delays” in payment of 10 percent of school aid announced by Gov. David Paterson last week won’t ultimately become cuts.
Paterson announced on Dec. 14 that he was ordering that 10 percent of state aid payments to schools and local governments be delayed due to the state’s worsening financial woes.
According to Roxbury Central School Superintendent Tom O’Brien, the 10 percent translates to approximately $23,000 in Roxbury.
“They say they’re delaying it, but we’re not betting that we’ll ever see it,” he said. “And there’s discussion of a reduction in STAR [School Tax Relief] payment, which could be significant, but it’s not in writing yet.”
O’Brien also cited a discussion on utilizing a “significant portion” of the 2010-2011 federal stabilization funds.
“Right now, though, the only thing we’re clear on is the $23,000, and of course that hurts - $23,000 is $23,000. It’s not as drastic as we thought initially, but of course it will have an impact, and hopefully we will only have to transfer some money around in anticipation of final receipt of that.”
In Margaretville, according to MCS Superintendent Tony Albanese, the 10 percent cut equates to roughly $20,500 in the Margaretville School District.
“A delay in payment for us which could end up a cut is a concern because you don’t quite know if that’s setting a precedent for some other potential cuts down the road,” he said, adding that the lack of clear information makes it more difficult for him to communicate with the public.
“Right now for our district, we are continuing to support the budget we developed, so the programs we offer are what we’re continuing to provide,” Albanese said. “This cut or delay, we will deal with it but we’re not going to touch student programs at this point; but if things continue with a loss of revenue, we have very difficult conversations ahead about how that affects student programming.”
Along with the announcement, Paterson placed culpability with the state legislature, saying that it had failed to address the deficit earlier in the month. Midyear cuts that were proposed were refused by the Legislature in October, when school officials argued that such cuts would force layoffs and negatively impact teaching.
Two days after Paterson announced the delays, a combination of education officials, including representatives from the New York State United Teachers, the state School Boards Association and the state School Administrators Association, filed a lawsuit against Paterson, stating that the freeze is an “illegal and unconstitutional seizure of funds” that would have a significant negative impact on schools.
O’Brien acknowledged that the midyear cut proposed earlier was “significantly higher,” and Albanese said that it reflected a dollar amount of $157,000 in Margaretville. Still, the delays – or cuts – are going to be felt by area schools.
“We all understand the crisis we’re in and appreciate what the governor’s trying to accomplish,” Albanese said. “But districts should have the opportunity to deal with cost effectiveness with their communities and allow me as a superintendent to work with my public and community in terms of how we provide an effective program for their children and how they would like to spend their tax dollars to create an effective program for their children.”
“Initially we’re going to move some money around and make some budget transfers with the anticipation that we’re going to get it,” O’Brien said. “If we can’t recover it, then we’re going to have to make a decision in the next budget system.
“My reaction is, is it a delayed payment or a cut?” he added. “Nobody’s being clear on that, and for that reason we’re going to anticipate it as a cut.”