WXXI Local Stories
2:48 pm
Tue September 7, 2010

Fiscal Uncertainty as School Year Begins

Albany, NY – The school year begins this week for many children around the state, and it comes at a time of great fiscal uncertainty, change and even upheaval for New York's education system.

Schools opening their doors this week in New York have less money than they did last year. They will have $1.4 billion fewer dollars from the state, the legislature was never able to convince Governor Paterson to rescind the cuts in the state budget. Also, a crucial semi annual multi billion dollar aid payment due September 1st has been delayed until later in the month. It's the third time in a year that scheduled school payments have been postponed, due to an on-going cash crunch. Tim Kremer, with the New York State School Boards Association, says he does not want the delayed payments to become a habit, and that's why his group and others are continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the payment delays.

"We are very afraid that this is going to be precedent setting," said Kremer. "The governor and legislature believe that they can hold back on state aid payments whenever they want to."

Kremer says the delayed payments are somewhat mitigated by an infusion of nearly $700 million dollars in federal stimulus monies that have begun flowing to schools.

The 2010- 11 school year also begins with fewer experienced teachers. Around 6000 teachers have signed up for an early retirement program, that permits teachers to retire with 25 years of service instead of 30. Kremer, with the school boards, says while that saves money in the short term for cash strapped schools, they will pay more in the long run for more years of pension benefits. But he says younger, newer teachers who had to be laid off, might get their jobs back.

It doesn't appear that it will be any easier to balance school budgets in the near future. Schools are likely to face the prospect of even more cuts next year. The state has an $8 billion dollar structural budget deficit, and all of the major candidates for governor are supporting a property tax cap or outright cuts to education.

Kremer says three years ago, schools had hoped to finally receive a predictable amount of funds from the state each year, after a 13-year lawsuit, initiated by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was settled in the schools' favor. But then, the fiscal crisis hit.

"We are so desperate to have a state aid system that is reliable," said Kremer. "And one that's directed to where it's needed most."

There is one bit of good news emerging for al the recent tumult, and Kremer says he's trying to focus on that so he can at least begin the long school year on a positive note.

Kremer says the infusion of the federal Race to the Top dollars, won by New York in a nationwide competition, will spur major reforms in the way teachers and principles are evaluated. It will also help standardize curriculum across the state. The $700m in federal Race to the Top monies cannot be used, though, to help ease the schools' financial crunch.