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Cuomo's plan may hurt local schools


When it comes to money, competition could be a bad thing for north country schools.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo outlined a plan last week in his State of the State address to make state funding for school districts performance-based. Local schools are, by and large, small and rural, and they could be hurt by the proposal if they are pitted against much larger and wealthier districts elsewhere in the state in a race for funding.

"I think it could put small, rural schools at a disadvantage because they don't have grant writers," said Jack J. Boak Jr., superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services. "Some of the urban and wealthy suburban districts have people devoted to writing grants, and we don't even have one at BOCES anymore."

To be competitive, small districts may need to hire grant application writers, who must be paid whether the district receives the grant or not, Mr. Boak said.

In Gov. Cuomo's address, he brought up a possible education grant program that is similar to the competitive federal Race to the Top program, which recently brought $696 million to New York state for education.

Gov. Cuomo's argument is that New York state spends more on education than any other state, and comes up 34th in performance results. The current education grant process is on a formula basis, so school districts receive a certain amount, regardless of performance.

In his speech, the governor outlined a plan that would put $500 million in competitive grants. Half would go into a school performance fund to reward school districts that improve performance in the classroom. The other half would go into an administrative efficiency fund to reward districts that find savings through efficiencies and shared services, he said.

Even if the classroom performance and administrative efficiency funds Gov. Cuomo proposed are devoted to severely dysfunctional school districts and aren't related to the north country, it still would be money that north country schools aren't getting, Mr. Boak said.

"That would be troublesome because that would be $500 million that would go somewhere other than here," Mr. Boak said. "It's got to come out of the budget somewhere, and it doesn't sound like it would benefit small schools."

Gov. Cuomo also mentioned a property tax cap in his speech, which was an issue he pushed during his campaign. It would keep school districts and municipalities from raising taxes more than 2 percent, and it has educators statewide worried about the upcoming budget year.

Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, issued a statement after the governor's speech in opposition to a tax cap.

"Is it possible to create a responsible property tax cap proposal that gives school districts that are succeeding the freedom to continue to succeed, and those that are struggling the ability — and resources — to begin to succeed? NYSUT is willing to work with the governor and the Legislature to find out."

Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick wasn't surprised to hear an education funding proposal modeled after Race to the Top, or the mention of a property tax cap, he said.

"He's been pretty clear about that happening," Mr. Fralick said. "I don't think anyone in education is surprised to hear that."

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