State Catholic leaders are pushing back against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed cuts to independent education.
Religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg have begun reaching out to members of the north country's legislative delegation, and New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is scheduled to speak at a budget hearing in Albany next week, a rarity for the state's highest Catholic authority.
"Basically, what we're saying is that the governor's proposed budget is treating public schools way better than religious and independent schools," said Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
Catholic schools — along with all private schools — would see an 8 percent cut in two programs under Mr. Cuomo's proposed budget that will amount to just more than $100 million for the state's 1,200 independent schools, which nearly 400,000 students attend. The programs act as reimbursement for state mandates, like administering tests and keeping attendance. For the Diocese of Ogdensburg, the programs represent a percentage in the single digits of Catholic school budgets, Sister Ellen Rose said, but she didn't immediately know the exact figures.
Public schools will see a 7.3 percent cut to school aid, according to the governor's proposed budget; the proposed budget says that the 8 percent cut to independent schools is "close to the reduction in aid to school districts."
Despite that, Catholic leaders are calling the cuts inequitable.
"Public schools have reserve funds and tax levy authority," said James D. Cultrara, the director of education for the New York State Catholic Conference. "Our schools have neither. Our only recourse is to go back to the parents, who are already struggling to pay property taxes for public education. That's grossly unfair and frankly unacceptable."
The upshot, Catholic officials said, could be higher tuition for Catholic education. That's not good news for a system that's widely described to be "in crisis," with plummeting enrollment, schools closing their doors and finances, in some schools, deep in the red.
"Any cuts to our funds is serious," Sister Ellen Rose said.
This isn't the first year that Catholic educators have disagreed with the state's handling of aid to independent schools.
In fact, the New York State Catholic Conference says that the state owes it upwards of $260 million in unpaid aid for the programs.
Jeffrey R. Gordon, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget, could not immediately confirm the $260 million figure. He said while the tab owed to Catholic schools may continue to accrue, they will get only what the budget allocates — regardless of that debt.
North country Catholics are also pushing their legislators to reimburse independent schools for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax, a 34-cent surcharge on every $100 of payroll that all schools pay for, but for which only public schools are reimbursed. That doesn't affect the north country, because only counties that the MTA serves have to pay the tax.
But Catholic leaders say it's another example of unfairness toward Catholic and independent education.
"We understand that everybody has to pay a price in this bad economic situation," Sister Ellen Rose said. "But... we question why cuts to our school in terms of mandated services are greater than the proposed cuts to the public sector."
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Catholic school cuts...