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N.Y. Cuts Would Force Layoffs, Tax Hikes, Districts Warn

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The average New York State school district will have to increase property taxes by almost one-fourth and lay off 7 percent of its certified work force if budget cuts proposed by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo are enacted, a survey of local school officials indicates.

The New York State School Boards Association, the New York Association of School Business Officials, and the New York Council of School Superintendents surveyed districts in February to determine the likely impact of Mr. Cuomo's proposed 10 percent cut--or $891 million--in state school aid.

District officials were asked to estimate their budgets for the coming fiscal year taking into account the Governor's proposed budget cuts, anticipated cost increases, and a $190-million mid-year budget cut already approved by the legislature.

The school-aid cuts were part of a $4.5-billion package of spending reductions, together with new taxes and fees, proposed by the Governor to erase a projected $6-billion budget deficit.

In a year in which more than half the states have had to postpone or reduce spending to reconcile this year's budgets with revenue short4falls, and several governors have proposed cuts in education funding for next year, the New York survey provides one of the first in-depth views of the impact of severe state-aid reductions on the day-to-day operation of schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 23, 1991.)

Among the 327 districts--45 percent of the New York total--that responded to the survey, Mr. Cuomo's proposed budget cuts were seen as resulting in cuts of certified personnel of 7 percent, and in noncertified staff of 10 percent.

Information from New York City was not included in the survey results. But school officials there have said the Governor's proposed budget cuts could force an additional $151-million reduction in a city education budget already stated by Mayor David N. Dinkins to be trimmed by half a billion dollars.

The districts in the survey also predicted that property taxes would have to increase by an average of 23 percent of the home's full value; 74 percent of the responding districts predicted increases of between 10 percent and 40 percent.

The survey also indicated that the consequences of the state cuts would include:

Increases in class sizes, which were anticipated by 39 percent of the districts.

Elimination or reduction of programs for gifted and talented children, with 34 percent of the districts reporting cutbacks likely in this area. Twenty-seven percent said they would cut back music and art, 19 percent would curb programs that teach technology, and 16 percent would make savings in driver education, electives, or summer programs.

Cutbacks in athletic programs in 42 percent of the districts, while 36 percent targeted staff development, 29 percent identified field trips, and 25 percent eyed extracurricular activities for elimination or reduction.

In the area of services and supplies, 37 percent would reduce or eliminate spending on equipment, 30 percent on facility maintenance and renovations, 29 percent on counseling services, and 26 percent on textbooks and supplies.

In response to reductions in state aid for transportation, 28 percent of the districts said they would bus at the minimum level required by law, 24 percent said they would reduce bus purchases, and more than 45 percent said they would scale back or drop field trips, athletic trips, and after-school bus runs.

Asked in the surveys to comment on their budgets, district officials "set forth an array of problems," the report noted.

Local educators said they expect to see budget defeats and community resentment of tax increases, unsafe walking conditions for children due to transportation cutbacks, and cancellations and delays of needed construction projects.

Terry J. Lynam, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, said he had not found substantial flaws in the report.

Mr. Lynam argued, however, that he disagreed with the survey's assumption that state-aid cuts would automatically cause tax increases at the local level, and could not be addressed through consolidations and reductions in wasteful spending.

The spokesman also pointed out that state aid to schools has increased by 70 percent since 1983, when Mr. Cuomo took office, adding that "there is no other alternative at this point" to cutting state school aid.

"This is the worst fiscal crisis the state has faced since the Depression," Mr. Lynam said. "We had no choice but to make some tough decisions, ones that are very unpopular."

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