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Published in Print: August 8, 2001, as N.Y. Legislature Passes Bare-Bones Budget That Incenses Educators

N.Y. Legislature Passes Bare-Bones Budget That Incenses Educators

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Education leaders in New York state say schools and students will suffer from the legislature's decision last week to approve a "baseline" budget that provides schools with only a minimal increase in state aid and leaves in doubt the amount of funding they will receive for the upcoming school year.

Lawmakers passed a long-overdue, $79.6 billion budget on Aug. 2—more than four months past the start of the state's fiscal year—but say they plan to pass a separate, supplemental budget plan in the coming weeks. Senate and Assembly leaders said they decided to approve the preliminary, incomplete spending plan in an effort to break a deadlock in negotiations that has persisted since April, when the budget was officially due. Gov. George E. Pataki described the budget as woefully inadequate and possibly unconstitutional.

Speaking to reporters, the Republican governor criticized the budget as "not meeting the needs of the people, not meeting the needs of the taxpayers, not fiscally sound." A spokesman said late last week that the governor was still weighing what actions he would take with regard to the budget.

The spending plan allocates $14.1 billion for precollegiate education, an increase of $382 million, the amount that Gov. Pataki called for in the proposed budget he unveiled in January. However, it does not provide funding for many of the governor's other spending priorities.

Lawmakers say they hope their actions last week will bring the governor to the negotiating table. In budget proposals put forward earlier this year, Assembly leaders called for a $1.7 billion boost for schools, while their Senate counterparts pushed for a $925 million increase. Democrats hold a majority in the Assembly, but are outnumbered by Republicans in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Republican, called the $14.1 billion education budget a "down payment" on state aid for schools.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, meanwhile, said that "adopting this basic budget does not mean the fight to meet the needs of New Yorkers is over."

"It does not mean we have given up our goals of providing critical, additional funding for education, for reducing class size and ensuring prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds, for increasing access to quality health care, and for creating more jobs for our working families," said Mr. Silver, a Democrat.

Uncertainty Reigns

Local school officials say the legislature's decision to approve an incomplete budget has created a planning nightmare. With the start of the school year just around the corner, district leaders say they can only spend money they know they have and are planning budget cuts accordingly.

New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy said he will pare funding for parent-involvement classes, after-school programs, and other extras in the 1.1 million-student district. "No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the reductions we are now expected to swallow without touching the children," Mr. Levy said last week. "And the truth is, we can't do it. The after-school programs are going to suffer, the kids are going to suffer."

In the 47,000-student Buffalo school system, Superintendent Marion Cañedo said the preliminary state budget leaves the district with a $23 million hole in its $509 million budget. District officials have decided to start the school year by breaking down the budget into quarterly chunks, she said, hoping that more state funds will arrive in time to stave off the need for midyear cuts.

Even so, she said, "it's very difficult not to have real numbers."

"It's a very nebulous and disastrous kind of position to be in," Ms. Cañedo added, "when you're talking about transportation, teachers, and health and safety for 47,000 kids."

Vol. 20, Issue 43, Page 30

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