Superintendents: Spitzer budget would hurt schools

HARLEM VALLEY -- While Governor Eliot Spitzer said that his proposed budget will help school districts across the state, both local district superintendents said that the budget, if adopted, would severely hurt area schools.

Last Tuesday, Spitzer announced his proposed budget for 2008-09, which includes total education spending of $21.01 billion, a 7.4 increase from this year’s budget of $19.64 billion.

"Investing in education is essential to New York’s future if we are to remain competitive on a global stage," Spitzer wrote in a press release announcing the budget. "This unprecedented infusion of resources for the second year in a row, coupled with the accountability measures proven to get results, will dramatically improve the quality of the education we deliver and lay the groundwork for future economic growth."

However, superintendents from both Webutuck and Pine Plains agree the proposed budget is a disappointment in terms of state aid to both districts.

In Webutuck, district Superintendent Richard Johns said if Spitzer’s budget is approved, the district will receive $3,691,485 in state aid, an increase of only $152,000, or .7 percent.

"This will mean we will either have to cut programs dramatically or raise property taxes dramatically," Johns said. "There is no way on earth that we can avoid one of those scenarios. If you put a price tag on everything that we do next year, I guarantee that the price tag will be more than a 1 percent increase because the cost of doing business next year will be significantly higher."

Johns said taxpayers are shouldering burdens that are too high to fund the school district.

"When he ran for governor, [Spitzer] promised we would have property tax relief when it came to school taxes," Johns said. "We were supposed to find a different mechanism for paying for schooling in the state instead of relying heavily on property taxes. It comes to a point where a taxpayer has to pay so much in property taxes it becomes a question on whether or not they can afford to live in their home and the state."

Pine Plains Assistant Superintendent Michael Goldbeck also paints a gloomy picture for the district when it comes to state aid.

If Spitzer’s budget is passed, the district will receive $6.9 million in aid, a 2 percent decrease.

"I’m not sure why the aid got decreased and there is no clear answer to that," Goldbeck said. "We are not looking at this budget as good news and we are very disappointed."

Goldbeck said the district is in the process of "sharpening pencils," trying to figure out how to minimize a budget increase.

"It’s too soon for me to predict what is going to happen with property taxes at this point," Goldbeck said. "It’s very early in this process."

Johns said he could not understand why the state has not revised its formula for aid to school districts.

"There is at least $21 million of new state aid coming into Dutchess County next year and that new aid is almost exclusively targeted by schools over on the river [in the western part of the county]," he said. "I guess we should be happy that we’re not getting less money than we did last year, like some school districts."

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