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Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering his State of the State address on Jan. 9, 2013. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office via <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/57782386@N06">Flickr</a>
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivering his State of the State address on Jan. 9, 2013. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office via Flickr

Spending proposals could help North Country schools

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Statewide education leaders are giving Governor Cuomo good marks for prioritizing education in his budget plan. His proposals add up to an average of $300 more per student in the state, and of this, some districts will get less per student, some will get more. On first glance, it looks like many struggling North Country schools will do better than average.

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Julie Grant
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Many education leaders expected Governor Cuomo to hike education spending by 3 percent over last year. But Cuomo's proposals would give schools more than that. His plan adds up to an average aid hike of 4.4 percent. The governor released specific aid runs for school districts late Tuesday.

"For a lot of the school districts, initially from the governor's budget, it looks like good news."

Republican State Senator Pattie Ritchie of Heuvelton says many North Country schools could get a higher than average share of the money. Schools in Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties would each get more than $7.5 million in additional state aid this year under the proposal. Lewis County schools would get $1 million more.

Ritchie says it looks like Brasher Falls and Canton Central Schools are on the high end, getting much more than the 4.4 percent statewide average increase.

"The fact that Canton has one of the largest increases, let me just see here, Canton is 7.37, and if that holds true, that's a pretty big number."

If that holds true, Canton would reportedly an increase of nearly 10-percent in state aid.  School leaders all over the state, are digging into the numbers today. Canton Central leaders are already expressing doubt that they will that much of an increase.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen and Clifton-Fine Central look like they will actually get less money than last year.

Mike Rebell gives the Governor's budget mixed reviews. He leads the Campaign for Educational Equity, that works to funnel more state aid to poor school districts.

"I'm very pleased he's broken the cap on state aid financing that he got the legislature to adopt last year."

Rebell says the cap would have limited the education budget to a 3 percent increase. He's surprised and pleased to see the Governor proposing a 4.4 percent hike in education spending. But he says it's still not enough.

Nearly a fourth of North Country schools districts say they're on the edge of fiscal insolvency, and want the state to change the state aid formula, to help poor, rural districts.

Republican Assembly member Ken Blankenbush represents parts of Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence County.

"We spend a lot of money on education, but for us in the North Country and Mohawk Valley, in rural school districts, because of the school aid formula, I think it's still an unfair distribution. There wasn't any discussion or talk about are we going to address that, and I was looking to hear that."

The Governor did propose more than $200 million in one-time financial relief to school districts for next year. The money would be largely used to offset the huge increases schools are seeing in pension costs. For example, Canton Central expects pension costs to rise by nearly 850-thousand dollars next year.

Assembly member Addie Russell of Theresa says the Governor's relief plan will help districts spread those pension costs out over many years.

"And I will tell you most school superintendents that have I spoken to, include some smoothing and pension relief in their discussions with me as possible way to help them budget through budget crisis, as we have not rebounded obviously."

The governor also proposed $75 million for some of his pet initiatives - expanding pre-kindergarten, lengthening the school day, and creating community schools. That money is expected to be distributed through competitive grants. Most North Country schools, with their struggling budgets, say they don't have grant writers to compete for money in those areas.

Instead, they're focused on the school aid formula, and hoping that the initially positive numbers for many North Country districts hold true.

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