Aid veto to cost Schenectady district $1.3M

The Schenectady City School district is facing a $1.3 million budget hole after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ve

The Schenectady City School district is facing a $1.3 million budget hole after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have saved the district from paying for a 2003 clerical mistake.

The bill would have allowed the district to avoid penalties from five years of a transportation contract that the state Education Department retroactively decided shouldn’t have gotten state funding. As a result, the state cut the district’s aid last year by about $2.6 million.

Cathy Lewis, president of the district Board of Education, said she had been counting on the governor to sign the bill, which would have allowed the district to avoid this year’s cut and restore the $2.6 million they were denied last year. “We were hopeful that he would not veto it,” she said. “ … that our circumstances were different than some of the other bills he had.”

The Board of Education drew up its budget with the assumption that they would not suffer this cut, a decision they reached after being faced with a lower-than-expected tax flow. They responded to this surprise by cutting $7.1 million from their budget and hoping the remaining gap would be closed by the governor’s signature.

“School budgets are very difficult at this point. There’s not a lot of fat on them,” she said. She added that they can’t raise taxes mid-year.

‘soften the blow’

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said he was very disappointed with Cuomo’s decision. Now, he said, the district might have to pursue a second path, which would allow it to take the $1.3 million reduction in state aid over a longer period than one year.

“They have a payment schedule. Maybe we can stretch out that to soften the blow,” he said. That idea was endorsed by Lewis.

Farley added that these types of bills historically had been signed without objection by governors until Gov. David A. Paterson. In 2009, Paterson vetoed a version of this bill, which he said the state could not afford.

Cuomo did not make a veto message available Friday night.

A spokesman for Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, stressed that this veto couldn’t have been because the state couldn’t afford it. “These are not new funds,” Philip Aydinian said. “We feel this is money that is due to the Schenectady School District. It has already been appropriated in past budgets.”

He charged that the governor is, “balancing the budget on the backs of Schenectady taxpayers.”

Lewis added that the lack of help from the governor is particularly disheartening since the district has embraced many of the changes he wanted to see addressed. “We put in efficiencies and reduced expenditures where we could,” she said. “We’re still waiting to hear on a … consolidation of services grant that we applied for in March.”

Lewis said the Board will take recommendations from the superintendent on possible cuts and hope for savings to present themselves, but said it was too soon to tell where the cuts would come from.

Categories: Schenectady County

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