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What you need to know for 02/23/2018

Opposition grows against school budget review proposal

Opposition grows against school budget review proposal

Lawmakers pan idea as another unfunded mandate
Opposition grows against school budget review proposal
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

A proposal to require certain school district to submit their proposed budgets for state approval faces mounting opposition, including from the state official who would be tasked with enforcing it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the proposal in his executive budget. It would require large districts that receive at least half of their revenue from the state to show they are allocating money to the neediest schools before receiving budget approval from the education commissioner.

“I’m very concerned about that,” state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told lawmakers Wednesday, using language more pointed than she used about the proposal last week. “I believe it is a local decision.”

Schenectady City School District, which relies on the state for more than half its operating revenue, would fall under the new requirement, if it were adopted. Analysts estimated about 15 districts statewide would fall under the requirement over the next two years.

Elia suggested the state Education Department would be hard-pressed to muster the staff to review all of those budgets and that the timing of such reviews would complicate current budget timelines.

“The process that has been proposed would be very, very difficult, and ultimately, I believe local control should be in place,” Elia said Wednesday when asked about the proposal at a joint legislative hearing in Albany.

The governor’s proposal — which has the support of The Education Trust-New York, which advocates for funding equity — aims to pressure districts to ensure money is focused on districts' most needy schools.

All districts, beginning next school year, will be required to publish school-by-school spending breakdowns, a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act. And Elia said she and state officials are never shy about telling districts where they can do better in allocating resources. But she suggested the added approval requirement was a step too far.

Local lawmakers from both parties have also thrown cold water on the governor’s proposal, dismissing it as another state mandate and a violation of long-held principles of local control of school budgets.

Superintendents of districts that wouldn’t be directly affected by the proposal have also strongly opposed it. Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. has called the proposal “an attack on local control that’s a slippery slope, if I ever saw one.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said he thinks the leaders and staff of districts, and their communities know best how to allocate funding within their schools.

“Making that connection — making that link — is absolutely unacceptable,” Santabarbara said last week. “They should stay at the local level … the state should not be involved in micromanaging these budgets.”

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, also came down against the proposal, highlighting it as another unfunded mandate that would take time away from focusing on improving education.

“I just think that’s more time, more mandate, more time away from really excelling and creating excellence in education for everyone that’s got to do that sort of thing,” he said last week.

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