New state budget boosts school spending

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – State lawmakers have reached a deal to boost state funding to schools by 5 percent, which is more than $1 billion, over what Governor Andrew Cuomo submitted in his budget proposal for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

How will the additional 5-percent school aid help districts here in Western New York? Several school superintendents are calling the hike in school spending a “pleasant surprise,” with some districts getting less than 5 percent, while others are getting significantly more.

Buffalo Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown says, the school district was projecting a $50 million deficit for the upcoming school year, but officials were planning to fill part of that gap from an operating surplus.

Brown says the additional state money will help offset some spending cuts, although reductions in spending for classroom instruction would be avoided at all costs, which is “our top priority because that is where our student achievement has the greatest potential to increase.”

The hike in school aid would seem to have a greater impact in the suburban districts, which have been getting paltry increases or even cuts in state aid over the last five years, and they weren’t expecting any good news from the new state budget.

Cleveland Hill School Superintendent Jon MacSwan says his district’s state funding is “still significantly behind the funding that we were receiving in 2008-09, and a lot of what we were hearing, coming out of Albany over the past two weeks, was not good.”

MacSwan says Cleve-Hill officials were projecting a $112,000 budget shortfall for next year, and now they believe they can close that gap and have something left to tighten the lid on property taxes.

“It is also going to allow us to provide some relief to our taxpayers. We are looking at significantly reducing the amount we were going to put out on the levy this year,” MacSwan said.

What about using some of the extra money for new school programs? MacSwan is not as optimistic, adding, “We do have to keep in mind that it is an election year, and so we typically get a little spike in an election year.”

School officials also point out, $2 billion could fall into the hopper if voters approve a statewide bond act this fall. That would help pay for Universal Pre-Kindergarten and boosting technology in schools, but most of that would go downstate.

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