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More worries following the Governor’s State of the State address.

The latest uncertainty is with school districts. New Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to make drastic spending cuts in the state budget. And with education one of the most expensive programs in the state, many fear school funding will be on the chopping block.

Count Batavia City School Superintendent Margaret Puzio among them.

"I am very worried this year," she says.

"It will be interesting to see, in the governor's budget, how state aid will be affected," Puzio continues. "Frozen state aid is probably our best-case scenario. And with all of our costs going up, frozen state aid means we'll need to make significant cuts. But if there are cuts to state aid...that would be disastrous for us."

In the face of those probable cuts, Cuomo is also proposing a 2-percent property tax cap. If that goes through, Puzio sees dark days ahead.

"The tax cap is a rather extreme solution to the problem," she says. "This year the expenditures on the retirement systems go up significantly. So it's going to be difficult to maintain our educational program, and stay within a 2-percent tax cap.

"It might be impossible. And I'm not given to saying that things are impossible - but it just might be impossible."

Cuomo has also proposed competitive education funding – that is, the best-performing schools with the best plans for the future would receive top-level funding.

At least from that respect, Puzio isn't worried - despite the fact that Batavia's elementary schools all ranked in the bottom half of Business First's rankings of Western New York schools last year, based on standardized test scores.

"When we look at test results for any one given year, we're looking at a cohort of students - and there are a lot of factors that play into whether or not the students reach proficiency," the superintendent says.

"I don't expect that state aid will flow to school districts that do well because they have an upper-middle class population...and those students do well. I would have more faith that there's a sophisticated understanding (in Albany) of what goes into creating a well-performing school."

It's possible that some relief may come from the governor's plan to roll back unfunded state mandates. Puzio says several programs - like anti-bullying and standardized testing - are mandated, and use quite a bit of budget funding.

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KenBarrett
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