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by Jay Gallagher

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Here's a hint why the budget will be late

It’s no surprise that a coalition of education groups said today they oppose Gov. Paterson’s plan to cut aid to schools by $1.4 billion, or about 5 percent next year.

But it was a little disappointing that they couldn’t say how much teacher raises scheduled to take effect next year are making the problem worse, or what they would do to bridge the $9 billion deficit that Paterson and lawmakers agree has to be closed.

The groups, including New York State United Teachers, the state School Boards Association, the state council of PTAs and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, held 18 simultaneous press conferences around the state to denounce the proposed cuts, which amount to about 2 percent of total spending on schools.

“Gov. Paterson’s proposed $1.4 billion cut in school funding asks the 2.5 million students across the Empire State, particularly the neediest, to sacrifice their education and economic futures of all New Yorkers,’’ said Geri Palast, Campaign for Fiscal Equity executive director.

Representatives of the other organizations said much the same thing, but then couldn’t answer some key questions.

When asked how much teacher salaries are going up around the state this year, NYSUT Vice President Andrew Pallotta said he didn’t know.

“It’s a local issue,’’ he said, even though teachers in almost all districts around the state are part of his union.

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn later said a survey of contracts signed last fall showed raises averaging between zero and 2 percent. But he said some who answered the survey didn’t include longevity raises in their calculations.

A survey done last year by the state School Boards Association found that last year the average raise granted by 522 districts to teachers was 5.6 percent for the 2008-09 school year.

When asked what the state should do to close the budget gap (the roughly $20 billion the state sends to school districts is its single largest expenditure) Billy Easton of Campaign for Fiscal Equity said that the groups didn’t have a unified position.

Any wonder than virtually nobody thinks lawmakers have a chance of getting a state budget done by the April 1 deadline?

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